Meet Noodle’s Chief Financial Officer Meredith Ruble
“It shouldn’t be different for women than for men. Leadership takes confidence and vision.”
Meredith Ruble has been CFO for Noodle Companies since June 2017, and recently transitioned to CFO of Noodle Partners where she leads capital raising and financial and accounting efforts. Prior to joining Noodle, Ruble served as CFO for iD Tech Camps, the largest tech camp education company in the country, where she helped double revenue over three years. Before that, she spent 14 years covering education as an investment banker first for Legg Mason and later for Stifel Nicolaus. Ruble holds her BA in economics from the University of Pennsylvania.
As a woman, what are the biggest challenges you face today in the business world and why?
Mansplaining is real. That’s just a fact. It’s certainly not every man, but it happens often. I tend to speak with precision and move fast in a conversation, so it’s irritating to be talked over. At this point I see it as just another obstacle to navigate and try to ignore it.
I admit, though, I do get frustrated with the “as a woman” question. Sometimes I wish I could ignore the male vs. female divide in my professional life. That said, it was pervasive in my previous experience as an investment banker, simply because the customers, as well as the upper-level executives, are almost always men.
For example, in my banking days, I presented at a big meeting. I later learned that an upper-level executive asked the leader of the meeting, “Do you think she’s tough enough?” Now that’s a question that men don’t face. I can’t waste time worrying about what people say about me when I leave the room.
With regard to pay disparity, today women in the U.S. earn 78 cents to every dollar that men earn. Why do you think this is so, and why do you think it is taking so long to close the pay gap?
I’m very aware of the issue but especially as it pertains to Noodle. Our internal analysis, which we shared with the entire company in January of this year, showed that women at Noodle are paid roughly 95% as much as men on average, from the lowest to the highest level. So obviously we have a little bit of room of improvement there but I’m extremely proud that we are helping to shrink that
gap. The first step of achieving pay equity on the national scale is to increase transparency within companies, which is what we’re doing.
Are there influential women today who you think will have a great impact over the next 5-10 years?
It’s interesting to look at other countries who have had female leaders longer than the U.S. has. For example, other countries with more women in senior leadership positions have smaller pay disparities. Female leaders just bring a different style and perspective. I remember reading that women-led countries were more successful in tackling the COVID crisis. Common sense, decisiveness and trustworthiness are all traits that come to mind when I think of female leaders I admire.
What elements or traits do you think a strong female leader should have and why?
I would say that strong leadership should look the same for people of any gender, really. Leadership takes confidence and vision. It takes extreme commitment to operationalize that vision. People have a tendency to hire who they know, people they’re already comfortable with from their network, and as a result these people tend to have similar experiences and points of view. Really good leaders go outside their
network to bring in fresh points of view. I don’t think that’s a gender-based pattern.
What is it about your background that successfully positioned you for your current role at Noodle?
I’m the CFO at Noodle, but my job is more like half CFO and half banker. In that sense I’m more of a strategic CFO. Going out and finding financing is a critical part of my job and Noodle’s future. When I first started working as an investment banker, I was doing Mergers &
Acquisitions (M&A) deals and the very first deal I did was for an educational institution. I really liked the mission of the company.
Finding money for companies and organizations that are trying to change the world is a great thing. So, I guess you could say that education found me. You’re certainly more likely to find more women CEOs in education, and that appealed to me, too. It’s been a really natural fit for me. When I began at Noodle, I had existing relationships with investors and that was extremely valuable.
What is the most effective tool in your leadership arsenal and why?
I like to give my team a lot of responsibility. I do a good job of teeing up opportunities and then letting people have their run. I am very direct, but I don’t micromanage, and a number of my direct reports over the years have gone on to accomplish great things and lead great careers.
One of my favorite examples of this is a former direct report I had. He worked for me as an analyst (again, during my banking days). He was smart, that was clear, but he just wasn’t doing a good job. It occurred to me that he just wasn’t cut out to work for someone else, which is usually the mark of a motivated entrepreneur. So, I pulled him aside and told him that he wasn't good at taking directives and that he should think about starting his own company. He did, and he created a tool that made it easy to pay participants in clinical trials. Today his company is quite successful.
According to recent data from the Center for American Progress, 41% of women are the sole or primary breadwinners for their family, earning at least half of their total household income. How does this historic shift reflect the changing status of women in America?
I myself am the sole breadwinner of my family. I have always hated to ask my parents or my spouse for money. Being a breadwinner provides more opportunity to make decisions and have an impact.
Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space, has said, “Never limit your imagination because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” How does that quote resonate with you?
I tend to agree with it. I live my life with few constraints. I try to avoid anything that feels limiting. This ties back to the breadwinning question. Being financially independent is an important part of freeing yourself from limitations that feel arbitrary.
Tell us something about yourself that everyone might be surprised to learn.
I’m direct and a very open person – I’m an over-sharer, in fact – so there is little that people don’t know about me. One thing that few know about me, however, is that when I was fifteen – still in high school – I decided to become an exchange student. I went to live in the Netherlands for a year and had to learn to speak Dutch, to then take all my classes in Dutch. This was before the Internet or cell phones, so
in terms of keeping up with my friends and family, we only had letters and photos to send through the mail. What a thoroughly game-changing experience that was!