CFO had humble start: Eli Lilly veteran lands in high-profile, high-pressure role

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Derica Rice started figuring out his future the day he glanced in his mother's refrigerator and actually paid attention to the insulin vials stored there.

Eli Lilly and Co.'s new chief financial officer recalled being home at the end of a summer. He was fresh off an internship with another company and was in casual job talks with Lilly representatives.

He had seen the clear vials his mother, Inez-a Type II diabetic-stored in her fridge, but he never read the name stamped on them. When he finally did, a revelation followed.

"Lilly provided me an extra 25 years with my mother that otherwise would not have been possible," he said.

That connection helped steer Rice toward a finance job with the Indianapolis drugmaker in 1990. More than a decade and a half later, the Alabama native finds himself working in one of the most demanding executive posts in corporate America at the relatively young age of 41. In February, Lilly named Rice senior vice president and CFO, replacing Charles Golden, who retires at the end of this month. Rice, who had been a company vice president and controller, is the highestranking black executive at Lilly.

The new job also comes with a new paycheck: a $712,000 salary and a bonus that could top $534,000.

Not a bad career track for a selfdescribed "dirt poor" grad student who once chose an internship because it offered a $5,000 scholarship and a free computer.

A roundabout path

Rice had no grand plan to land in Lilly's executive suite when he started working there. He just needed a professional challenge and a chance to buy a few years to "decide what I want to be when I grew up."

Then, as he noted, those two or three years turned into 16.

But to even reach that point, Rice had to veer from the career path that led him out of Decatur, Ala.

Rice graduated second in his high school class and became the first person in his family to attend college. He landed an academic scholarship to GMI Engineering & Management Institute in Michigan, where he studied electrical engineering.

In his last year there, Rice went through a change of heart while watching the World Series with his roommates. The group decided engineering bored them.

"I knew more about what I didn't want to do at that time, versus what I wanted to do," he said.

Continuing education

He thought he might find some answers in graduate school, so he got a fellowship to earn an MBA in finance from Indiana University.

His first name then led him to his future wife.

The program started with an orientation in St. Louis, and organizers assigned Rice to an all-female hotel suite after mistaking his first name as a woman's. Rice said family friends he has only met twice suggested the name Derica to his parents.

"I've been answering to Miss Rice since I was probably 13," he said.

Rice quickly became a hero among his male colleagues while living with five women in a suite that week. He also developed a friendship with one of those suitemates that later led to marriage. Robin Nelson-Rice also works at Lilly, as a market research manager.

The Lilly executive made a positive impression on more people than his wife during grad school.

Allyn Curry works with about 600 students each year on job searches in IU's graduate career services office. Sixteen years later, Rice still stands out.

"He's one of those people that you meet, and it's not like you're meeting a total stranger," Curry said. "He just had that warm, positive personality."

He remembers several companies being interested in Rice.

"You could tell he had something special," Curry said.

'Shake every hand ...'

Even with two college degrees and years of business experience behind him, Rice points to his mother as the smartest person he ever knew. He carried armfuls of her wisdom with him as he climbed the proverbial corporate ladder .

Inez Rice raised seven children by herself on a middle school custodian's paycheck. Derica's father, King, died from a stroke when Derica was 11.

Rice said he always told people he "grew up very rich; we just didn't have a lot of money." What his mother did have was a strong disciplinary hand and several life lessons to share with her family.

"Shake every hand you meet. You may never know who you may have to beg for a piece of bread one day," he said, reciting one of her favorite messages.

"Every shut eye ain't sleep, and every goodbye ain't gone," went another. Rice said that one taught him to look beneath the surface of situations and read people "if you really want to understand life."

Rice describes himself as a basketball junkie, someone who'd watch a game "if your grandmother was playing." But family provides his true source of comfort.

Both his parents have passed away, so that comfort comes from his siblings; his wife; and their three sons, Solomon, 8, and 7-yearold twins Malachi and Isaiah.

"That's where I go ... people talk about stress in life; I don't often get too stressed at work," he said. "If I'm stressed, it's usually with my home life, just dealing with things there because it matters a great deal to me."

A good source of comfort might be needed for his new job, one that many say has grown increasingly demanding in recent years.

The promotion

Rice began his Lilly career as an international treasury associate in finance. He moved on to sales and advanced into management. He served as director of finance for Lilly Canada and then general manager of Lilly's United Kingdom affiliate before becoming executive director of finance for Lilly's European operations.

The latest promotion plants him in a hot seat, said Nell Minow, editor of The Corporate Library, a Maine-based independent research firm that specializes in corporate governance.

"[CFO is] a much more high-visibility, high-vulnerability, high-energy job than it used to be," she said.

Experts say part of that stems from Congress' 2002 passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which tightened financial oversight in the wake of high-profile corporate scandals at Enron Corp. and elsewhere.

CFOs now work directly with board audit committees and other board members, instead of communicating primarily through the CEO, Minow added.

"I think there's increased focus on integrity of the numbers, which means there's increased pressure to get the numbers correct," said Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. "There's a lot more scrutiny of the accounting function than there was 10 years ago."

