Blythe J. McGarvie

Senior Lecturer of Business Administration

Unit: Accounting and Management


(617) 495-3316

Send Email

Blythe McGarvie has operated profitable business units and managed employees in business endeavors from China to Chile, France to Finland. She has been CFO of a Fortune 500 company in the US and of a leading consumer goods company in Paris. Her best-selling book, Shaking the Globe, subtitled Courageous Decision-Makers in a Changing World (published by John Wiley & Sons in 2009) provides entrepreneurs and executives with research and action ideas to overcome obstacles in a competitive and interconnected world.  She is the author of Fit In Stand Out, subtitled Mastering the FISO Factor: The Key to Leadership Effectiveness in Business and Life (published by McGraw-Hill in 2005). This book has reached wide distribution in the U.S. and published outside the US, including in Spanish, Indian and Russian language versions.

In 2012 McGarvie joined the faculty of Harvard Business School where she teaches Financial Reporting and Control to first-year MBA candidates as well as in-field and executive education classes. For ten years before joining HBS, Ms. McGarvie served as Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Leadership for International Finance, offering a global perspective for clients seeking profitable growth by providing leadership seminars for corporate and academic groups. She serves as a member of the boards of directors of Accenture, Viacom, Wawa, LKQ, and Sonoco, and formerly served on the boards of Travelers Insurance, Pepsi Bottling Group and Lafarge NA. In 2012, she accepted the invitation to join the Audit Committee Learning Network, a group of Audit Committee Chairs of American and European companies with revenues of $10 billion or more. In 2014, for the fifth year in a row, McGarvie gave the keynote address at the International Women's Day Conference in Washington, D.C. In prior years, McGarvie gave the keynote address in Bombay, London, Minneapolis, and Chicago. In 2012, 2010 and 2008, NACD/Directorship selected Ms. McGarvie as one of the Top 100 Most Renowned and Influentials in Corporate Governance.  In December 2009, Ms. McGarvie received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Old Dominion University. 

McGarvie is renowned for her perspective on leadership decision-making, corporate governance and worldwide economic trends. Past academic appointments include as Senior Fellow for Northwestern University’s Kellogg Innovation Network, a faculty member of Duke CE and Visiting Leader at Shanghai-based CEIBS. Prior to founding the LIF Group, McGarvie was a pioneering CFO, and in 1995, was one of only ten female CFOs in the Fortune 500.  Ms. McGarvie was Chief Financial Officer of BIC Group, a French company traded on the Euronext, famous for its pens, lighters and shavers. For five years prior to joining BIC, Ms. McGarvie was Senior Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of Hannaford Bros. Co., a Fortune 500 company, acquired by the Delhaize Group in 1999.  Her international experience includes being based in Paris, France for BIC Group and as Chief Administrative Officer – Pacific Rim of Sara Lee Corporation, based in Chicago, where she was responsible for the finance, strategy, information systems and human resources functions for the personal product business in Asia, Australia and South America, growing the division from $124 million to $600 million in sales over a three-year period ending in 1994.

Ms. McGarvie is a Certified Public Accountant. She earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, who selected her for the Schaffner Award in 1992, presented annually to an alumnus (a) who is pre-eminent in his or her field and who provided outstanding service to Kellogg. She earned an Advanced Professional Director certification from the American College of Corporate Directors in 2012. Separately, she is a member of numerous non-profit organizations including the Lyric Opera of Chicago Board of Directors, The Chicago Network, NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors) and CIVIC Institute.

Featured Work

  1. Shaking the Globe: Courageous Decision-Making in a Changing World

    We live in a highly interdependent world where 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the U.S. Two-thirds of the world's purchasing power is also outside the U.S. Shaking the Globe guides everyone on how to absorb the world's diversity and to build upon his or her global citizenship by using the FISO Factor? skills to transform themselves from a conventional leader into a courageous one.The new dynamics of global leadership--developing different competencies, curiosity and caring--must be learned. Shaking the Globeintroduces the newly developed FISO Factor? Assessment Tool that can be used to evaluate a leader's ability to both Fit In and Stand Out - the ingredients necessary for leaders to make differences in their lives. Globalization is happening with or without you. To be a leader, you must learn how to take advantage of this opportunity. In this book, you will learn:
    • How to transcend any existing biases and prepare for the new world in order to keep your business growing;
    • Strategies to develop transformational global leadership skills in order to establish beachheads for future growth opportunities; and
    • How to stimulate coordination and cooperation across national borders in order to create a lasting and rewarding relationship with people with whom you will be connected.
  2. Fit In, Stand Out: Mastering the FISO FACTOR - The Key to Leadership Effectiveness in Business and Life

    In Fit In, Stand Out, McGarvie presents her breakthrough program that will help you become a more effective leader. She reveals how integration and transformation function as the yin and yang of business, working together and balancing each other to form the two sides of leadership success. By mastering these imperatives through the revolutionary FISO FACTOR, you will become a team player while simultaneously advocating change and fostering long-term growth

    Fit In, Stand Out provides the keys to mastering the six agents of FISO (financial acumen, integrity, alliances, learning, perspective, and global citizenship), and the attitudes, behaviors, and characteristics (ABCs) you need to wield them.

