Teresa Cordova is the Operations Controller and Director of Administration with responsibility for the Areas’ accounting functions at the Centuri corporate office, but when she started with NPL in 1989, it was as an entry-level staff accountant. At that time, there were only 12 people working in NPL’s corporate office, and of those 12, six were dedicated to Accounting (and one of those six was also responsible for Information Services). The corporate office itself was located on Deer Valley in Phoenix. NPL occupied just one-third of the first floor of a three-story building. On her first day, Teresa found her desk in a hallway, and it didn’t even come with a chair.
It was an atmosphere focused on low cost, where the president of the company himself wasn’t above addressing the price tag on the chair you picked to go with your desk, or reminding you to make double-sided copies to save paper, no color. “Low cost was a trend of the industry in those days,” Teresa said. “Our building wasn’t the best. (The plastic chairs in the conference room were especially memorable.) And it wasn’t in the best area. Before we moved, we had been broken into three times. My computer was stolen right off my desk.”
Teresa describes her early experience as a “trial by fire.” She learned how to do payroll when her boss, the Controller at the time, took off on vacation, leaving her and Assistant Controller to figure things out for themselves. Another time, when the computer system lost an entire batch of 1099 tax forms, she and Pat Jones, the current Accounts Payable Manager for Centuri who also has been with the company for 28 years, used a typewriter to manually recreate all 300 that were lost. “That’s how NPL grew up. You did what you needed to get the job done,” she said.
Having the flexibility and versatility to adapt to rapid change is a trend that would continue through her experience advancing in the company. A year-and-a-half after starting, she was promoted to Accounting Supervisor. By 1995, she had become Controller. This second promotion came as bit of a surprise. The president of the company was leading a meeting on ways to make the Accounting department more “user-friendly.” One of his points was to make sure you tell someone he or she is being promoted before announcing it to anyone else. Immediately after making this point, he turned to Teresa and said, “Teresa, you’re going to be Controller.”
Teresa Cordova at an “Administrative Support” meeting in 1992. The group met to discuss a range of topics from NPL’s Quality Process to payroll processing and computer training.
As NPL grew, internal and external reporting requirements also increased, pressing the need for more-sophisticated systems. Up until 1995, the construction management software that Accounting and Payroll used had no connectivity to the operational areas. The Areas sent their paper to the Central Office for entry, and then the cost reports were printed and sent to the Areas. To further complicate things, the accounting software did not integrate with the payroll software. During the late 1990s, several additional systems were developed to connect the Areas to Central. Paradox and DPR systems were built. In 1999, to beat the Y2K computer shut down, Solomon was installed and connectivity to the Areas was accomplished. “Our attitude began shifting from low cost to best cost. We started to see the value of real investment in our systems. And that continued to drive the changes needed to match our growth.” In 2001 SAP was installed for payroll, and in 2004 and 2005 SAP was installed for all accounting functions. This implementation also marked the final step for NPL to become SOX (legislation passed by Congress to protect from accounting errors and fraudulent practices, as well as improve the accuracy of corporate disclosures) compliant.
“The challenge was always about how to manage things better and faster, and bring the areas along.” A key component to meeting this challenge was building stronger connections between the field and the office. “The annual Office Manager meeting was a huge milestone for bridging the disconnect.” In addition to working together as a team, the organization had to cultivate expertise to handle revenue growth and increasing requirements from customers. “Once we hit $25 million, we really needed people with financial expertise in the areas. In the corporate office, we continued to invest in new departments and personnel with an eye on the long-term.”
“Years and years ago, we didn’t need much more than a handshake to do business. NPL thrived with that way of operating because we’re an honest company. There was an old saying we had, though: Just wait, and it’ll change. Being able to figure things out and continue growing became part of our culture. And we still have that culture.”
Like many others who have been at NPL as long as Teresa, her reason for staying with the company is the same: the people. “There’s always someone looking out for you. I’ve always had the support of managers who I respect.”