Jenni Huotari, Alumni Leading Our Community
Jenni Huotari, CPA
Director of Business Outsourcing & Strategy, Eide Bailly LLP
“Change management in innovation, technology, and managing people will continue to challenge leaders.”
What experience or what person at MSUM had the greatest influence in impacting your career path?
My advisor Sheri Erickson really took the time to get to know me during a principles of accounting class. I was a business major and she bluntly told me, ‘You should be an accounting major. It comes naturally to you. There is a full world of opportunity that you can do with this, much more than you see right now. You’ll never regret pursuing an accounting degree.’
It was nice to have someone show sincere interest in me and affirm some things I was already debating in my mind. I’m very thankful for where it has led. I’ve been close to Sheri ever since.
What professional experience has had the greatest influence in shaping you as a leader?
Being involved in and chairing our women’s initiative and the connections that came from it have been really instrumental in shaping me. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to be the voice of the initiative by speaking in front of our partner group about what we were doing and why it was important. It’s given me a high level of accountability to practice what we preach, to be a strong role model, to pursue leadership opportunities, to strive for success, and to mentor others.
Part of the reason for being successful in a new role is all the different people I made connections with throughout the firm by being involved in that initiative. It opened doors by giving me a lot of confidence, accountability and opportunities to be in a leadership position, which continue to expand.
What are the most important characteristics of a great leader?
I think different things call for different styles, and you have to be able to shift on a dime in certain situations. If leaders can get people going in the same direction and believing in the same goals and how to accomplish them, leading is much easier.
Beyond that, the ability to listen, to take in information from a variety of sources, and to be open to that information is an important attribute of leadership. There’s value in believing you can learn from all different kinds of experiences, and you can learn from anyone you interact with. I think the most effective leaders are those who rally the troops behind them because they want to be and not because they were forced to.
There’s a lot of talking about leaders being vulnerable and/or transparent. Do you think it’s important?
Finding the right balance of transparency – where you want everyone to feel knowledgeable and that they’ve been communicated to while knowing that some things can’t be communicated – can be tricky. I moved into an area that I wasn’t really familiar with and that wasn’t my background by nature. I’ve learned that I have to be open every single day about what I know and what I don't know.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Five generations in the workplace is certainly a challenge for those of us in a people-heavy business. And related to that is leadership and the evolution of the way things are done.
The impact of technology, automation and artificial intelligence will impact the way we train people for jobs that may not currently exist and for services that we may not currently offer. The work we do and how we perform it is continually evolving. Change management in innovation, technology, and managing people will continue to challenge leaders.
What’s one mistake you see leaders making frequently?
A lack of deep listening, where someone surface listens but their mind is jaded by what they thought the answer or comment or problem was. The result is not really hearing what's coming in and making decisions from false premises.
What do you enjoy most about being a leader in our community?
I like to feel connected and to develop relationships with people I can learn from. I’ve stayed at Eide Bailly because I like learning about a lot of different businesses, and working here has opened the doors for that. In my role, I’ve had the opportunity to have deeper conversations with people about themselves, about their business or their industry.
When I start having deeper conversations with our business partners, I see how one person or one business can greatly impact our community. Seeing how everything ties together and how a community of this size is so well connected has been interesting.
As a leader, what is the most important thing you do every day?
Do the things you are passionate about and that you excel in so others can see your strengths and your ability to influence. Find ways to be impactful, to positively influence others, and to be creative and innovative within those passions and strengths. It’s important not to be limited by the fact that there might not be a role like that right now. Things change all the time. Create your own role. Do things that make you happy and that you think could positively influence the company and don’t be defined by what’s already there.
As a company, we’ve doubled every five years or so, and that has opened a lot of new opportunities to lead in ways that didn’t exist before.
What advice do you give young people to prepare for leadership positions?
Play to your strengths. Identify those areas where you want to develop continually. Use your strengths to find ways to get involved and to expand what you’re doing. Grow your network and find ways to be impactful in areas that may not necessarily exist right now.
A lot of our leadership moved into roles that were created for them because of a skill set they had and the value they brought to the team. I advise people not to be limited to the things you already see and that are in front of you. Do what you do well and find a way to really make the most of it.
President Anne has done a tremendous job of increasing MSUM’s exposure and making people appreciate the university for what it has always been. There are a lot of other strong people, too, like Doug Peters and the coaches who are great community people. I’m more tied to the Paseka School of Business, and I know how connected the professors are to their alumni and to being genuinely invested in the success of their students.