| 2014 Q3 | story by DEREK HELMS | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
When asked about it, Shannon Abrahamson lowers her head and a slight smile crosses her lips. She is a quiet lady and seems to blush easily.
“Yes,” she said with a slight laugh. “I was the kid that really liked math growing up. I knew when I was in high school that I would be an accountant. I’ve always liked that moment when you’re working on a problem or an equation and it clicks. The harder the problem, the better the feeling.”
Abrahamson spends her days finding solutions to the often complex financial questions at First Management, Inc. As the Chief Financial Officer for one of Lawrence’s most prominent companies, Abrahamson oversees the daily cash flow of various rental properties, financials of SUBSET companies such as construction and property management and the complicated funding of various development projects in multiple states. She is licensed in Kansas, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.
The job provides countless opportunities to solve financial puzzles.
“One of the things I most enjoy about this position is the variety,” Abrahamson said. “Because First Management is involved in so many different ventures and business classifications, I have the opportunity to work in so many different areas. I know it sounds like a cliche, but there is never really a boring day here.”
Robert Green, President of First Management / First Construction, lauded Abrahamson. She is, in his opinion, absolutely essential to the success of the company.
“Shannon has really streamlined our accounting process,” Green said. “Her work on the financial end of the business has really helped all of our operations run with much more efficiency. She is a very career-oriented person, but without question, she keeps the company’s best interest in mind.”
First Management owner, Doug Compton, echoes Green’s thoughts.
“She has a great mind for numbers, for sure,” Compton said. “She has to wear many hats here. She’s in charge of the financials for 80 to 100 different LLCs and not all of them are the same type of business structure or even in the same industry. Her attention to detail is vital to the success of our companies.”
Abrahamson’s eye for financial details is invaluable, but Compton says her strongest business asset is more abstract.
“The biggest benefit she brings to our company is unquestionable credibility,” Compton said. “We deal a lot with investments and projections. If our numbers aren’t right, our plans won’t work. Shannon’s financial statements are spot on and that gives our company strong financial respectability, and there is no way to over value that.”
Making those numbers work is what Abrahamson strives for each day, even if that means she has to ruffle some feathers along the way.
“Well, I guess ‘No’ is a powerful statement sometimes,” she said with her bright smile and a laugh. “But the numbers don’t lie and my job is to keep everyone on track.”
There was a time, Compton concedes, when if his CFO said ‘No’ he took it as an objection to get around. However, that doesn’t happen with Abrahamson.
“I don’t even argue anymore,” Compton said. “I know if Shannon says the books won’t let us buy this or do that, then we just can’t do it. And I know it’s not her opinion, but her financial statement talking. I totally trust her.”
Abrahamson is a Lawrence girl. She is a proud Chesty Lion and Jayhawk alum, married a Lawrence guy and loves the connection her family has with Lawrence.
“There is so much history in this town,” Abrahamson said. “Each block has its story and I love how connected my family is to the past. I mean, my Dad was in the first class to graduate from West Middle School. I don’t know if my son understands how cool that is. I tell him all the time how lucky he is to grow up in Lawrence.”
With her professional accomplishments, Abrahamson acknowledges she could probably find a job anywhere she’d like to move, but the thought hasn’t crossed her mind.
“We love this town,” Abrahamson said emphatically. “I don’t want to live anywhere else. There are so many opportunities and Lawrence still feels like a small town. That’s a unique quality. The people of Lawrence really look out for each other. I mean, just look at all the non-profits and fund raisers and events in town. It’s really special here.”
Abrahamson doesn’t just admire the volunteer work of others. She jumps in head first. The list of organizations with which she has worked is long and varied, from her son’s baseball team to Willow Domestic Violence Center.
“Shannon’s work with Willow was a tremendous help,” said Nita Redmond, bookkeeper for the Willow Domestic Violence Center. “I know her work with the Board of Directors is very valuable, but what she did with our financials years ago still helps us everyday.”
The story is told by many local organizations. When Abrahamson began helping, she rolled up her sleeves and with her financial muscle took on the books. Financial statements, invoices and all other related documents became more intact and the organization’s financial reality and projections became clear.
“She created a very coherent system that has helped us track every dollar coming in and going out,” Redmond said. “She changed the way we keep our books. She put more organization into our accounts and set up systems for us to have much easier audits.”
The work has a big impact on others, but for Abrahamson, it’s second nature.
“Like I said, I like solving puzzles,” Abrahamson said nonchalantly. “If I can help some of our great organizations, I’m happy to do it. They’re the ones doing the real heavy lifting. I’m just getting their books straight.”
When Abrahamson’s fellow business associates elected her to the Lawrence Chamber Board of Directors, it was clear what role she would play. As treasurer of the organization, Abrahamson keeps an eye on the financials of the city’s largest business organization.
“Being a good financial steward of your fellow Chamber members’ money is a very demanding responsibility,” said board president, Mike McGrew. “Shannon does it exceedingly well and always with a smile. She stays on issue and isn’t afraid to disagree if she needs to. She is vigilant and committed, yet she executes her role with a pleasant good nature. Additionally, as a member of the officers’ committee, she actively engages in the strategic direction of the chamber.”
Abrahamson’s work in the community is a passion and it stems from her love of the town.
“Lawrence has been very good to me and my family,” Abrahamson said. “I do what I can to help.”
“I know a lot of people are surprised when they meet Shannon for the first time,” Compton said. “People in Lawrence know her from her work with us or her involvement and leadership in so many local organizations, but what many don’t know is how shy and conservative she is. I think it says a lot about her dedication to the community that she is so willing to jump in head first to help and take a leadership role when that might not be her nature.”Boards Chamber, LMH Endowment, Gateway West Holdings, Health Care Access, Willow Domestic Violence Center: ■