Barbara Forsberg Finds Growth, Success Come as a Team

With the number of success stories in the news today regarding instant Internet millionaires, it's easy to forget that the road to success for most people comes at a more industrious pace.

Such is the case with Barbara Forsberg. Forsberg, vice president/finance for Robert Half International (RHI), oversees the company's Pleasanton accounting and finance operations which provide all of the back office operations such as billing and payroll for the entire organization and the 43,000 temporaries who work through RHI in any given week.

"I've been with the company almost ten years," she explains. "I started when it was at $200 million in revenue and now we're close to $2 billion. We had 45 people in the back office when I started and there's close to 900 now, so I've seen a lot of growth and grew a lot myself."

Bright Beginnings Forsberg grew up in Dallas, Oregon, a town of 8,000 people just west of Salem.

"I come from a pretty humble family and I was the first one to go to college," she says.

Having moved to the Bay Area, she applied to all the universities "that were within driving distance of my apartment." She was accepted at U.C. Berkeley, which opened her eyes in more than one way.

"I now greatly appreciate what a wonderful opportunity it was to go to Berkeley but as I was applying, I didn't completely appreciate what I was applying into," she notes with a smile. "It was intense, strenuous, and a wonderful growth opportunity like nothing I had ever seen in my hometown... taking in all of California on top of keeping up with the caliber of students at Berkeley. It was a much quicker pace, but it was just an absolutely great experience."

She pursued a degree in finance and accounting, based on the idea that it would provide a solid foundation for whatever career she would choose.

"I always thought that if you understood the books and accounting that you'd be able to make better business decisions and be a better manager, be able to help run an organization," she notes.

Upon her graduation, she landed a job with Arthur Andersen, where she worked for six years, primarily as an auditor. She speaks highly of the experience.

"As an auditor, you get to see management teams and assess how they work, how much integrity they have, are they committed, are they good people to work with," she says.

It was then that she had her first experience with RHI, which was one of her clients.

"I was very, very impressed with the Robert Half team, and they were going to move from San Francisco down to Menlo Park and the controller at the time didn't want to move," she says. She took the job.

A Team Building Focus

Despite what one might expect, she reports that a lot of her job is team building more than accounting.

"Probably the biggest thing that I contribute to the company is figuring out how to put the team together and have the team work more effectively together," she notes. "That's absolutely the best part, to have a solid team where you see people developing, excelling, and getting more experienced and more successful and then your job is getting out of their way."

She notes that the best tool for team building is to foster respect and acceptance for other team members

"Nobody's perfect, and if we can all accept that we're not perfect and (learn to) compensate for each other's weaknesses, our team is stronger than we would be operating as individuals."

Her concept of teamwork has an unusual twist, however, in that she also feels it's important for employees to evaluate their own effectiveness so that any inefficiencies in the workflow may be identified and corrected. It may appear paradoxical, but Forsberg has little problem balancing the concepts of both being a team member and thinking for oneself.

"It really goes back to the big old word: respect," she explains. "If I say, 'Hey, could you write this article,' and you think it doesn't make any sense, what I would ask you to do is to come back to me in a very respectful way and say, 'Here's how I see it can you enlighten me on what you're seeing? I'm not arguing with you, I just want to better understand it.'

"If you're respectful of me and I'm respectful of you, then we can have that conversation and be very effective."

Creative Accounting

Another aspect of her job which she enjoys is simply working with other bright individuals to implement unique business solutions.

"It's a lot of fun when you have a lot of bright people that can sit and say, 'What do you think the approach ought to be,' 'This is what we should do,' or 'I want to challenge that.'"

She notes that this has been a recent source of her own growth as well.

"When you stop feeling like you've got to be the one in control of all of this stuff, you can just make things happen and people are having fun doing it," she explains. "It's really evolving to a point where you're allowing your team to be effective.

"That's probably what I've experienced myself going through the last three years, because you're trying to balance things that are not numbers, but intangible things that happen and how can we make that happen. There is a lot more creativity involved than I'd ever expected, which I think is a blessing."

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