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Carroll School of Management Graduate Programs

GMA Leadership Event

Featuring John Leahy, CFO of iRobot and BC MBA '82

GMA Leadership Event
John Leahy, CFO of iRobot and BC MBA '82.

March 8, 2012

By Matt Horne, MBA/MSF '12

On Friday, February 24, 2012, the Graduate Management Association of the Boston College Carroll School of Management held its annual leadership event at the BC Club of Boston. This year’s guest speaker was John Leahy, CFO of iRobot and BC MBA alum (’82). The event was attended by approximately one hundred guests including current students, administration, alumni, and employer partners. The goal of the event was to have a prominent business leader in the Boston area discuss the challenges and lessons learned while operating in the current business environment as well as encourage networking between current students, alumni, and employer partners.

Mr. Leahy began his presentation discussing his experiences growing up in Medford, MA and as a graduate student at Boston College. He entered the MBA program directly after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Merrimack College and worked as a graduate assistant, spending many long nights grading business case write-ups. After BC, he began working for Pepsi in Massachusetts became the CFO of a bottling unit just five years after graduation. His time at Pepsi required him to move to various parts of the globe including Missouri, Toronto, and Madrid. His seventeen year career at Pepsi bestowed a lot of leadership challenges and lessons learned. His two main takeaways to the audience from his time at Pepsi were to take advantage of international opportunities and to use experiences at well run companies to understand how to build great teams.

After receiving a call from a recruiter to take a position as CFO of the technology company Keane, John and his family moved back to the Boston area. Moving from a manufacturing company to a technology firm was challenging and he was able to share some of the issues he faced when transitioning. Although being back in Boston was great, his time working at Keane was during a crisis at the company. John found himself acting as both the CFO and CEO for a period of time when the board fired the incumbent CEO. The audience takeaway from these stories was that learning how to manage through a crisis is indispensable because all companies go through turbulent times at one moment or another.

The last part of his presentation focused on his current position as the CFO of iRobot. He arrived at the company during a period of poor execution and inventory management challenges. John helped to implement a strategy that focused all employees on revenue growth and over a period of two years the company’s stock performed very well. He used the recent drop in the stock price, which was due to iRobot issuing a negative outlook on its government contracts, to emphasize the fact that challenges abound when leading a company and leaders need to have the ability to manage through unexpected outcomes.

The event wrapped up with a question and answer session where most of the attendees asked about the future business plans of iRobot and his leadership experiences. Following the event, current students and alumni networked and Mr. Leahy stayed back to speak to numerous guests on a personal level. The Carroll School of Management is honored to have an alumnus like John Leahy who is willing to share his experiences and time with current students in the program.