1975, Barry McCarthy – CFO, Netflix

My name is Barry McCarthy. I’m a graduate of the class of 1975. And while that may seem like a long time ago to you, from where I sit, the time passes more quickly than you might imagine.
I live and work near San Francisco. I moved here nine years ago to take the CFO job at Netflix, which was a small internet startup back then. We have a billion plus in annual revenue now. We were 40 employees back then. 5 of the original employees survived the challenges of rapid growth. Williams was the difference-maker for me.

Before Netflix I worked in management consulting and investment banking and before that completed my MBA at Wharton (that was the first time I appreciated how good the teaching was at Williams). While I couldn’t do what I do today without the analytical skills I learned in business school, it’s also true that I wouldn’t have been successful at Netflix if Williams hadn’t taught me how to think, how to write, how to reason deductively, and how to advocate and defend my point of view. Those are skills I began to learn as a history major at Williams. One of my teachers was the history department chair, Russ Bostert. I remember him saying that knowledge is what you remember after you forget what you learned. Of course I’ve forgotten the countless dates and battles and kings that you’d memorize to complete your history major at Williams. But the process skills I learned as a history student I still use every day, and I never stop working to make those skills better. So by way of example, I have lots of data to digest in running my business (by way of analogy think about the historical dates you’d memorize in prep for a test). After I absorb the data, I have to be able to decide (correctly) what’s important and what to ignore and I have to decide what the data means and what to do in response to it, and I have to be able to present my analysis and defend it much like a history major has to interpret historical events and the key milestones which led to some unforeseen outcome, etc.

Like most people my age with similar responsibilities, I’ve hired my fare share of executives. Of course they don’t make it to my office unless they’ve got the requisite skills and experience. But the good ones, I mean the really strong candidates, are all great thinkers, with good people skills and good verbal skills. And all but the people skills have to be learned. Pursuing a history major could get you started.