  3. Blythe McGarvie on Globalization and Leadership (Video)

  4. What Directors Should Ask to Spur Action

    Life is a journey, and you need to celebrate your success along the way because you're also putting the spotlight on what is important to the board, to the company, and to management.



  1. Shaking the Globe: Courageous Decision-Making in a Changing World


    McGarvie, Blythe J. Shaking the Globe: Courageous Decision-Making in a Changing World. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
  2. Fit In Stand Out: Mastering the FISO Factor, The Key to Leadership Effectiveness in Business and Life

    While studying and practicing business effectiveness, leadership expert Blythe McGarvie uncovered a vital lesson: successful leaders are systems thinkers. Two forces power business systems: integration (Fit In) and transformation (Stand Out). By mastering the FISO Factor, you will establish the platform of support required to build your leadership prowess while taking your company beyond the status quo. Our discussion will include the framework of a revolutionary program—the FISO Factor—which will help anyone in business become a more effective, influential leader. We will provide the keys to Fit In, Stand Out by developing six catalytic agents (financial acuity, integrity, linkages, learning, perspective and global citizenship). Discover solutions to create sustainable economic success.

    Keywords: Integration; Leadership; Transformation;


    McGarvie, Blythe J. Fit In Stand Out: Mastering the FISO Factor, The Key to Leadership Effectiveness in Business and Life. McGraw-Hill, 2005.


  1. Taking Stock of Your Courage Quotient


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Taking Stock of Your Courage Quotient." Business Finance (Online) (September 13, 2011).
  2. A Director's 5 Rules for Difficult Times


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "A Director's 5 Rules for Difficult Times." Directors & Boards 33, no. 3 (Second Quarter 2009).
  3. Play It Safe or Take a Stand? The Experts Respond


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Play It Safe or Take a Stand? The Experts Respond." Harvard Business Review 88, no. 11 (November 2010).
  4. Creating Organizational Success for Your CEO and Your Shareholders


    McGarvie, Blythe J., and Eleanor Bloxham. "Creating Organizational Success for Your CEO and Your Shareholders." Directors Monthly (February 2006).
  5. Simple Steps to Financial Security


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Simple Steps to Financial Security." Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (January–February 2007).
  6. Imagine a World Without Limits


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Imagine a World Without Limits." Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (March–April 2007).
  7. Building Business in Foreign Markets


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Building Business in Foreign Markets." Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (June–July 2007).
  8. Board Member: To Be or Not To Be?


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Board Member: To Be or Not To Be?" Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (2006).
  9. Developing Trust to Stand Out


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Developing Trust to Stand Out." Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (September 2006).
  10. Finance for the Non-Finance Professional


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Finance for the Non-Finance Professional." Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (October 2006).
  11. The Five A’s of Change


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "The Five A’s of Change." Shattered: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (November–December 2006), 30–31.
  12. Integrity: A Leader's North Star


    McGarvie, Blythe J. "Integrity: A Leader's North Star." SAS Com (Third Quarter 2005).

    Research Summary

  1. Overview

    Research about the design and use of internal performance measurement and control systems to implement strategies, align incentives, manage risks, and shape culture using accounting measurement and priorities. In addition, my research includes understanding how and when corporate governance influences the company's financial reults.

    Keywords: corporate governance; strategic change; accounting red flags; accountability;


  1. Finance Reporting and Control

    Financial Reporting and Control (FRC) is a course about how leaders can design and use performance measurement systems to build more effective organizations. Throughout their careers, business leaders are required to measure and evaluate their organization's economic performance, improve resource allocation and strategy implementation within their organizations, and build accountability for performance through effective external and internal governance. Top leadership in most organizations must also communicate performance information to external investors and other capital providers to ensure that their organizations are able to access capital on favorable terms. In FRC, we will learn key concepts and frameworks that guide the effective design and use of performance measurement systems to accomplish these multiple complex goals.

    Awards & Honors

  1. Blythe J. McGarvie: Recognized by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and Directorship as one of the “Most Influential People on Corporate Governance and in the Boardroom” in 2008, 2010, and 2012.

  2. Blythe J. McGarvie: Selected by Virginia Lawyers Media as one of the “Class of 2010 of ‘Influential Women of Virginia’” for outstanding efforts of women in The Commonwealth in all fields, including law, business, health care, education and the arts.

