A third-generation SLO resident, Hillary Trout is the CFO of iFixit, our incoming Board Chair, and gets around town on an electric skateboard– so needless to say, we had a lot of questions for her.
Trout grew up in SLO at a time where, in her words, “career ambitions were typically synonymous with leaving town.” But knowing that she wanted to stay, Trout found her way into a multifaceted career path that has allowed her to keep the SLO family roots alive. We sat down with Trout to hear more about how she discovered accounting, her passion for all things numbers, and her unending commitment to the SLO life.
You started out as a Computer Science major before making a last-minute switch over to Accounting. What prompted the change?
When I was taking Computer Science classes, they were primarily legacy languages like Cobol and C, and Java was considered brand new. While taking those classes and simultaneously working for a tech company, I realized that what I was learning was already being surpassed by more sophisticated coding. It made me sad that I wasn’t learning the latest and greatest. Right around that same time, I had an opportunity to work in accounting. Once I bit the accounting apple, I was forever changed and never looked back.
You’ve dipped your toes in both the public and private worlds of finance. What are the pros and cons of each?
Public accounting typically means being surrounded by like-minded professionals. Everybody is knowledgeable, there are experts in all directions, and there is great opportunity to collaborate and problem-solve on a highly technical level. That is just plain fun.
In private industry the dynamic is very different. It can be lonely being the finance and accounting person in a private business and I spend a lot more time working through unsolved technical details in my mind and in my computer. However, there is much more involvement and interaction on immediate opportunities and challenges.
I also love the way the modern private business environment stewards the success and wellbeing of our colleagues, environment, and society. I really like having a positive impact on people and the planet. I can feel that impact when I am surrounded by people who share that passion.
What topics do you nerd out about the most?
Food. You have no idea. I have really taken to finding new and unique foods that can’t be found a block away at the grocery.
How does it feel to come back to your techy roots with your current position as CFO of iFixit?
Oh my gosh, it is fun. I am surrounded by people who put my technical skills to shame. We have dashboards, graphs, charts, big data, and spreadsheets like you can’t even imagine. We eat analysis for breakfast, scenarios for lunch, and automation for afternoon snack. It is wonderful to have a couple hundred people who can just pop together a technology solution faster than I can tie my shoes. The pace of innovation, creation and adaptation is exciting and fun to keep up with.
In the end, we sell electronics parts and the tools needed to fix electronics. Just last week, my husband resurrected a friend’s dead iPhone that resided in the back of a dresser drawer for two years using a $20 part from iFixit. Now that iPhone is in the hands of a low-fixed-income retiree who is raising a grandchild. We kept the iPhone from landing in hazardous waste, the iPhone lives a very well-loved life, and we saved somebody money. Never take broken as an answer (that is our tagline).
As a locally grown innovator, iFixit proves that tech can thrive here. Why is SLO such a great place to start and build a company?
SLO is a great place to start and build a company. At iFixit, we constantly have to reinforce our business model to be strong, resilient, and adaptable. Those are the tenants of a successful business, no matter where it is headquartered. We have to have a strong business model, a strong team, and a high-demand, high-quality product and service. If we falter in any of those areas, we would certainly feel it in the pocketbook.
SLO forces people and businesses to be strong. If you can succeed in SLO then you have overcome so many challenges that other regions haven’t yet had to grapple with. Yes, it would be nice if we had a low cost of labor, cost of living, etc. The local economy sets the standard, and we have a very high standard. It is certainly a difficult thing to balance.
As a third generation SLO resident, what about the SLO life keeps you rooted here?
I am so fortunate that I have the wherewithal to be a successful person. Growing up, all of us kids (eight siblings!) had to put ourselves through school and my parents were only able to give us their undying love and support. In the end, that is all that any of us needed. Only a couple of us remained in SLO. My mom is the only of her generation of 12 children that stayed in SLO.
We have a beautiful sliver of the California Coast that is occupied by wonderful people. I think that our region’s population is kind, decent, and care about the place we call home. Why in the world would I ever leave such a community?
What are your goals as the 2020 SLO Chamber Board Chair?
I really want the SLO Chamber to be a unifying voice for the local business community. There are so many challenges facing businesses and the SLO Chamber has them on its radar. If there is something affecting your business, odds are that the SLO Chamber is thinking about it and working on it. I truly hope that the individual voices of our business community feel heard, and my goals are for us to continue listening as much as possible. The 2020 Chamber is not about me and what I want. It is about what we want.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be nice. Life has taught me that life can be hard, and that nice people can make a hard life better. I have really appreciated all the people who have been nice to me. We can raise each other up at work, at home, with friends, and still be nice.