Marj Thomas

Chief Financial Officer
Allen Institute

“Careers are a journey, not a destination.”

Marj Thomas

What is your favorite word?

Integrity.

How do you define it?

A) Doing the right thing; B) Being whole and undivided, unified and cohesive.

How has this word influenced or inspired your career?

As the Chief Financial Officer of an organization, I often hear people say, “You’re in charge of the money!” Indeed, CFOs are charged with the safekeeping of money and have a lot of influence over how it gets spent. Being trusted to do the right thing and being unified with the direction of the organization have been critical to my success. As CFO, I need to be able to stand fully behind decisions that impact people’s programs and the initiatives that they are passionate about and work so hard on. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes you have to give people bad news about funding cuts. Other times, you have to fight for good ideas, even if they aren’t popular. This is where the grit in integrity comes in. I believe you get the best outcomes when you carefully listen to all sides, make informed decisions, and can be open to changing your mind. Finally, if you make a mistake, admit it. We’re all human.

How did you choose your STEM discipline?

I realize that many people might not consider finance a STEM discipline, but in order to do my job well, I need to know some science and even more about technology. I like the language and tools of finance and how we can use them to help define a road map for an organization

Why should other women and girls enter the field?

It’s no secret that the world of finance has primarily been dominated by men. I think it’s great to see more young women entering the field. Having a diversity of perspectives is foundational to advancing any discipline.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

To listen: true, active, engaged listening is a skill. You will learn more and make better decisions if you take the time to really listen to others.

What do you aspire to in your career, and why? What obstacles will you overcome?

My mission in my career has always been to help business leaders become even better business leaders. Early in my career, I used my expertise in finance and accounting to help individuals shape decisions through a financial lens. Over the years, that lens has been shaped and polished by lived experience, and I use it today with our team to make the best and most informed leadership decisions.

Describe an amazing opportunity you have had in your STEM career.

Careers are a journey, not a destination. This journey is the amazing part. My nine-year-old self wouldn’t have predicted that I would get to work with people all over the world and would get to be involved in the variety of things I have been a part of. It’s a gratifying experience.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong—talk about a mind-expanding experience! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

What do you consider the best professional or personal advice you’ve ever received?

I have worked in both large and small organizations and have had the honor to serve with some really great leaders. More than specific advice, I have benefited from watching them, listening to them, and learning from their actions—in both good times and in times of turbulence and uncertainty.

After growing up in Boise, Idaho, as the youngest of four kids, Marj Thomas eventually graduated from Boise State University and then became a CPA. She has worked in the technology industry for multinational corporations for most of her career, including for Hewlett Packard, Sony, and Intuit. Currently, Marj is the CFO of the Allen Institute, a nonprofit bioscience research institute in Seattle. She is married and has one son, who is also married, and is waiting patiently for grandchildren.