  3. Blythe J. McGarvie: Received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Old Dominion University in 2009.

  4. Blythe J. McGarvie: Winner of the 2006 Women in Business Achievement Award from Inside Business: The Hampton Roads Business Journal.

  5. Blythe J. McGarvie: Recipient of the 1992 Schaffner Award from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, presented annually to an alumnus (a) who is pre‐eminent in his or her field and who provided outstanding service to Kellogg.

  6. Blythe J. McGarvie: Winner of the 1991 Northwestern University Alumni Service Award.


August 1, 2012

To be an effective leader, women must "face facts and fears,” Blythe McGarvie, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, told Network of Executive Women members at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, Aug. 1, 2012 in Los Angeles.

Accomplished leaders courageously face their fears and take action, McGarvie told more than 250 cpg/retail industry executives in her opening address, "Take on the World: Building Your Courage Quotient.”

The former chief financial officer for BIC told the crowd of mostly women there are four types of leaders: Conventional leaders who are pleasant, but don’t make a difference; compliant leaders who do not participate with passion; challengers who are willing to question but are often ignored; and courageous leaders, who are not afraid to stand out and speak up.

The first step toward building courage and taking action, McGarvie said, is reading. "Examine how others have done it,” she advised. "It’s that simple. John F. Kennedy was always reading a book, and was notorious for stealing magazines.”

McGarvie recommended two books: Man’s Search for Meaning, a story of survival in Auschwitz by Victor Frankel, and Drive by Daniel Pink, which explores autonomy, purpose and mastery.

Having and working toward a dream is important, too. Blythe related how she once imagined a castle in the sky in Italy or France and read about other women who had the dream life she imagined. When she ended up working in Paris, her husband got a job in Buffalo, N.Y. "I’ll come visit you,” she negotiated.

When acting on her fears, Blythe adheres to four principles: Be fair, be firm, be friendly and be frank. For example, when her Paris job didn’t turn out to be the growth opportunity she expected and presented a host of problems, she couldn’t sugarcoat the circumstances. She was frank about cutting dividends in half – a necessary measure.

Wrapping up her rousing address, Blythe quoted Winston Churchill. "Courage is standing up and speaking. Courage is also sitting down and listening.”


To Spot Financial Trouble Early, Use Three Circles: A conversation with Blythe McGarvie of Harvard Business School
China Business Review

Eric J. McNulty

The financial health of a company is the first concern of any chief executive and the board. Yet not all of these individuals are experts at reading financial statements and other related documents. Blythe McGarvie, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, a board member at Accenture, Viacom, Wawa, and LKQ, and a former Fortune 500 chief financial officer, uses a Three Circles framework when teaching general managers how to become savvier about the financials. We recently sat down with her and asked her to share her insights.


Why are financial statements so vexing for executives?

First of all, they are complicated. You can't just look at the balance sheet and get the full picture; you have to know how to look more deeply and may even need to dive into the footnotes. This is especially true in large organizations that may have lines of business at different levels of maturity and facing a range of opportunities and challenges in different parts of the world. It's hard, complex work. It's also an area in which senior executives can be afraid to ask for help. They may not want to reveal the limits of their knowledge -- and that can be dangerous for them and the firm.


What is your Three Circles framework and how does it help?

The Three Circles help an executive get a more rounded view of the financial picture and spot trouble early. The idea is to choose three relevant metrics that offer balance because their functions are complementary rather than duplicative. Think of a Venn diagram which shows 3 overlapping circles to view competitiveness, accounting, and funding. As the company increases competitiveness (measured through growing market share), accurately reflects and improves its accounting results (e.g. revenue recognition and growth) and funding (e.g., measured through net cash flow improvement), all three circles are positive The overlap of the 3 metrics is the sweet spot: in this case, the “growth engine.” When all three circles are positive, the growth engine is going strong; when one or more is negative, the growth engine may stall.

Are there other benefits to the Three Circle approach?


So, for example, the three most important metrics for many retail/manufacturing companies are growth in net revenue, cash flow, and market share. If I look at the financials of such a company and see declining net revenue, am I concerned? Perhaps, and perhaps not. You have to look at the strategy as well as the numbers. If the company is investing to grow market share, a temporary decline in net revenue can be expected. If net revenue is growing, is it attributed to price increases, new customer acquisition, or larger purchases from existing customers? How well does the explanation align with the story about cash flow and market share? When the explanations don't align, it is a signal that you should dig deeper.

Are the Three Circles different for each industry?

Yes, and this is why they can be particularly challenging to an executive who moves from one industry to another until they have enough time to get a deeper feel for which numbers matter most and the critical interdepencies.

You can start with a generic set: use one Circle for volume metrics such as sales per square meter in retail or production output. For example, one large Canadian timber company was rated a "buy" across the board by analysts until a short-seller released a report alleging that the firm had over-valued its timber and land assets in China. You might not question that valuation unless you looked deeper to see that while the Canadian firm claimed to have bought the rights to 200,000 hectares of forest, the company selling the timber rights reported that it had only sold the rights to 14,000 hectares.

