Leo Rhodes

Leo Rhodes ’01

vice president of finance and investor relations
Shake Shack

In a global economy changing faster than the speed of light, Leo Rhodes ’01 brings passion and creativity to keeping profits up and millions employed for leading companies like Best Buy, Ralph Lauren and now, Shake Shack. For a profession too frequently defined by numbers alone, we asked Rhodes:

Q: What’s the most common myth about working in finance?

A: “I’m not really a finance guy, I just play one on TV. I understand finance, I’ve had good training, and to a certain extent that’s the lens through which I view the world. But one misconception can be that finance and accounting professionals are bean counters, crank out reports and send them out. Two of my colleagues once asked if I dream of numbers.

But for me, what’s rewarding is being a partner in the business, working with leadership teams to form and shape decisions, evaluating our current store portfolio, figuring out where we have pockets of strengths and where we have areas that are challenging. Why are these stores performing well, or why are these not performing to expectations? Then make an assessment and come up with a plan. We are the gatekeepers. We have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization to make sure records are accurate and tight, to communicate how we’re doing internally and externally, so stakeholders — employees and investors— have visibility and know how the organization is performing and then can make an assessment on what’s next.”

The Calculated Risk Taker

"Some people can tell you exactly what they want to do, exactly where they want to be in five years,” says Leo Rhodes ’01, who joined Shake Shack in 2018 as Vice President of Finance and Investor Relations after spending nearly three years at Ralph Lauren. “For me, that North Star is something that’s been continually refined.”

Rhodes estimates that he’s in the third phase of his career. “Phase one” began with an “internship coming out of high school at M&T Bank,” which he continued while majoring in economics at HWS.

“I left HWS with a strong foundation in how to communicate, how to think critically,” says Rhodes, who spent the next few years delving into commercial banking while contemplating a different future.

Changing course during “phase two,” Rhodes left commercial banking to pursue his MBA at Indiana University. “I was earning good money in D.C. and had a good career in commercial banking when I applied to grad school, stopped working and took a bet on myself, betting that I’d come out better on the other side,” he recalls. “I thought heavily and sought counsel and it worked out. I got married, had kids and incurred debt but all for a goal of building toward something better. I’d say the biggest risk my wife and I have made is betting on ourselves, and we’ve been lucky.”

Rhodes held senior management positions at Best Buy and Ralph Lauren before accepting his current role at Shake Shack, where his team’s purview spans everything from financial planning and analysis, to identifying opportunities to drive business toward a target, to managing spending and investments. As for the company’s strategic goals, Rhodes is tasked with evaluating “a set of initiatives to determine where we want to be and valuing what those opportunities mean for the business. What do we expect the Shacks to do for us as we continue rapidly expanding the business? How do we continue to evolve our digital experience for our guests? How can we better integrate third party delivery capabilities with our operating model?”

Over the past 20 years, Rhodes’ hard work and calculated risk-taking have paid off, but he is quick to note, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the people I work with, the sponsors and mentors who challenged me in the right ways at the right times to pursue my goals and objectives.”

As he looks toward that next phase of his career, Rhodes feels confident he’s built “a portfolio of experience that’ll prepare me for whatever that is. When I think about what’s next, I think about how I can continue to operate on a larger stage and demonstrate that I can lead a larger team and drive outcomes.” He suspects that a C.F.O. role would be the right kind of outlet to take on these challenges, but says his current position is “a good fit for where I’m at now.”

Opportunities arise. Plans change. “It’s always good to have a goal,” Rhodes says, “but it’s important to be flexible, too.” –Andrew Wickenden ’09


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