Over the last 2 decades, the responsibility of the corporate CFO has advanced from just a numbers guru to a strategic mastermind involved in every aspect of their business.
This change was significantly hastened by the Global Financial Crisis, which sent organisations scrambling to raise capital, cut expenses and tap developing markets.
I sat down with Ian Martin, CFO of Australian Temporary Fencing, for his perspective on the role of the modern CFO.
What have been the top two things in your career that has helped you gain your current position?
I think a good education and training contract. I went the CA route in South Africa. I was fortunate to get into a Big 4 firm (Deloitte) and did my training in the Entrepreneurial Services division. I was actively involved in helping owner managed businesses grow. My training exposed me to high growth businesses, for example, I was involved in the growth strategy of Nando’s and took the business through to Listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
As a result of that, I have a good perspective of my clients’ businesses from both a control perspective as well as commercially. This gave me a solid grounding and understanding of the importance of looking at all aspect of the business.
Secondly, getting involved in the Operational side of the business and not being 100% focused on Finance. The numbers become clearer when you understand where the numbers are coming from. This brings the value of what Finance can offer a business.
What has been your greatest challenge?
I would say immigrating to Australia and getting myself into the market over here. When I immigrated, I immigrated without a job. Because of the exchange rate, you don’t come to Australia with much capital so I had to hit the ground running.
I took the conscious decision to take a step back in my career. In South Africa, I was an FD for a listed business and in order to get into the market, I consciously decided to market myself at a lower level. I didn’t want to take 1 year to get a job, so I marketed myself at the FC level. In Australia, Australian experience is perceived as important so getting yourself into the market can be challenging. Once in the market, I worked hard; diligence is recognised and progression occurs for those who are willing to put in the time.
What are the important things you need to do to contribute to the business from a strategic point of view?
In order to contribute strategically, the back house needs to be in order. The business needs to run smoothly.
In my current role, I spent the first year cleaning up the business and implementing controls and procedures. Once the back house runs like clock-work you have the time and thinking space to be strategic. You have the time to focus on the value items that enhance the business. Also, it means you are making decisions from the correct information
How do you balance the operations part of your role with the strategic?
It comes down to having a team you can trust, understanding their weaknesses, and developing these areas. You know where they can run autonomously and the areas that you need to focus on.
If you can rely on your people you then have the time to focus on strategy.
How do you identify talent?
Talent can come in all forms. If someone is proactive and consistently drives to improve themselves, this impresses me.
When someone can consider the impact of what they are doing to the company as a whole, it means that they will progress. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to mentor them and give them the opportunity to grow.
When you meet with people in an interview, what do you value?
In an interview I value the basics…
- Doing the homework on the company
- Engaged and not afraid to ask questions and challenge me
How would you describe the culture of your team? Do you do any specific things to nurture that?
Accountability for their roles and accessibility to management. I like to give my team opportunities to grow and make mistakes to learn. I give clear direction and scope and let people work independently. This gives people the space to grow and flourish.
What tips can you give other people in the finance industry on how to build a successful team?
I think a good culture is paramount. We spend 1/3 of our life working. People must enjoy coming to work. With enjoyment they will thrive and be productive.
“Work hard; play hard”.
Do you see any significant emerging trends in the finance function?
I think the Finance Function is becoming more Tech focused with the enhancement of mobile devices and applications. SME was historically paper-based and restricted from technology due to cost. Current trends in mobile devices and applications have made technology a lot more accessible. Full integration within a business is now achievable at a fraction of the cost. Finance leaders need to be tech-savvy to take advantage of this. IT is no longer a separate channel within a business.
How do you think the career of finance professionals will change over the coming years?
I think more and more traditional Finance functions will become automated. The finance function will, therefore, have more operational values and expectations.
Preparing spreadsheets and passing them on is no longer the role of a finance professional. Analysing information and making meaningful conclusions is paramount.
It is well prophesied the contemporary CFO needs to be the right-hand man or lady of the CEO and the position now requires a leader with a dynamic vision beyond pure finance.
While strategic vision is essential Samuel Dergel, author of the Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for Corporate Financial Professionals believes “there is one talent that a CFO must have to be successful – the ability to make people feel comfortable by inspiring trust.”
After all, the ability to see and write the future is worthless if you can’t persuade your executive team upon the right course of action.
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