The second generic Circle is used to test the numbers for return on equity. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. For example, a foundation recently conducted research on investment return claims made on the Internet. More that 80% of people in the survey believed that a daily return of 2-3.4% was plausible. However when you do the math, a 2% daily return is equivalent to a 377% annual return. That is not plausible at all. Do the math before you accept the numbers.

Use third generic Circle for human capital metrics, such as management evaluation and employee turnover.  Who are the people behind the numbers? Does a division president have a history of being overly optimistic with her forecasts? Does the CEO have enough experience and data to confirm not just correlation but causation for that jump in sales after the new pricing strategy was initiated? If an executive is long-tenured and uses his influence to emphasize making the quarterly numbers "at any cost," there may be reputational issues of concern as Wal-Mart recently discovered in its bribery scandal in Mexico.

One great advantage is being able to look beyond financial metrics. For example, in a labor-intensive industry such as consulting or call centers, the Circles I would use are pricing, with particular attention to where it places the company in its competitive set; productivity, which is often expressed as a utilization rate; and employee turnover, the human capital metric. If prices are in decline, is the firm struggling to use its employees' time at any cost? Is the firm discounting and, if so, what are the pressures causing it? If turnover is high, what is the impact of the associated recruitment and training costs on net income?

Look at how online retailer Zappos used its initiative to value differently its customer service agents as a path to powerful competitive advantage. They chose to increase pay and training in positions that others considered a cost to be managed as low as possible. Employee turnover is an essential measure in that model. You won't find any of these measures in standard financial metrics, but I believe they are critical to understanding firm performance.


How does an executive best develop his or her Three Circles? 

Talk to lots of people to see what key numbers they watch: Talk to others at the firm, their peers at other firms where possible, analysts, and suppliers. Talk to people in operational roles at the company as well as those in finance. Ask a lot of questions. Call an old business school professor with specialized knowledge. The Three Circles won't be handed to you. As you do this work, you'll find that you learn a lot. The process is as valuable as the end product – you’ll learn a lot about the business.


Do you have any other advice?

Don't assume that the Three Circles remain static over time. As the business changes, you may need to reevaluate the Circles you are using. Once you become used to using a Three Circles approach, it becomes a natural part of how you run the business and evaluate others. They can be particularly useful with merger and acquisition activities, investment decisions, and honing operational processes as well as in financial evaluation.

ACI's Directors Quarterly
Global Boardroom Insights

In this issue of Global Boardroom Insights, we explore the practical aspects of assessing audit quality in more detail, together with the relationship between the assessment of audit quality and any decision to tender the audit. Concerns around audit quality can differ widely by country, but the insights we've collected from seasoned audit commitee chairs should be of inerest in all regions.

July 27, 2012

Joining the C-suite at major global corporations has proven elusive for all but a relative handful of women, but a Deloitte study, “The Journey to CFO: Perspectives from Women Leaders,” based on in-depth interviews with 15 leading women CFOs in the United States and Europe, found common traits, skill sets and influences that forged these women into leaders at their respective companies. Their experiences could serve to illustrate what it takes for any finance executive, woman or man, to become or excel as a CFO. “We found there is no single path to becoming a CFO at a leading company, but the interplay of key personal traits and values, shaping moments in their journey, key relationships and specific skills are  vital to creating the total package essential to being a top level CFO,” says Ajit Kambil, PhD, global research director of Deloitte’s CFO Program, Deloitte Services LP, and author of the study.

Among other findings, the study identified five traits common to these CFOs that have proven essential to their success: curiosity, courage, perseverance to mastery, self assurance and ethical responsibility. In a separate interview, Blythe McGarvie, former CFO of BIC Group and Hannaford Bros. and now CEO of Leadership for International Finance (LIF Group), named many of those same traits as she offered her insights based on her experiences in the C-suite and as a board member of several multinational firms. She also discussed what CFOs need to be successful leaders in a global organization and in the boardroom.

Q: What distinguishes the standout CFOs from the rest in today’s global business environment?

Blythe McGarvie: The CFOs I know who do a really good job in the global context are doing a few critical things really well. Number one, they discover what their CEO wants to accomplish from a global business perspective and align themselves and their functions with that global vision. Maybe the goal is to have or build a presence in China, to extend the brand worldwide or to adopt a low-cost manufacturing or service model. Whatever the CEO and the Board prioritize, the CFO must understand that and support the global vision.


Finance as an Analytical Partner to the Business
Bloomberg Businessweek

When major economies are constrained, business leaders find their growth engines stuck in low gear. At times like these, financial leaders need to collaborate more closley with their operations counterparts and drive precision in performance management.