SEA LEGS: Kathleen Finn, chief financial officer at SEA CORP, speaks with company President Larry Willner in the company’s Middletown office. She earned her accounting degree from Salve Regina in 1993 and hasn’t looked back yet.
During Kathleen Finn’s 12-year tenure as chief financial officer, Systems Engineering Associates Corp. has experienced spectacular growth, almost doubling in size with each passing year.
The Middletown operation – best known by the acronym SEA CORP – is ranked as one of the top businesses in Rhode Island, and has been included on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies for the past four years. The sour economy of recent years has done nothing to slow the company’s pace: Over the past three years, the number of employees has climbed by more than 50, and annual gross revenue has soared from $46.8 million to $73.5 million.
Finn (known to friends as Kiki) has played no small part in that success, according to those who work with her. “Kiki Finn has combined her fiscal, management and [personal] qualities together to become an exceptionally effective corporate officer,” said SEA CORP President Larry Willner. “Under her leadership, the company has grown more than 700 percent in annual revenue and from under 50 to nearly 400 employees and is now the largest provider of services to the Navy in Rhode Island.”
And despite her busy work schedule, Finn has also found the time to volunteer with numerous community organizations in the Newport area and beyond, including the United Way of Rhode Island, the American Cancer Society, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Salvation Army.
“She has been in the lead of virtually every SEA CORP community-service project, from coordinating supplies for our servicemen and servicewomen that stand in harm’s way overseas to local families in need,” Willner said.
Finn launched her career by earning an accounting degree from Newport’s Salve Regina University, and used those skills working with several local companies before she arrived at SEA CORP in 1993. “At that time I was a single parent with three small children,” she recalled. “I wanted something where I could make a good living, and I was always good with numbers. I heard they were looking for an accounting manager; 18 years later, I can say it has served me quite well.”
SEA CORP provides systems engineering, advanced software, innovative technology research and other services to a board range of customers, the largest being the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport. When Finn came aboard, there were only 10 employees, but that would soon change. “We haven’t stopped growing,” she said. “The credit goes to the employees. They’re engineers, administrators, electrical technicians. I don’t micromanage because it’s unnecessary. I am surrounded [by] smart people.”
Finn began at the company as a business manager, and rose to chief financial officer in five years. Asked about her own leadership style, she replied: “I lead by example. I’m very dedicated to the company. When people see the effort I put in, they follow suit.”
As chief financial officer, Finn set up a pricing structure that ensures the company is competitive when bidding for government contracts. She also introduced a “best value” model for bidding, a process that assures customers they’re paying for quality work.
Finn was also instrumental in the company achieving 9001 certification with the International Standards Organization, a step that assures customers they are getting quality work. She also advocated for the investment in Capability Modeling Maturity Integration certification, a quality-assurance standard for high-tech systems and software.
Her current duties go well beyond those usually assigned to a financial officer. She also handles human resources, supervises corporate safety, oversees all information technology operations and advises other top executives.