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The podcast featuring finance leaders driving change within their organizations.

Mar 23, 2022

Hilary Maxson’s path to the CFO office of French multinational and energy automation behemoth Schneider Electric began at a kitchen table in upstate New York. Or at least that’s what comes to mind for us when she tells us about her “purpose-driven” parents, including a father who is a professor of agronomy at Cornell University.

“We didn’t live internationally, but my parents are very tied to what can be achieved internationally and I think that this is how I got that mind-set,” reports Maxson, as we search for answers that might better expose how within a span of 12 years she pursued and realized gainful career experiences in places as far-flung as Douala, Cameroon (3 years), the Philippines (3), Hong Kong (2), and Paris (4).

Says Maxson: “I really believe that doing good business is the key to changing the world, and by ‘good’ business I mean that you can still make profits, still do right by your employees, and still do right by your country—this is how we can bring about change.”  

Turn back the clock to 2003, and even as Maxson was exiting a 4-year banking career in New York City to get an MBA from Cornell— a familiar gateway for ambitious bankers—she was already looking past Wall Street.

Comments Maxson: “One of the reasons I wanted to change was that I also wanted to build things—not just in the U.S., but internationally.”    

Sometimes building things necessitated some banking diplomacy. For instance, while living in Cameroon as CFO (Africa) for electric power giant AES Corporation, Maxson became charged with leading negotiations to help AES restructure €300 million in debt between AES, eight multilateral lenders, and the Cameroon government.

She would eventually join Schneider Electric in Hong Kong before transferring to SE’s Paris headquarters, where she assumed the role of group CFO in May of 2020.  

Maxson’s CFO tenure now falls during a transformational chapter for Schneider, as the company has made no secret of its plans to double down on its commitment to sustainability initiatives and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles.

“ESG is not just something companies do—it is a real value driver in terms of both mitigating risk and reporting actuals, so you really want to embed your ESG thinking into your financial planning,” explains Maxson, who—despite her years abroad—appears to not have ventured very far from the kitchen table. –Jack Sweeney