Continuous learning with Andrea Biagioli


Andrea Biagioli is a voracious learner focused on building out her technical and leadership skillsets. She started out in public accounting and has since transitioned into a finance role. Read on!


  • MBAs, CPAs, and CFAs - oh my!
  • Navigating company acquisitions as an employee
  • Building models from scratch
  • Managers vs. leaders

Thanks for joining us Andrea! Tell us about yourself.

Thanks for having me. I'm Andrea Biagioli. I was born and raised in the Kansas City area. I graduated from Iowa State University in 2011 with two Bachelors, one in Marketing and one in Accounting. In the past 10 years, I've been a bit of a goal junkie. I got my CPA license, did my MBA, and right now I'm studying for Level III of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam. 
After college, I started working in public accounting and then moved over to a private engineering firm in an accounting-centric role. About three years later, I moved over to what is now Cboe Global Markets. I worked there for almost six years in financial planning and analysis. And then just this past June, I moved over to be the Director of Finance, supporting Technology and Operations at Ascend Learning. Ascend is a technology company at its heart, but they have learning platforms, certifications, and simulation engines for a lot of different brands that focus on employment opportunities with a public interest. So think physicians, nurses, fitness professionals, insurance professionals. It is a company with a mission. And so they have a very large technology and operations organization and that's who I'm working to support.

A lot to unpack there. First, a marketing/accounting double major is pretty unique. Anything you’d like to share about that?

Yeah, absolutely. I graduated high school not knowing what I wanted to do in college. There weren't a lot of business courses in my high school, so I didn't even know that I liked it. I did a lot of design when I was in high school. I went to Iowa State University because they have a great design program and I was initially a design major. Once I got into that program in 2008, everything was crashing down around me. I didn't know how I was going to make a living in design. Also in my general education courses, I really started enjoying business. So at that point I decided to switch over to accounting but keep that right-brain marketing major as well, because I like to use both sides of my brain. Marketing was a good segue from design to business. 

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who switched to an accounting major due to the Great Recession. 

Yeah, I also realized that design was maybe a good hobby for me, but not really where I wanted to take my professional career. So once I got exposure to business, accounting, and finance, I realized that really is where my skills lie from a professional standpoint.

Can you talk about starting your career in public accounting?

My start was a bit unconventional. I went to work for a firm called Warinner, Gesinger, & Associates. Three months after I started, the firm was acquired by Moss Adams. So I’m fresh out of college and found out that we were an acquisition target. Right into my career, I was figuring out how to navigate that. I was a little bit nervous about being the new person and possibly not having a job after the acquisition. That process was a little bit scary, but when you're that early in your career you don’t really understand what that means.
The firm was so small - they were doing very small, rural telephone company projects. But the thing that made me thankful about working for such a small firm is I got exposure to every line on the financial statements, whereas some of my Big 4 peers were just focusing on cash reconciliations or inventory. I could have never gotten the same level of exposure at a Big 4 firm. It really taught me about the entire financial statement package and how people run a business.

Over time you’ve transitioned completely out of accounting and into finance. Will you discuss that process?

Absolutely. I left Moss Adams armed with my CPA license and went to work for TranSystems, which is a private engineering firm here in Kansas City. I started in a Financial Analyst role. It was really accounting centric because they had such a lean finance organization - there were only three of us actually doing entries in the books. So while I was doing a lot of that accounting work and interfacing with auditors, I started their long range forecasting model from scratch.
When I started, they had the intention of creating a long range forecast but they didn't have a resource to do that for them. So I took on that model, built it from scratch. That was really my first taste of financial planning and analysis. Building a model from scratch, you learn about the inner workings of a business and all of the assumptions surrounding them. I really enjoyed that. It's what I’ve carried with me through my career.

Cboe went through a few big transformations while you were there. Anything you can share?

I actually started working at BATS Global Markets, which was headquartered in Kansas City. I started there in 2015 and BATS went public in 2016. That was huge, it gave me the context of what it takes to take a company public. I was, again, in a very lean FPA organization. There were three of us and we were working on diligence summaries, we worked with the team on the S-1 and all of the behind the scenes work that it takes to take a company public. It's an amazing amount of work.
We went public in April 2016 and were publicly traded for about five months before Cboe announced that they were going to purchase BATS. They purchased BATS at the end of February 2017 and the organization effectively tripled in size. And that was a huge turning point for me. I started having immediate and direct communication with a lot of senior leaders - I hadn’t really had that level of exposure to senior leaders prior to the acquisition. I also got some new responsibilities, I started managing the global corporate insurance program. It seemed a little weird to do that inside FP&A, but ultimately insurance entails the financing of risk. So it was a great opportunity to learn a topic that I hadn't had that much experience with. 

Tell us more about your role at Ascend Learning.

I'm the Finance Director responsible for Technology and Operations. My team is responsible for the technology and operations forecasts, as well as the long range plan. That includes everything from planning out headcount, capital planning, and all hardware and software items. I'm also putting more financial diligence around how we accept projects; so, doing return on invested capital measures for large, material projects that the company is looking to undertake.

