CFO interview series: A conversation with Brooke Keppie

CFO interview series: A conversation with Brooke Keppie

July 12, 2016 by Stella Petrou Concha

Question 1 – What does leadership mean to you?

From my experience, leadership is the ability to inspire and galvanise people behind a common clear vision. At its best, it’s an impressive blend of confidence and humility: The confidence to provide direction, and the humility to listen to your team.

When a leader provides direction, it can be inspiring. When a leader listens, it’s satisfying. When a leader links what they have heard from you, with their new direction, it’s the perfect motivation.

When a leader provides direction, it can be inspiring. When a leader listens, it is satisfying.

Question 2 – What have been the behaviours of the best leaders you have worked with?

The trait I value most highly is authenticity; being genuine, credible, trustworthy, engaging with others in a mutually respectful and open way. Or in other words, being real.

When I look back to leaders I’ve worked with in the past, there’s a clear distinction between how I felt working with those who were highly authentic, compared to those who were less so. How we ‘feel’ about our leader materially impacts how we engage with our work, and our working environment.

The importance of ‘feeling’ is set to become increasingly salient for a large segment of the working population, particularly as Gen Y becomes a growing proportion of our workforce. This generation, also called the echo boomers, are highly-educated and well-travelled, they are also digitally connected, and increasingly sceptical of authority. While they do not necessarily respond to figures of ‘authority’ or assigned ‘leadership’, they do respond to ‘authenticity’.

Authentic leaders connect with their teams; they provide a palpable reason for going beyond. The more committed to the leader, the greater the effort and output.

Question 3 – What are the three attributes you believe characterises talent?

While there are a number of characteristics, I believe that these three form the core of a talented individual:

  • Attitude.
  • Measured confidence.
  • Functional expertise.

Central to talent is having the right attitude, or in other words: a balance of positivity and a constructive mindset. The ability to face challenges and pragmatically overcome difficulties is a valuable talent trait. Additionally, having confidence in your ability to add value is an attractive trait. However, in the commercial world confidence often turns into arrogance. As such, it needs to be well matched with humility, especially when a learning occasion arises.

Finally, while functional expertise is a given, the ability to share that expertise and pass on the knowledge cross-functionally is a reflection of true understanding and engagement.

Lady climbing imaginary stairs
What does a leader need to succeed?

Question 4 – When you meet with people in an interview, what do you value?

Simply: passion and honesty.

Passion for the brand, the company, the role, the industry and the function. Passion for life. And honesty, making a connection and sharing experiences.

Question 5 – How would you describe the culture of your team? Do you do any specific things to nurture that?

My current team operates on a platform of communication, respect, and appreciation for the hard work put in.

I have a genuine respect for the experience an individual brings to a role, and the direction they want to take. Having had some very strong people-centric managers throughout my career, I feel a responsibility to provide the same to my team.

I aim to be honest in my conversations, and work hard to provide appropriate opportunities and clear the way for their advancement.

Question 6 – What tips can you give other people in the finance industry on how to build a successful team?

Take genuine interest in understanding people, their motivations, and ambitions, and working in partnership with them so they can meet their goals.

Establish and maintain a healthy work environment. There is a great TED Talk by Shawn Achor called ‘The Happy Secret to Better Work’.

While it’s commonly believed success leads to happiness, Shawn looks at turning this equation on its head. That is: Happiness leads to success. He terms this ‘The Happiness Advantage’, and suggests it leads to greater productivity and resilience, while lowering burnout, and ultimately driving better performance.

While we can probably hold off on the balloons and butterflies, encouraging a ‘happy’ workplace will drive your business toward success.

Question 7 – How do you think the career of a finance professional will change over the coming years?

The role of finance has been evolving for many years. Long gone are the days when being a superstar on the calculator was enough to push you through the organisation – finance functional skills are now assumed.

The true power of a finance professional today is their business partnering skills, and the commercial acumen that drives growth and success.

Looking ahead, the importance of our ability to connect, engage, and influence will continue to rise. As business in general moves toward a more entrepreneurial approach, it’s the perfect opportunity to demonstrate great leadership, leading to a higher-representation of CEOs with a strong finance background.

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