Before starting college, Valarie Sheppard was trying to decide what she was going to study. So she looked to her family for inspiration.
Her aunt had graduated from Purdue University with an accounting degree and was pursuing a career while raising children. It seemed like a career in that field offered the kind of flexibility that could help with family life.
So, accounting it was. During her junior year at Purdue, Sheppard was invited to apply to a special fast-track master’s program, an MBA equivalent. She graduated the following May with her undergraduate degree, married her high-school sweetheart four days before she started the graduate program, and in August graduated with her master’s.
Sheppard joined consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) after graduating.
Today she is the company’s controller & treasurer and executive vice president. She is responsible for the external financial reporting, financial planning, global business development, and treasury operations for company businesses and operations in about 70 countries, with annual sales of more than $65 billion. She is also leading the global implementation of P&G’s organization design, the most significant restructuring initiative in more than two decades.
Two weeks after graduation, Sheppard moved to Cincinnati to work at P&G. A few years passed and the young couple then had their first child, and Sheppard worked a part-time schedule—only the third woman manager at the company to do so at the time.
Then her husband, who was working in computer science, came home with the news that his company had been acquired and employees were being asked to relocate to Cleveland.
“That caused us to sit down and think about what it was that we really wanted,” Sheppard says.
Her husband is a musician, and not relocating with his company could be his chance to focus on music.
“Financially, it made more sense for [us] to stay,” she says. “And I liked my job.” So the family stayed in Cincinnati and her husband pursued a career as a full-time musician.
Years passed, and she continued gaining more responsibility at P&G, her husband was enjoying some success as a musician, and they had another child. When her two sons were still young, Sheppard got the opportunity to move to Kobe, Japan, and lead P&G’s finance group and the company’s $1.7 billion business in Japan and South Korea. The Sheppard family learned the ins and outs of life as expatriates.
As the only working mother in finance in Japan at P&G, she had almost all Japanese men reporting to her.
“They had never worked for a woman, let alone an American woman,” she says. “But I felt they were always kind, tolerant of my western culture, and willing to accept me.”
Sheppard still thinks back fondly on her time overseas. What she originally dreaded—being away from family and uprooting her young children—actually turned out to be “amazing.”
“We opened up the world for the whole family as my entire extended family made the trip to see us in Asia,” she says.
After three years in Japan, the family’s next opportunity presented itself. Although she was telling her mentors and bosses that she wanted to come back home to company headquarters in Cincinnati, they had other plans for her.
“They offered me a job where I would be responsible for helping lead a $17 billion business,” she says. “It was a huge promotion. And it was in Belgium. I was floored.”
After a successful run in Europe, Sheppard returned to the global headquarters and was named controller of the company. Now an officer, she got involved with community service. First up, she led the company’s United Way employee campaign.
Next, she became a United Way board member, where she met the senior officer from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Cincinnati Branch. He asked if she would consider a spot on the Fed’s Branch board of directors. She served as a Cincinnati Branch director for five years, then joined the Cleveland main-office board in 2019.
“Just listening to Loretta [Mester, president and chief executive officer, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland] and the staff, it’s a higher level of discourse,” she notes about her role. “Things are beginning to fit together for me more now. I feel like I have much better context for what I’m reading in the paper.”
Each meeting of the board requires advance preparation by the members. Ahead of every meeting, the directors receive a set of questions. Sheppard reviews and answers the questions prior to the meetings, occasionally seeking out additional information from P&G colleagues who may have more facts on specific topics.
“I feel that one of my main roles is to provide real-time perspective to Loretta and the team on what is happening in my industry,” she adds. “I don’t share specifics on P&G, but I do try to bring that broad consumer-products industry perspective.”
And she in turn learns more.
“Every director has something very interesting to say,” she says. “I learn a lot from Loretta… as well as from fellow directors and from the different reports from the staff.
“It’s a never-ending study,” she continues. “The more I learn, the more questions I have. I guarantee you, the last day [when my term as a director ends], I’ll have better questions and I’ll have deeper questions, because it’s continuous learning.”
The Cleveland Fed, one of the 12 Reserve Banks of the Federal Reserve System, is overseen operationally and informed by a board of directors, whose members regularly share industry trends and geographic perspectives that help the Federal Reserve understand how various business sectors and communities are experiencing the economy. These regional insights, in turn, help inform national monetary policymaking. The Cleveland Fed’s directors come from various backgrounds and experiences and hail from the district the Bank serves, which comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, the northern panhandle of West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky.
Read all 9 directors’ professional bios here.