From Developing Financial Teams to Driving Strategy: Why Teamwork and Soft Skills are the Key

From Developing Financial Teams to Driving Strategy: Why Teamwork and Soft Skills are the Key

March 21, 2016 by Stella Petrou Concha

An Interview with Cate Chandler – Finance Director, Brambles

Brambles is a key player in the worldwide supply-chain logistics industry, with leading global brands including CHEP, IFCO and Pallecon. An ASX-listed Australian company with operations in over 60 countries,it is a truly global organisation.

Cate Chandler has been with the Brambles for a number of years and has been instrumental in transforming teams within the organisation to improve performance. Beginning with CHEP as Finance Manager, she moved into the Financial Controller role, and from there to the Finance Director position at Brambles. All of these roles involved working with and developing financial teams, something she is passionate about. Today she works in the One Finance Transformation team at Brambles, and is enjoying the challenge of working as part of a global team.

I spoke to Cate recently and she shared her insights on why soft skills, strategy and teamwork are all vital to success in today’s financial landscape.

What have been the top two things in your career that have helped you gain your current position?

I think having an advocate and a sponsor is a big one. Within the organisation you work for, you need different people who can help open doors and find opportunities for you. Having mentors, advocates and sponsors has been critical for me. If you don’t have them, you don’t get profiled and considered for the next opportunity for growth.

The second thing is always doing what you say you are going to do. Be reliable. Have the internal drive for results. You will only find (and keep) advocates if you have a track record for being reliable.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Switching roles from a traditional Finance Controller role to a strategic role, required the use of softer consulting skills’ to influence change and get results, both laterally and across the organisation.

Also, no longer having a team was a big change. Being equally as impactful, having the same deliverables but not having a team is different. It was a significant challenge but fun at the same time. When you are a leader,you have a team you can always call on to support you; but when you are an individual contributor, you have to be able to use your influence, networks and negotiation to get things done.

Continual self-reflection and adjusting your style for the situation or person is critical to being successful in a consulting or partnering role. Brambles is a global organisation, so for me cultural adjustments are key – I work with people from all across the globe – South Africa, Mexico, Europe and the USA, so you are always having to factor ‘culture’ and ‘time zones’ into your interactions.

How do you balance the operations part of your role with the strategic?

I always try to keep some time each day for ‘thinking’. In the noise of everyday life – kids, family and hundreds of commitments – you need to find time to think and reflect on where you are at. If you don’t take away the buzz you can’t be strategic, so I have an 80/20 rule. I find one or two hours a day when I ‘think’, mostly thinking differently in an unconstrained way. I know it sounds cliché but we won’t solve current problems with today’s level of thinking.

How do you identify talent?

I think its attitude and connection – I don’t think there is a science to it. Candidates have to be able to give good examples. Asking behavioural questions will tease out their working style and understanding their contribution to a team or process. Start with a conversation, one question leads to another and from there you can determine whether they have the necessary agility to adapt and learn in an ever changing world.

Of course the baseline technical skills are important, but I place more emphasis on the softer skills, the ability to connect dots, understand the context, think creatively, challenge respectfully, influence and use gravitas.


When you meet people in an interview, what do you value?

Just their honesty. We’ve all been on the other side of the table. Candidates are obviously there because they want the job, so I’m very respectful of that. For some people it takes a lot of courage.

I’m always impressed when they have done their homework, when they have made some connections and ask some intelligent questions. This will demonstrate their learning agility – being able to find insights and understand context. At the end of the day it comes down to whether you can work with that person. Was it easy to build rapport? Having a complementary style does make it easier.


How would you describe the culture of your team? Do you do any specific things to nurture that?

I work in a very cohesive and tight global finance transformation team operating from four offices across the world. You need to support one another and we are constantly connected with each other. Acting as a team player and not acting as an individual is critical. When a team is small and scattered it can’t be about the ‘I’, but rather the ‘we’. We share and value everyone’s contribution – it’s just about nurturing that. We all bring different strengths to the team and it’s about valuing that.


What tips can you give other people in the finance industry on how to build a successful team?

At the age of 25 I was given the some simple leadership advice, which still holds true today.

I stepped up into a position to lead a team for a large multinational business, with no prior leadership or management experience. The outgoing leader assured me it was simple as ‘Take the time to understand what motivates each person in the team,talk to them and find out something about them, from there you can always motivate them.’ My view is that you can only build a high performing and engaged team if you really understand why each person in the team turns up to work every day and tap into that.

It’s all about understanding the individual ‘WHY’.


Do you see any significant emerging trends in the finance function?

An increasing demand for softer and analytical skills will separate the ‘milk from the cream’ that floats to the top.

The need for well-rounded, impactful and insightful analysts and business partners is only going to increase. Why?There is still definitely value in compliance, but that on its own, won’t grow a business. We can only grow returns for a business or portfolio if we make better capital allocation decisions, and that is where finance needs to play, to be the be the navigator to support the business in making sound commercial decisions.


How do you think the career of a finance professional will change over the coming years?

People will move around a lot more. I don’t think so much about a structured career path, but more about getting varied roles and being more well-rounded. It’s not just about technical skills but more about‘experiences’. It all comes back to the fact that as a professional we have to be continually providing value to the business, through relevant and quality advice and support. Having a broad experience base provides that, and it will ensure you have earned your seat at the table.


In closing

Cate’s vast experience working to develop and lead finance teams has resulted in a clear view on what it takes to identify and nurture talent – by understanding your team you’ll get the best from them. She also highlights the need for today’s finance professionals to use their soft skills – or “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) – for strategy, continual growth and ultimately career progression.

In the world of finance today those who get to the top have more than just strong technical skills – they also have a strategic mindset, a broad experience base and well-developed soft skills. Nurture and develop these and you’ll set yourself up for success.

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