How would you advise anyone in public accounting to explore other roles?

The decision to leave public accounting is a really tough one. You tend to be at the beginning of your career and not really sure what's out there. I would recommend scrolling through LinkedIn, seeing what your peers are doing and learn about companies in the area. Really start reflecting on your interests, because I think that ultimately drives a job decision. At the end of the day, you don't want a job to feel like a job. You want to feel like you are doing something that matters and that you can really contribute your skills to an organization.
So it's really important to dig down to see where your career is going. How do you see it progressing? What type of position do you want to be in at the end of your career? And then you want to make decisions based on that. But start by casting your net out wide and when you start interviewing, learn as much as possible about a company and if you would enjoy working there. Obviously, there are financial implications but ultimately, for me, it’s about if you can continue to learn and grow. Culture is also very important. As an applicant, talk to as many people as possible to start getting a feel for culture and how people operate. 

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about business or careers?

One is that being a manager doesn't always make you a leader. That was huge for me. Managers tend to tick off boxes and achieve goals and maintain the status quo. But really to be a leader, you need to be people-focused and challenging that status quo and always moving your team forward with you. I want to be seen as a leader who you can trust and who other people can come to when they need something. 
Another thing about careers is that it's so hard to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. And I think people, especially coming out of college, just need to give themselves grace. You can't know exactly what you want to do at that point. And it's okay to make a career change.
Don't underestimate the power of a network. I feel like when you're in business school, especially, they always stress having a great network. This seems really abstract because you're still in college. I'm 10 years into my career and I finally feel like my network is full of people that I can rely on to help me find new opportunities and be that support when I'm making changes in my life. I think it's really important to start that network early, but to be intentional about it. Those conversations don't have to always be about work. It's okay to take time to learn about what people do outside of work or what their interests are. 

If you could go back in time to college or shortly thereafter, is there anything you’d change?

[after a long pause] Honestly, I would probably have a little bit more fun. Like I said, I'm very goal oriented. I really haven't stopped studying in the 10 years since college. I was studying for the CPA exam, then I was doing my MBA. Now I'm doing my CFA. I didn't want to get out of the swing of studying. I feel like this is the perfect time to focus on myself as a professional, before I get married or start a family. But I think the important thing to remember is you always need to make time for yourself. You're never going to look back and say that you wish you spent more time working or spent more time studying. You're always going to say you wish you spent more time with friends and family or working on your hobbies. That's one thing that I really should learn from. And that's one thing I plan to get back to once I am finished with Level III of the CFA - focusing on the people in my life, my hobbies, and some of the initiatives that I started that I want to put that free time towards.

I was going to ask if there was something to pursue after the CFA, but I think you just answered that.

Ultimately the CFA does open doors. I will need to make a decision whether I want to stay in corporate finance or move over to personal finance. There are certifications, like the CFP, if you move into personal finance. But to be honest, I'm just going to focus on my new job and I have a couple initiatives that I've started - an environmental initiative and a financial literacy, personal finance initiative. The environmental initiative is a group that teaches you how to make small, incremental changes in your life to be more environmentally conscious. The personal finance one is a group to help individuals with budgeting, investing, and debt management.

Very cool. What motivates you?

Professionally speaking, it’s being that source of trust for leadership in a company. I always want to be the person who comes to mind knowing that they can get data that's helpful in the business decisions they're making every day. That's why I want to learn so much more technically and from a leadership standpoint, just to know that I'm a well-rounded individual who they know they can go to. 
Personally, what motivates me is just being upbeat and funny. I'm actually a really funny accountant, which is weird. I'm an extroverted accountant and I just want to cultivate the best relationships I can. I just want everybody to be happy around me. So that's really what motivates me. I always want to be there for anybody who needs me and be an anchor for them.

What are your long term career goals?

I think I want to be in a CFO type position, but I don't think that I am a typical CFO. I think the way to lead and manage businesses is fundamentally changing. And I hope to be somebody who can really take that to heart. Right now you see a lot of initiatives popping up at companies and the initiatives are not revenue driving. There's a lot of amazing diversity initiatives, environmental initiatives, empowerment initiatives, initiatives for women, that kind of thing. The business landscape is transitioning to focus on more than just making every dollar possible. These programs are starting to really capture the people aspect of business. It doesn't always have to be something that makes money to be a good business decision. They’re still capturing value, but it might not be monetary value. It's also about how you treat people, how you empower them, how you train them...that is the type of CFO I want to be. It's about really making sure that your company is fulfilling its mission and that you're supporting employees and the public. 
At the end of the day, I want to be somebody who others remember. I think that we come across so many people in our work lives and our personal lives. And I really do want to be that person who others remember as being the funny person who could always buckle down and get it done when it needed to happen. I'm driven by something more philosophical than just filling a CFO seat. I just want to make sure that I'm leaving a lasting legacy on the world.
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