Arin Gonseth knows numbers can help tell a story.
As chief financial officer at Journey Group Cos., part of her job involves analyzing the company’s financial position and strategizing its opportunities.
Since she joined the company in 2015 as vice president of finance, she has helped lead through a time of 100 percent growth.
But the numbers that best illustrate her professional path so far are much smaller – like one.
Gonseth recently became the first female shareholder at 110-year-old Journey Group. Construction continues to be a male-dominated industry, with most women in construction working in the office and tradespeople, C-suite executives and owners being underrepresented.
“It’s really exciting,” said CEO Randy Knecht, himself the former CFO.
“Our industry has been very male-dominated and to some extent still is, and that was something I wanted to change in our organization. I knew there was amazing talent available, and we needed that voice.”
Gonseth and other women in leadership at Journey have brought that voice in recent years.
Gonseth’s impact has been so pronounced that as soon as she was eligible to become a shareholder she was approved.
“It’s a pivotal moment for me personally and also for the company to have its first female shareholder,” she said. “It’s something I talked about when I considered the opportunity of coming here, but nothing was guaranteed. I knew, though, that I would be considered if I showed I fit the organization from a culture standpoint and could contribute at the highest level in a meaningful way.”
Work ethic builds career
Here’s another number that helps tell Gonseth’s story: 14. That’s how old she was when she got her first job and worked at a restaurant and swimming pool throughout high school in her hometown of Brandon.
Work continued when she went to college, where she began pursuing a career in medicine but quickly realized accounting was a better fit. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from USD while working full time at Sanford Health and living in Sioux Falls.
An internship at Eide Bailly LLP in Sioux Falls led to her first full-time job out of college at the firm in 2011, and she finished her master’s degree in accounting from USD that year. She earned her CPA license a year later.
“I really had a focus on construction at Eide Bailly, and that happened relatively early in my career,” she said.
She didn’t grow up around construction and didn’t know much about the industry, but mentors at Eide Bailly told her a focus on construction would afford opportunities for growth.
“Probably 60 to 70 percent of my work was in construction and related industries, and it gave me a lot of exposure to a wide range of general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, equipment dealers and aggregates in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area,” she said.
This focus and expertise led Gonseth to become an industry resource for the firm, participating on best practices committees and assisting other Eide Bailly offices. It also led her to the Siouxland Chapter of Construction Financial Management Association, where she participated on various committees and served on the board.
“I admired a lot of the people I worked with in the construction industry,” she said. “I was working with a lot of family-owned, locally owned businesses, and they were motivated, dedicated, focused, and I really felt like I had met people in the industry I could relate to.”
One of those was Journey Group, an Eide Bailly client, where Knecht met Gonseth during an audit and realized her potential.
“One of the partners at Eide Bailly had introduced me and spoken very highly of her, saying she was one of their rising stars,” he said.
“And when the opportunity came up for a CFO role in our organization, Arin was fairly young. She only had about five years’ experience with Eide Bailly at the time. I had hoped she would apply, and she didn’t, so I reached out and asked if she would be interested and highly encouraged her to apply.”
Gonseth said based on the years of experience Journey was looking for, she wasn’t a fit, but based on Knecht’s encouragement, she applied anyway.
“We interviewed her, and I was hoping the rest of my team saw the potential I did,” he said. “I was in the position myself and knew the requirements, and I knew it wouldn’t take long with some coaching and mentoring to get her ready to be a high-performing CFO.”
Gonseth wasn’t looking for a new job at the time but realized “it was an opportunity that wasn’t going to present itself a second time in my career,” she said.
Joining the team
When Gonseth joined Journey in 2015, the company invested in a CFO coach, and Knecht mentored her to prepare her for the eventual transition to the role.
“The willingness to invest in people is something I continue to see at Journey,” she said. “We do a lot of leadership training, both in our office positions as well as more recently in our field leadership. It’s an intentional focus on people and their development.”
Journey also supported her involvement in the Construction Financial Management Association, which further helped her develop professionally, recently finishing a two-year term as board president.
And in 2018, she became CFO.
The role is part of the leadership team and oversees finance, accounting, IT and risk management.
“There are components that have stretched me,” Gonseth said. “I still have a lot of opportunity to grow, to elevate myself as a strategic CFO and to influence how the company grows and does business big picture.”
It was clear early on that Gonseth was the right hire, Knecht said.
“We took a calculated risk with Arin but really saw early on we made a very good decision,” he said. “Watching her grow and develop has been exciting. She’s very, very well spoken. She’s a super critical thinker and thinks strategically, which is really important in that role, and she’s got a good personality that blends in well with the rest of the team. She’s performing beyond her years of experience. You wouldn’t guess she’s so early yet into her career.”
Along with human resources director Jolene Smith, Gonseth is one of two women on Journey’s leadership team.
“It was concerning to me that we’re a 110-year-old company and it took this long before there was a female owner,” Knecht said. “We didn’t make a big deal about that, but it is a big deal, and she’s earned it. There’s no question she’s earned that opportunity.”
Journey has 14 shareholders, and they have to be nominated by another shareholder, show that they add significant value to the business and be approved by the group.
“We have broad representation from operations to the project side, technology and overall leadership, but the key component is they have to prove themselves as a leader, be respected by their peers and show leadership qualities and a value proposition,” Knecht said. “We hope to see more diversity in our group. We’re excited it’s happening, and we think this is just the beginning of that.”
For Gonseth, her time at Journey has been rewarding, she said.
“It has not been a static environment by any means – both on revenue and number of employees – we moved office and shop locations and acquired the Spearfish location. It’s been a lot of fun because it’s presented challenges. And Journey has really put a focus on community involvement and offered opportunities for us as employees to give back together as a group.”
She has filled sandbags after floods, filled backpacks for kids and served through Junior Achievement and The Banquet with her co-workers. Going forward, she hopes to “continue to focus on how I can get involved in the community and get involved in a charitable organization I’m passionate about,” she said.
She credits working hard, developing relationships and seeking opportunities, along with help from mentors, peer groups and programs such as EmBe’s Women’s Leadership Program, for her career success to date.
“The relationship piece is really important and something I think people sometimes underestimate,” she said, adding that she’s excited for the future at Journey.
“Not only do we have a really great group of leaders at the highest level running the company, but I can see the younger generation of shareholders who represent the future of Journey, and that’s exciting. As a company, Journey is really committed to its customers, employees and the community. That’s really important – to feel as employees we’re working for a company that’s doing everything for the right reasons.”
Jodi Schwan - Sioux Falls.Business - https://www.siouxfalls.business/journeys-newest-shareholder-builds-on-career-of-harnessing-opportunities/