2016 Powered by Women

DBusiness readers nominated eight metro Detroit women who hold leading positions in the automotive industry, sponsorships and event planning, health care, logistics, insurance, and nonprofit organizations.



Published:

(page 5 of 8)

Sharon Zhou

CFO

TPS Logistics, Troy

Employees:  85 | Revenue: $375 million 

When Sharon Zhou decided to leave her native China to seek a Master of Accounting degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she figured she might stay in the U.S. for a couple of years. That was very much the expectation of her parents.

But the American business sector has a way of finding places for talented people, especially those who are willing to take a seemingly limited opportunity and turn it into something bigger. When Zhou was offered a data-entry position with TPS Logistics in Troy in 2010, it might not have appeared to be an offer that would put her on the fast track to success.

Zhou, however, saw different things in the opportunity. “Honestly, at first, I felt a bit overqualified for that position with my master’s degree and CPA license,” Zhou says. “But after a couple months with TPS, I really saw the potential of the company.”

Zhou recognized it was a business that would reward contributions, and she was quickly promoted to accounts payable, followed by a promotion to assistant controller, and then controller. When the incumbent CFO resigned in 2014, Zhou completed her astonishing four-year rise from a data-entry new hire to serving as the company’s top financial executive.

The key to her ascent, she says, was approaching every task with an eye toward delivering the most value she could, rather than merely satisfying the requirements.

“If I was asked to present a report, instead of just finishing the report, I’d figure it might be really nice to do an analysis based on the numbers,” Zhou says. “So I just did so voluntarily. I’d do a summary page, along with my own analysis pointing out things the CEO might be interested in. He was very impressed. To this day, he still talks about it.”

Zhou quickly discovered that she would need that commitment to excellence in her role as CFO, a task that didn’t merely consist of number-crunching. 

As she was settling into the position, the company decided to merge its finance operations with another department that manages its freight. Her preparation for that role, she says, was aided by her early days at the company doing data-entry.

“When I did data-entry, that was part of the freight build process, so I spent quite some time learning it,” Zhou says. “There were a lot of late nights and weekends of working. I sat down with people in every department and talked about data-
entry, internal auditing, accounts receivable, accounts payable — just to watch how they did their day-to-day work.”

Zhou says it took her six months to really understand the process, but once she got it, she immediately started making improvements.

Her growth came as she confronted not only a language barrier, but a cultural one, as well. For example, she had never celebrated Thanksgiving before coming to the U.S. (nor had she eaten turkey), so her colleagues’ fixation on that holiday was entirely new to her. “Every little thing is so different from life in China,” Zhou says.”

Recently married to a fellow U-M graduate, the hardest part of staying in the U.S. for Zhou is the separation from her parents. While she would love to convince her parents to join her here (she is their only child), she’s not sure it would work, given the language and cultural barrier. “I’m so excited about my work every day, and every day I’m learning new stuff,” Zhou says. “So I don’t think I’m going back to China any time soon.” — Dan Calabrese

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