Melissa Palmer Wins RBJ Financial Executive of the Year
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Melissa Palmer Wins RBJ Financial Executive of the Year

In 2007 Melissa Palmer had been serving as a widely-respected, full-time professor of finance at the Rochester Institute of Technology when she was asked to provide some financial consulting for a fast-growing local media agency, Butler/Till. After spending only a few hours with Melissa, Butler/Till founders Sue Butler and Tracy Till knew they needed her financial acumen within their ranks to continue their trajectory of growth. Which is how Melissa became the first (and only) Chief Financial Officer of Butler/Till more than 10 years ago.

Since then, Melissa has brought financial rigor to the Butler/Till operations, helping our firm triple in both revenue and employees. Sue Butler recognizes that “Melissa’s knowledge and expertise have been integral to this rapid and remarkable growth.” Melissa streamlined all aspects of accounts receivables, payables, reconciliation, and budgeting processes and uncovered ways to leverage more favorable payment terms to earn the agency incremental income and offset travel expenses. She astutely oversees the agency’s investments, outpacing the market to increase non-operating income. And she manages relationships with our financial and business partners with a combination of professionalism, integrity, and warmth that they are quick to call her a “dependable partner” and “an extraordinary business leader.”

The following accomplishments have had significant business impact, directly increasing revenue, and helping build a sustainable future for Butler/Till:

  • 5 years ago, one of our largest clients asked Butler/Till to partner with a direct-response television media buying partner but became quickly dissatisfied with their service. It was Melissa who said “Can’t we do it better?” A task force was quickly formed to acquire the necessary skills and technology. By shifting the previously outsourced work in-house, Butler/Till was able to diversify our service offerings, increase revenue, and improve our client’s satisfaction.
  • Under Melissa’s financial stewardship, Butler/Till took the progressive step to become an employee-owned company (ESOP). The first transaction occurred in 2011 and due to our ability to pay down debt ahead of schedule, we were able to make a second transaction less than 4 years later to become 100% employee-owned – a pace unprecedented. The ESOP has been a tremendous factor in our ongoing success. It provided a seamless exit strategy for our two founders, boosted employee engagement, and has allowed us to leverage tax savings to reinvest in our business and the employee experience. She continues to manage the complex financial systems of the ESOP including the annual valuation, share distribution, and repurchase obligations. Until recently she also served as the ESOP Trustee.
  • In 2015 Butler/Till made our first acquisition. After another agency’s leader sought counsel from Melissa on how to successfully exit her business, Melissa saw a fortuitous opportunity. In a record 30 days, Butler/Till successfully acquired Rochester-based Brand Cool Marketing. Since then the Brand Cool division of Butler/Till has more than doubled in size.
  • In Melissa’s tenure she has overseen the largest office move in the company’s history, two building expansions, and the recent opening of our San Francisco office. All flawlessly, on-time, and on-budget (a rarity when it comes to real-estate and construction!).

In addition to her CFO “hat,” Melissa also serves as Butler/Till’s Chief Operating Officer. In this role she oversees human resources, information technology, data and analytics, and project management. Melissa is a member of Butler/Till’s Executive Leadership team and Butler/Till’s board.

Despite the multitude of her responsibilities, Melissa takes time to teach our employee-owners “Finance 101” as part of our Butler/Till University training program. With total transparency, she is committed to helping every employee-owner understand how Butler/Till “makes money” and their personal contribution to increasing value. “Her compassion is contagious, and she continues to be driven to make those around her better.” (Gregg Schaller, Merrill Lynch)

Outside of the office, Melissa finds opportunities to lend her talents to support our local and industry communities. She serves on the Rochester Women’s Council, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) financial forum, and regularly speaks at regional and national ESOP conferences. Through her involvement with the Women’s Council, she served as a judge for the Young Women of Distinction, an honor bestowed on local high-school girls with significant academic and civic achievements. It was this experience that prompted Melissa to offer two Young Women of Distinction internships at Butler/Till each summer giving them the opportunity to work side-by-side with college interns and Butler/Till employees and undoubtedly providing a work experience they can leverage in their future careers.

All these contributions are evident in the business success of Butler/Till. Butler/Till has been named one of Rochester’s Top 100 businesses consecutively for the past 6 years. We have also been named a “Best Place to Work” by the Democrat & Chronicle and Ad Age, and ESOP of the Year.

Throughout the halls of Butler/Till Melissa is known for her quick wit, her big heart, and of course her smarts. There is no one more deserving of being recognized as the Financial Executive of the Year.

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