How I Got Here: Going Beyond the Numbers with Airtable's Corporate Controller Jaime Yuen

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Jaime Yuen serves as the Vice President and Corporate Controller at Airtable, a cloud collaboration platform headquartered in San Francisco, CA. Prior to joining Airtable, Jaime served as VP, Corporate Controller at Sumo Logic (NASDAQ: SUMO) and SugarCRM, and held senior roles at Upwork and Gilead Sciences. She earned her BA in Business Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

How did you find yourself in your role today?

I started my career as an external auditor with Andersen and Ernst & Young. I enjoyed learning about different industries and working with incredibly talented people. After nearly ten years in public accounting, I moved to industry where I’ve been fortunate to work for both private and public companies in roles increasing in breadth and depth across business and operations, including financial reporting, accounting operations, and revenue.

Airtable reached out to me, and I was impressed by its hypergrowth, so I took the call and met the team. What convinced me this was right for me was the opportunity to bring my experience to an ambitious team. Working through transition (first-time audit, SOX preparedness, and automation) is tough work, but it’s incredibly rewarding and invigorating with the right team.

Before you joined Airtable, you helped prepare the finance team at Sumo Logic for an IPO. What were your biggest learnings from that experience?

At Sumo Logic, I was fortunate enough to work with CFO Sydney Carey (formerly Duo Security, Apttus, Zscaler, MongoDB, and TIBCO), CAO Jennifer McCord (formerly Duo Security, Apttus, GoFundMe, and Guidewire) and an incredibly talented Finance/Accounting team. We were aligned on what needed to change, in what sequence, and by when. It was super helpful to act like a public company before IPO, which included running through a mock earnings process and building the SOX compliance muscle (discussing with auditors what IT systems will be in-scope and having an internal applications roadmap). I definitely recommend taking these steps to minimize the uplift in transitioning from pre- to post-IPO.

What was your “aha!” moment around becoming a controller?

I’ve always enjoyed connecting the dots and understanding a business. Even outside the office, whether at a restaurant, grocery store, or the airport, my brain focuses on process efficiency and how to improve. My experience, first as an external auditor and then in external reporting, helped me gain perspective in technical accounting, compliance, and how the street might interpret results. When I became a controller, it gave me the full perspective, including systems and operations.

What advice would you give to first-time controllers? 

When new to a role, approach the situation with respect for the fact that there is a rhyme and a reason for the way things are done. It’s been helpful to approach the discussion with a curiosity for understanding that rationale vs. assuming a change is needed. While it may be a bit slower, I’ve found it helpful to first take the time to understand the landscape and build relationships. There is a common startup saying, “go slow to go fast,” and that is very true for new controllers. There is a strong tendency to want to prove yourself, but understanding before acting is key to doing so.

Tell us about Airtable. What does Airtable do, and how does the controller play a strategic role in driving business initiatives?

Airtable is a SaaS platform that makes building applications easy (no coding experience required). While the role of Accounting is to report on actual results and naturally backward-looking, it’s equally important that Accounting evolve with the company and look for ways to continuously improve and collaborate across the company in order to share accounting considerations of potential changes so management isn’t surprised by operational or financial reporting impacts. 

How are you scaling your team? 

Along the lines of what former Oracle CFO Jeff Epstein shared, as we’re scaling, we’re really challenging the best approach (people, processes, or systems). The default assumption is adding people when scaling. In the spirit of doing more with less, we’re looking at processes and systems first. In the past, band-aids may have been applied to hit a specific deadline but weren’t intended to be long-term or scalable. It’s important to continually challenge the balance of people, processes, and systems along the way.

What do you do to keep growing professionally?

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to embrace every challenge. If it was new, I’d look for the opportunity to learn something new. If it was something I’d seen before, I’d look for the opportunity to apply lessons learned or best practices. I’ve also found it helpful to proactively seek feedback from colleagues on what’s working and areas where I can improve.

What brings you the most satisfaction in your role? 

Empowering my team to troubleshoot issues and develop solutions. Oftentimes, my team presents me with a challenge and asks for a solution. I’m doing my job when I can ask my team questions that help them get “unstuck” and build their confidence.

What would you tell your 25-year-old self?

Trust yourself. Listen to your gut, and don’t be afraid to speak up. I’ve sometimes thought about asking a question but didn’t because I assumed it wasn’t important or had already been considered. 

Fun facts or secret talents?

I started learning to play the violin when I was four. It taught me to be detail-oriented and find ways to improve continuously. I still play the violin and participate in community theater as a part of the pit orchestra. I love seeing the magic that artistic collaboration can create! It’s also very effective at helping me clear my mind/decompress.

Jaime in the “pit” for South Bay Musical Theatre’s recent production of The Spitfire Grill
Jaime in the “pit” for South Bay Musical Theatre’s recent production of The Spitfire Grill

Is there a quote that motivates you?

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” —Colin Powell

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