Frank Sklarsky is a well-seasoned financial executive in more ways than one.
After being hired at ConAgra Foods Inc. in late 2004, Sklarsky says, "I got five great years of experience in my first year. We've had a new CEO, a new senior team, a little turmoil, but at least we've now proved we've all got strong stomachs."
Sklarsky is ConAgra's executive vice president and CFO, responsible for the financial health and integrity of the third largest packaged food company in North America. The company's brand products are utilized in all segments of society and can be found in more than 95 percent of households. Popular consumer items include: Reddi-wip, Van Camp's, Healthy Choice, Hunt's, Pam, Wesson, Marie Callender's, Swiss Miss, Slim Jim, Egg Beaters, Act II, Orville Redenbacher's and Chef Boyardee, among others.
"I arrived here during a tumultuous time and the company needed major restructuring," says Sklarsky from his corporate office in Omaha. "We had to focus on our most profitable and biggest markets in order to maintain ConAgra's focus and identity."
Sklarsky knows about focus and identity: he's applied it in his own life. After graduating from Williamsville North High School ('74) near Buffalo, he followed his sister's footsteps to RIT, planning on a degree in engineering. However, Professor Eugene Fram from RIT's E. Philip Saunders College of Business successfully ran career interference.
"He was my marketing professor and told me the up and coming profession was accounting," Sklarsky recalls. "He was a great advisor, and I'm glad I took his advice because not only was I very successful in college (graduating with a 3.96 GPA), but I ended up with a very rewarding career."
After earning a degree in business administration and accounting ('78), Sklarsky accepted a position at one of Rochester's big eight accounting firms, Ernst and Ernst (now Ernst and Young), earned his CPA license, then attended Harvard Business School where he earned his MBA in June 1983. A self-proclaimed "car nut," he spent his summer internships at Chrysler Corp. (DaimlerChrysler), where he ended up working in corporate management through 1999.
"I briefly moved my family to Austin, Texas, to work for Dell Computer, going from the industry's big boom in January 2000, through the dot.com bust in April 2001," Sklarsky says. "But then I received an urgent call from DaimlerChrysler, which was undergoing severe difficulties, so I returned to Detroit until I was recruited to become a CFO for ConAgra. I knew this job would be hard work, but nothing is lost in pursuing a new and interesting opportunity."
"And that's what I would say to RIT's business students-don't be a caretaker, be creative," Sklarsy advises. "Come into a job with 100 fresh new ideas, even if only one of them turns out to be useful to the company. Study hard and get a great education because right now there's an incredible imbalance of demand and supply for good accounting people. The good ones have a very bright future."
"And, never bend or break the rules," Sklarsky adds. "Don't compromise your ethics-ever. Your reputation is everything."