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Since taking over the reins as CEO of Deloitte Australia, Cindy Hook has led an organisation which is growing a couple of percentage points ahead of its major rivals which is testament to both strategy and execution.

She believes that there are five keys to achieving and sustaining that sort of momentum that should resonate both for captains of industry, and leaders of the finance function.

Speaking at a recent FEI event in Sydney, Hook said that success demands organisations are purpose led, customer focused, globally minded and develop both a bold strategy and inspiring culture.

 Purpose Led

Organisations need to put purpose beyond profit. Standard & Poor’s 500 companies which are purpose led outperformed rivals ten-fold said Hook. However she stressed that success demanded that every individual in the company understood the enterprise purpose and felt empowered to work towards it.

That she said applied equally to finance teams. "Sometimes finance teams think 'I am back office’ - but this has got to be translated to every person in the organisation," including finance, said Hook.

 Bold Strategy

True leaders need to balance between the need to deliver results today while investing to transform the business to make sure it's future-ready said Hook as "business as usual" strategies are unlikely to succeed long term. At Deloitte this had required the organisation to codify, standardise and automate what it could, and then to create new value streams not tied to existing business operations.

She recommended that chief strategy officers and chief financial officers work more closely together, creating a framework that measured enterprise success in delivering against strategy.

Tell us a little about your career path

After the first few years working as an accountant I made the decision to build a broad commercial and strategic skill set and capability rather than defining what I thought my Sophie Moore Rperfect job or ultimate career goal would be.  I also never set any timeframes but took the opportunity to do many roles (even within the same organisation).

I started my career at Coopers & Lybrand in the undergraduate program whilst completing my accounting degree spending 10 years at PwC. After advising Flight Centre on the acquisition of a corporate travel business in the UK I joined the company and went onto spend 12 years at Flight Centre in Global Finance. I joined A.P Eagers Limited in July 2015 as the CFO and was appointed to the Board of Directors in March 2017.

What keeps you awake at night?

I am always thinking about what I need to execute over the next week, month or beyond in my role.  It doesn’t keep me awake at night because it’s a continuous journey that will always have twists and speed bumps along the way. 

Any career lows?

Probably not taking time off to enjoy the long service leave I built up in my last two roles.

How has the CFO role changed over the last decade?

The role of the modern CFO is continuously broadening from the traditional role of getting the numbers right, compliance and reporting.  That is essential but a given.  It has shifted to contributing to the development and execution of strategy.  Our role is to deliver our insights, discipline, and deep knowledge of both the business and the industry sector to our organisation.  Furthermore the digital revolution is forcing us to deliver innovative finance solutions to our business with real time reporting and analytics.

Tell us a little about your career pathAndrew Cartledge

I joined GE after graduating university and started on their graduate entry financial management program. I moved from the UK to Holland a year after starting and then kept moving with GE for the next 25 years. I spent three years with their corporate audit staff, constantly travelling and working with each business group on four month audits. I’ve been CFO for a number of businesses and regions as well as working at HQ for GE’s Energy business as the Head of Group FP&A. I spent nine years in the US and my last of 12 moves was to Australia in 2011 as the CFO for GE Australia and New Zealand. I joined WiseTech in 2015 with an opportunity to take a business through an IPO and develop as a listed company CFO.

And your education?

I grew up in the North of England and studied Accounting and Finance at University in Manchester.

How has the CFO role changed over the last decade?

The pace of change has gone from frequent to constant. The business environment, the way we run our finance function and the level of support our businesses require has all shifted up several orders of magnitude.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can take a manual process that might take the finance team 12 hours to complete and rattle it off in just 60 minutes.

It’s that sort of process improvement that has some pundits suggesting as much as 50 per cent of current finance activities will be automated in relatively short order.

However an FEI event exploring the future of finance developed in association with PwC suggests that most organisations will take a very measured approach to emerging technologies such as RPA, artificial intelligence and blockchain.

Tell us about your career path: 

I started my career in sales and then marketing. I had no particular desire or interest to enter the world of finance. However, a combination of good timing a little bit of luck Canning35provided me with an opportunity to join Diageo in London, a company which I had admired for some time. I commenced as a business analyst on a temporary contract. Since then my career has followed a path encompassing a variety of roles across finance, strategy, corporate development and then out of the function into general management roles. I returned to finance about three years ago as the CFO of Blackmores.