Rice's age seems "a little on the younger side" for such a position, Elson said. But he added that the executive has good experience, and he's following the typical path to CFO through the Controller's Office.

"They're usually quite experienced before they become CFO," he said. "It's not a position you award lightly."

Lilly knows that.

Building a career

Rice spent years working with the "sharp edge" of Lilly's business, which includes sales force and field-level operations, said outgoing CFO Charles Golden.

That experience proved attractive when Lilly looked to replace Golden, 59, who joined Lilly in 1996 after a 26-year career at General Motors Corp.

"In the CFO position, you really have to understand the business in order to determine how well you're doing," Golden said. "It's more than just what shows up on your income statement or your balance sheet."

The variety on Rice's resume outweighs any concerns about his tenure with the company.

"If he had come here and spent 15 years just on the controller's staff in central office, I'd be very worried," Golden said. "But he's had a lot of good experience."

Plus, Rice and Golden spent the past three years working together. Golden involved his protégé in conference calls and other interactions with Wall Street analysts. The two had numerous talks about how the business works, discussions Rice coined "fireside chats."

"Charlie ... allowed me to ask lots of stupid questions," Rice said. "It's as important to know what it feels like in the role as it is to know practically and logistically what it's like to operate in the role."

The importance of diversity

Rice plans to keep his role on Lilly's diversity leadership council, which focuses on making sure the company's work force reflects the marketplace it serves. He said he could probably count the number of black people in management on two hands when he started working for Lilly.

Today, he said, the total "far exceeds that." But the work isn't finished.

"It just means that hopefully we're a mile ahead of where we started," he said. "Our goal tomorrow will have to be to continue to progress an additional mile."

He's a firm believer in the need for a diverse work force in order to serve Lilly's worldwide patient base. In other words, an employee base that knows how to match the right drug at the right dose to the right patient, as the company mantra goes.

"Our diversity goals are very much linked to our business strategies," he said.

Even so, Rice said he's proud to be the highest-ranking black executive at Lilly, mainly because it sets an example "for others who may have questioned whether that goal was actually achievable for themselves."

But he also stressed that he walks through Lilly's door every day not as a black man but as another employee focused on the company mission of helping patients.

"That's how I start and end my day," he said.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

  2. Do you need finance to establish your business ? Are you interested in getting a loan at 3% from our private company? If so please Email: suntrust_oil@blumail.org

  3. If she was worth the $ the public outcry over direct tv dropping them would have kept them on their dishes as we have seen with other companies. I too quit watching channel 13 after she showed up since I left channel 8 because of her all show rather than production results. When Randy on 8 corrected her she had a big head and incorrectly challenged his correction for pronunciation of a city. Other antics while she matures was too much for me with her very inaccurate forecasts. All the forecasters were predicting rain until Thursday except Chris. They predicted sunny on Thursday but instead of rain until Thursday upon which the sun would finally make it out in full glory Chris was right on the money just as I too predicted looking at the radar on weather.gov. One thing I love about Angela is the fear you can see in her every time it thunders in the winter. It far exceeds the entertainment value of her body language (high heel noise drags, depression, etc) when her forecasts are so incorrect. Her hair stands on end, you have to see it!!!

  4. Good Day, Apply For A Loan I am Mr Fernadez Antonio, a private Loan lender and a cooperate financial for real estate and any kinds of business financing. I also offer Loans to individuals, Firms and cooperate bodies at 3% interest rate We offer any kind of loans. email us via fernadezloaninvest@outlook.com LOAN APPLICATION FORM First name:......................... Middle name:......................... Last name:........................................ Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):....................... Gender:........................................... Marital status:................................... Total Amount Needed............................... Loan Duration.................................... Address:.......................................... City:............................................. State/province:................................... Zip/postal code:.................................. Country:.......................................... Phone:............................................ Fax:.............................................. Mobile/cellular:.................................. Monthly Income.................................... Occupation:....................................... Best Regard, Mr Fernadez Antonio.

  5. i will love to share my testimony to you all the people in world i got married to my husband about 2 year ago we start having problems at home like we stop sleeping on the same bed,fighting about little things he always comes home late at night,drinking too much and sleeping with other women out side i have never love any man in my life except him. he is the father of my child and i don't want to loose him because we have worked so hard together to become what we are and have today .few month ago he now decided to live me and the kid,being a single mother can be hard sometimes and so i have nobody to turn to and i was heart broken.i called my mom and explain every thing to her,my mother told me about DR.okoro how he helped her solve the problem between her and my dad i was surprise about it because they have been without each other for three and a half years and it was like a miracle how they came back to each other. i was directed to DR. okoro on his email:okorospell@gmail.com and explain everything to him,so he promise me not to worry that he will cast a spell and make things come back to how we where so much in love again and that it was another female spirit that was controlling my husband he told me that my problem will be solved within two days if i believe i said OK So he cast a spell for me and after two days my love came back asking me to forgive him i Am so happy now. so that why i decided to share my experience with every body that have such problem contact Dr okoro the great spell caster on his email addresses spellcasterforlove@outlook.com