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Kara Faford, VP Commercial Finance, Thermo Fisher

Kara Faford is a Finance executive in the Pharmaceutical Services Group at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science. This global biotechnical product development company helps their customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. Kara has been with the company for over twelve years and currently serves as the Vice President of Finance, Commercial Operations. Prior to joining Thermo Fisher, she started a career in finance in the rotational leadership program at PerkinElmer.

Kara’s Top 5 are Restorative, Achiever, Responsibility, Learner, and Discipline.

How is knowing your Strengths a must-have in a transition to a VP role?

I know my dominant strengths are execution focused. Just knowing that is critical because I need complementary skills around me to achieve the full goal, not just the execution side. Strengths has helped me consider how to build a balanced team environment. I’ve always been confident that I can work really hard to get it done. I always put in the time and effort and have the desire to learn. I now need to work smarter.  I didn’t know what that used to mean. Understanding my strengths is helping me define that for myself.  I can get through a situation without questioning myself or adding overthought. It expedites the time to get to the next issue or problem. I know how to move through situations to get to the execution state. If I leverage my strengths, that’s how I work smarter.

Which talent themes made sense to you when you read your CliftonStrengths report for the first time?

Achiever (2) and Responsibility (3) felt the most authentic. The way I think about myself and the feedback others give me is that I am goal oriented, so Achiever makes sense. I have a hard work ethic in all facets in my life. For Responsibility, I always do what I say I am going to do and I tend to be the responsible one in the group. I knew that about myself and have received feedback from others about it so it was a known entity.

Which Talent Themes surprised you?

Restorative (1) surprised me, especially because it’s my number one. I naturally come into situations and want to fix problems but I didn’t realize that was a strength. I just thought it was a common response in situations. In certain roles, that’s just how I operated and didn’t realize it could be a strength. But now that I am in aware of it, it makes complete sense. It’s why I was able to be successful in the many challenging “fix-it” type roles I have held.

Which talent themes largely attribute to your success? Can you share an example of how your strengths have led to your success?

My Restorative (1), Learner (4) and Discipline (5) stand out. In one example, I was leading a business unit for the second time in my career and partnering with a commercial organization. I was a business unit Finance Director, reporting to the general manager and had to partner with other leaders. I remember sitting across the table from the customers with the head of the commercial business and I expected them to drive the conversation, but they deferred to me. Someone to take the situation by the horns and run with it. I stepped up. I was able to be calm and figure out the issues. To fix the problem, I worked across our internal corporation with all functions, identified the issues and addressed them, and then went back and worked with the customer. We were dealing with the single biggest customer for that business and if we didn’t resolve it, there were massive implications on revenue. No one had the solution. It was hard and there were high stakes. I stepped up, and looking back, it was so exciting.

I see how my Restorative gave me the ability to piece things together, stay clear-headed despite the intensity and pressure, not point fingers and just fix it and move forward. It enabled me to see past the history and focus on moving forward and solve the problem sustainably. People had solved it temporarily, yet I was going for a sustainable solution. My Learner was also key. I had to learn and understand the history, the customer, the commercial world, and how we needed to interact with certain key  customers. Learning all of that was brand new. It was exciting and hard all at the same time. It was a two year process and my Discipline kept everyone on track with goals and small wins along the way. I see how my Discipline kept all the moving pieces of the process and the people on track every step of the way.

When was the first time you recognized your Strengths?

It’s a story my parents and brothers tell all the time! My Responsibility (3) and Discipline (5) stood out at an early age. I would come home from middle school, starting in the 7th grade, with seven books from seven classes and put my stack of books, two sharpened pencils, calculator, and note book neatly arranged on the table. I had my list of homework and would take out one book at the time and go from one to the next without taking a break. No one told me to do it and no one ever asked me if I did my homework. I came up with my own process. When I was done, I put my books back in my bag and then went to bed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my brothers would be in the other room looking on thinking it was crazy. I also remember that when I started middle school, I practiced for five days to get ready for the earlier bus pick-up time before the first day of school. I must have been around 11 years old. No one told me to do those things. I started setting goals at an early age and created my own processes.

How would others describe you as a leader?

I show up as someone who is very consistent. I like to think I come up with a structured process. My Achiever (2) is strong about setting goals and expectations then driving until we completed them. I try to be consistent and approachable. I recall one piece of feedback I received early on as a manager was that I came across as intimidating. I wasn’t taking enough time to know my employees. I was focused and intense on the goals. I was friendly but too structured. That experience taught me to listen more instead of offering solutions and finding out how the other person wants to do it. I took more time to show how much I actually care and would ask how they were doing and what they were worried about. When they expressed concerns, I made an effort to listen more. I learned to try to help them the way they needed to be helped and not jam my style on them. It’s about trying to understand their way. I think people feel more comfortable when I take that approach. Put simply, it was trying to leverage the strengths of others. And I found it to be more fun because I got to know people better.

How does knowing your strengths make you a better leader?

Now that I know my CliftonStrengths, it’s helped me to be a more confident leader. I’m not spending as much time thinking about alternative solutions to problems. I know who I am and how I see situations. Having the self-awareness and acceptance of my strengths allows me to focus more on the people I work with and the problems we are dealing with. I am able to sit and listen in a meeting and respond.  You can never have too much self-awareness. I’ve developed a daily strengths practice that allows me to be more present.

What drives you?

I love the company I work for. I believe in our mission. I stand behind making the world a healthier, cleaner, safer place. I have a lot of respect for the finance organization here. I come to work each day trying to support a great company doing great things. Even more, I want to support the teams I work with. I like solving problems and I like achieving goals. Thermo Fisher wants people to come in wanting to solve problems and make things better and they reward people for that. I think it falls in nicely with my strengths.

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