What keeps you awake at night?

My young daughter! Apart from that, thinking about how our strategy will transform our company over the next five years and the things we need to be putting in place over the next 18 months, to ensure we are in the best position to execute on our long term strategic plans.

The CFO role has changed dramatically over the last decade, what further changes do you anticipate?

Continued broadening of responsibilities beyond delivering on the core financial disciplines. This is already largely occurring but the lines between a CFO and a COO will become increasingly blurred. Further automation of finance processes beyond transaction processing will create capacity for the CFO role to become more involved in the operational management of the business.

How far out can a CFO plan, given the pace of change at present?

I think the answer is dependent on the industry sector, the structural dynamics at play and the pace of change impacting established business models. In some industries, planning five years and beyond with a high degree of confidence in future income streams, costs and returns can be relatively accurately determined. However, in industries facing digital disruption, changing consumer purchasing behaviours and relatively low barriers to entry, shorter term horizons of no more than three years accompanied by a more flexible and nimble approach to adjusting these plans, is more appropriate.

The whiteboard and butchers paper are filled with good ideas, action plans are drawn up, responsibilities allotted, and then nothing happens.

There’s the drift back to the status quo while opportunities for innovation languish.

It’s a familiar experience for many executives—but at a time when innovation and the need for fresh thinking are needed like never before it’s a lost opportunity according to creative leadership consultant Dr Ralph Kerle.

With a background in the creative arts, and formerly an associate director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Kerle has latterly been working with corporations to address the issue of executive creativity and particularly CFO creativity which he sees as the missing link in enterprise innovation.

He himself ran many corporate ideation workshops but for years; “I had never had a CFO in the room. There would always be a point at the end of the discussion where we needed a budget and have it signed off.” He says that in 85 per cent of cases the workshop ideas would go nowhere because the processes and funding were absent.

One of the surprises that faces CFOs joining a listed company or undertaking an IPO for the first time is that from here on in around a quarter of their time is earmarked for investor relations.

The why is simple; good investor relations burnish the relationship between listed entities and the investment community. Bad ones burn boats.

According to the Australasian Investor Relations Association (AIRA) excellent investor relations can boost the value of listed entities significantly. In a 2015 blog post the organisation suggested that if every then ASX listed entity excelled in investor communications there could be a $160 billion increase in shareholder value.

The benefit of investing time and effort in effective investor relations comes as no surprise to Warwick Bryan, who was for a decade the investor relations manager of Commonwealth Bank and the very visible front man for its regular market reports. With 30 years of investor relations and corporate communications experience, Bryan is now a partner with Reunion Capital Partners which specialises in supporting senior executives as they strive to meet equity market expectations. 

 

What did you want to be when you grew up? BryceWolfe

I am actually doing now what I always dreamt of doing. During school and university I enjoyed mathematics, commerce, and learning more about corporate strategy. At Ixom, I am leading a global finance function that is helping to guide and shape the business, to deliver our strategic aims.

Tell us a little about your career path and what led you to the finance function?

My original career path was as a quantity surveyor, however, I quickly migrated to accounting when I discovered the number of opportunities in finance was significantly greater. I have held my current position at Ixom since 2014.  Prior to this, I worked at Village Roadshow for nine years and ten years at Ernst & Young.  

If time travel was real what career advice would you give to your 20 year old self?

Do a PhD in History, travel more for pleasure and less for work, push harder in every aspect of life. I have a strong work ethic, I always say in my first seven years of work, I gained 15 years of experience (the hours were long!).  In hindsight, that work has got me to where I am today, however, it’s important to recognise the times you can be self-indulgent and, education is certainly one of those. 

A sea change in the way enterprise leaders need to prioritise decision making requires fresh thinking from CEOs and CFOs according to Alison Watkins, group managing director, Coca-Cola Amatil.

Speaking at the FEI’s mentor programme kick off event in Sydney recently, Watkins explained that; “Even ten years ago if someone asked me what my purpose was I would have constructed a hierarchy acknowledging community and environment with shareholders at the top of the pyramid.

“Now I think of shareholders as one minimum requirement...but alongside the requirement to meet the expectation of other stakeholders.

“That has really big implications for all of us as leaders, including CFOs and members of the finance community who are often right hand to the CEO, integral to the leadership teams and central to the board's confidence.”

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