How to thrive in changing times

Organisations are turning to the finance function to help deal with changes, complexity, and disruptive ideas. Four prominent executives, including three CGMA designation holders, offer tips on thriving in today’s marketplace.
How to thrive in changing times

In a climate of constant uncertainty, one thing is certain: Organisations are turning to the finance function to help deal with complexity and disruptive ideas.

This puts finance professionals in a position of influence — and change. Finance executives increasingly find themselves focused on talent management, risk management, strategic planning, accounting information systems, cybersecurity, corporate governance, and legal and compliance initiatives. They’re also becoming critical players in the communication of performance and changes in strategy.

These prominent executives, who are to discuss thriving in disruptive times during a panel at this year’s World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) in Rome, offered these insights during recent interviews with CGMA Magazine.

Carol Calandra, CPA, CGMA
Group CFO — Markets, EY

Carol Calandra, CPA, CGMAWhen managing change, communicate the “why”.
It always helps for people to understand why you’re doing something and explaining how the team or organisation will benefit from the change. If you don’t explain the “why”, people are left to their own devices to guess. So it’s about explaining, being transparent, and understanding, and leading them through a change. Change is hard, and we need change leaders to help us through whatever change we are trying to implement. You have to keep talking about it, keep addressing it, keep reinforcing it, and provide the burning platform for the change.

Build your toolkit.
I always talk to our teams about expanding their toolkit. Constantly pick up new things. Expand broadly what your remit is, so that you learn. So when that job opportunity comes, you’re ready for it. You’re better prepared because you haven’t just been doing your job; you’ve been picking up other experiences along the way. Seventy per cent of learning is through experiential development. You don’t have to talk in front of Parliament or Congress to be better at presenting, for example. You can chair a meeting. You can lead a discussion group and, little by little, get comfortable with presenting. And then, when you’re in a job that requires presenting in front of people all the time, you’re much more developed in the skillset.

Volunteer for everything that you can humanly volunteer for. Because you’ll grow, you’ll continue to develop, and along the way, you’re going to meet some really interesting people, and you’re going to help them, and they won’t forget that, which will provide interesting opportunities down the road.

Tony Chanmugam, FCMA, CGMA
Group Finance Director, British Telecom Group

Tony Chanmugam, FCMA, CGMALook after your people, and they will look after you.
The quality of your people is essential. We limit the use of consultants where possible so that we encourage and grow our in-house expertise. Nurture your talent, and your team will become the catalyst for growth — for driving down the cost base, improving efficiencies, and driving long-term sustainable success. We also encourage our people to learn the different parts of the business. My experience as a COO has allowed me to be a successful CFO. If you understand the operational side, you will have a better understanding of the financials.

Play a full role in business strategy.
Management accountants have never been at such a high premium. Management accounting skills are vital to our success. We need the right people, but they need the right tools, knowledge, and skills to work efficiently. You need effective decision-making, and you want people brave enough to make those decisions. This may mean that someone makes ten decisions, gets eight correct, and makes two mistakes. But he or she learns the most from those mistakes.

Remember that innovation fuels growth.
When we rolled out our fibre-optic network [beginning in 2009], it cost us £2.5 billion ($4 billion). There was a high degree of concern about cost and take-up, but we were bold and had a reasonable confidence we could meet market expectations. We look to safeguard such investments with contingency plans. Be aware of the pessimistic, and try to counter that. You cannot afford to stand still and must always be looking to achieve that next set of aims.

Simon Henry, FCMA, CGMA
CFO, Royal Dutch Shell

Simon Henry, FCMA, CGMALook ahead and avoid complacency.
The danger of complacency is always a risk. Falling back to traditional modes of behaviour is something which executives have to consistently be conscious not to allow. Management accountants, with their focus on forward-thinking and sustainable business, are therefore vital to the risk-management process. Shell is clinical in understanding its risks, and the company has a well-structured process for ensuring that all risks are addressed at the executive or management level. Although there are certain events that simply can’t be planned for, it is crucial to have an established process in place to deal with any eventuality.

Be a good corporate citizen.
Being a good corporate citizen is not just a necessary core competency for every organisation, but also is a competitive advantage in many sectors. Industries and organisations must not just wait for regulations to be applied, but get ahead of the curve and be reactive to financial, environmental, technological, and economic change. If you have the correct approach to the role of responsible business by acting in a sustainable way, you can create different regulatory environments in which you can then do better business.

Be curious.
Part of being a professional is understanding what is required of you and making sure that you get the job done. But being an effective finance leader doesn’t stop there. Having the curiosity to understand exactly your organisation’s business model and risks — that is what will catapult you and your business forward. Understanding everything from finance to organisational effectiveness and allocation of resources — coupled with expertise in other parts of the business — can prove to be an extremely powerful asset in the effective management and development of a company’s finance function.

Ken Goldman
CFO, Yahoo

Ken Goldman, CPA, CGMATo stay ahead of disruptive trends, read up and hire young.
Bring in new blood, freshly out of school, that really are on top of some of the new trends. Another thing we do is acquire companies that are very involved with some emerging trends and use those as leads to what we’re trying to do. Read a lot, and really watch what’s going on. A lot of the new ideas come from people starting companies, so stay very involved with that. Another thing: Network a lot. You have to hang with people who are involved.

Grow and nurture talent from within.
The recruitment of talent is probably the biggest challenge currently in technology today. Talent is in the critical path of us being able to be successful. I try to hire as many people as I can right out of [university] and train them ourselves and grow them and mentor them and then develop them as managers. In Silicon Valley, the finance challenge is extreme, as it is for other functional areas, so I find the best way to do it is just to develop your own when you can.

Focus on experience first.
Good schooling is the requisite, as is understanding the functional areas of accounting. People underestimate how important it is to really understand accounting and stay up with it. Part of it is working hard, staying involved and engaged. It’s more important to get experience and learn. Don’t worry about your title or your salary. It’s all about good experience. The ability for finance to really understand fledgling business models is important to understand if it’s sustainable or “are you kidding yourself?”

Charles Tilley is chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. Jack Hagel is a CGMA Magazine editorial director. CGMA is the WCOA imperial sponsor.