Jul 19 • 4 min read

Walker Tompkins knows corporate financial management. With more than 35 years of experience in banking, marketing, liability, and money management, he’s learned a lot about the ins and outs of making it in the industry. He brings that expertise when leading MBA students in client consulting engagements through the Fox Management Consulting (Fox MC) capstone course at the Fox School. Since Tompkins retired as President and CEO of American Express Credit Corporation (AECC), he has been a project executive for the course, providing 150+ hours of oversight to each Fox MC project team and ensuring that the consultants deliver top quality work.

Tompkins did not earn the title of President and CEO overnight. It took years of learning, listening, working with multiple bosses, and taking on challenges. That is why he’s a fan of the Fox Management Consulting program. “There’s nothing like a real-world problem to show you how the stuff in the textbook really works.” Tompkins described Fox MC as an excellent way for business students to learn to present, expand their skill sets, and take on projects outside of their comfort zones to become effective entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Tompkins recently distilled his luminous career into five tips that shaped his success as a leader in corporate financial management. In addition to offering great industry advice, he has a penchant for creative idioms that help his lessons stick.

1. Know Your Product (Eat the Cake You Bake)

Success begins with a strong knowledge of your products and the regulatory environment in which you operate. Managers who immerse themselves in their products make stronger financial decisions, increasing their company’s profits, reducing their financial risks, and improving their return on capital. Part of becoming a subject matter expert (SME) is understanding things from a client perspective. As CEO at American Express Credit Corporation, Tompkins intentionally spent time in customer service, personally taking trades from customers. Seeing your business from a customer perspective is akin to “eating the cake you bake,” he says. Tompkins attributes much of his success to his willingness to get his hands dirty.

2. Deliver a Quality Product (Be Error Free)

One of Tompkins key objectives was to produce a quality product for which customers were willing to pay a premium. Often, adding value begins by prioritizing seamless services that are error free. Customers should find it easy to make transactions, and easier still to reach you when something isn’t working. Tompkins once advocated a three ring rule, where every customer call had to be answered before the fourth ring. Over time, Tompkins recounts, his product and service were known for their quality and customers weren’t hindered by the cost.

3. Guard Your Assets (Don’t Be A Pig!)

Tompkins described a manager as the “keeper of the business,” tasked with the privilege and responsibility of tending the company’s assets. Diversifying your portfolio, though a somewhat tired axiom in financial management, is nonetheless paramount. Whether working with investments or products, diversifying prepares you for the unexpected. “Leave some cushion,” Tompkins admonished, “So that if the Black Swan appears, you will not be the first to self destruct.”

Tompkins also advised financial professionals to maintain a healthy respect for regulations. This safeguards you against scrutiny from regulators, and keeps you ahead of competitors who many not be as scrupulous. As Tompkins put it,“Bulls make money, bears make money, and pigs get eaten.” The best strategy is to make sure your business is healthy, sound and firmly within the bounds of regulation.

4. Understand Key Metrics (Take Your Temperature)

Even the best leaders can’t keep their eyes on everything at once. Developing accurate benchmarks to track company performance internally and against industry standards can flag problem areas and opportunities before they’ve grown wings. “If you construct them properly, drifting in or out of a metric will alert you to a shift in the business.” Tompkins equates it to “checking the temperature of the company.” Monitoring these metrics keeps leaders ahead of problems and aware of opportunities.

5. Up Your Automation (Make a Smaller Haystack)

Tompkins advises that you seize opportunities for automation. Automation can make it easier to find problems. “You’re making the haystack smaller, so you can find the needle,” Tompkins says. It also reduces errors and inefficiencies, and frees employee time up for more pressing business. “Even a system generated dashboard at the end of each day can be very telling,” he said.

To work with Tompkins as a business mentor with Fox Management Consulting, or learn more about hiring our consulting teams, connect with Tyra Ford at tyra.ford@temple.edu or complete our online form by clicking here.