Three leading global Chief Financial Officers recently shared their views on the impacts of recent events and their implications for the future of finance leadership.
The business landscape is changing like never before – so how can you ensure that disruption works for, rather than against, your business? That was the central question of the Transformation Tune-In virtual event, hosted by Dell Technologies and Intel.
Dr Alan Hippe, Group CFO and CIO at Roche – the healthcare giant responsible for producing over 100 million virology tests per month during the pandemic – was the first to discuss the immediate response to the crisis. “Two remarkable things happened. Firstly, we really came together as a team – the first consideration was ‘cash is king’ and we initiated weekly calls with our finance managers in the regions. Second is the appreciation for technology that we have seen. People now appreciate video conferences much more as a key element to make things work and keep things going.”
George Davis, CFO at Intel, said that enhanced communication was also key to his company’s response to unexpected events. “It’s easy to get insular when you’re hit with something like this, but if your customers are going through a great deal of change… we found as an organization we needed to be super tied-in to the sales area and the factories in a way that we hadn’t before. All of a sudden the mix of things customers wanted was very different to what we saw just before the pandemic. We had to become much more nimble and focused with our customers.”
On the subject of agility, and in response to a question from the audience about the biggest lessons learnt from the crisis so far, Tom Sweet, CFO of Dell Technologies, said, “I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with the capability of the organization to flex and navigate what was clearly an uncertain environment. I believe our workforce and that of many other organizations is going to be much more remote. That unlocks opportunities to attract different types of talent. But it will also bring challenges around instilling and reinforcing culture.”
As conversation moved to the changing role of finance leaders, Hippe said: “In the future, we have to apply even more technologies. We were on that path already, but there is more to be done. Finance will then very much focus on insights. Taking the opportunity that we have now and starting that journey into finance-focused insights – that’s what I’m looking forward to and what we are trying to build.”
Sweet agreed that an end-to-end philosophy of ‘process-systems-technology’ will shape the future of effective finance leadership: “In many respects this crisis has been a catalyst for the organization to think differently. We push the leadership to think ‘how can we make our people more productive? How do we eliminate work that is non value-add?’”
For Davis, the ability to add such advanced technological capabilities comes from developing cloud infrastructure, as it offers a lot more applications and tools that you can bring into your environment to make data analysts and analytics more powerful. “Leaders need to move more effectively to prioritize the tools that, in this new environment, analysts are going to need – and get what I would call ‘tiger teams’ to implement these much more quickly to have an impact.”
And on the ability to use those tools with maximum impact, Hippe said that a workforce skilled in emerging technology is absolutely essential: “People understand now that they have to be savvier when it comes to data insights, how to interpret data, what data is really needed… we encourage people to follow that education and at the same time we bring people in who have that knowledge.”
Future finance leadership
Later in the discussion, Davis said that in order to establish a shift to a more agile, efficient, tech-enabled future, finance leaders must show the way for the organization as a whole: “If I want our teams to focus more on analytics and influencing, I have to make sure that I’m role-modelling that behaviour and that they understand the context for questions that I ask, how I try to influence my peers and the CEO. And then I have to put leaders below me that can role-model that same mindset.”
I agree with this wholeheartedly. You have to set the expectation and give people the permission to begin this journey and you have to build a supporting environment around that. We also have to recognize that we won’t get it right all the time, the concept of ‘innovate and fail fast,’ learn and continue to move is important part our journey.
Watch the full replay for “The Finance Leader of the Future” here (registration required).