At the start of the year, we announced a series of events, guest blogs, and articles to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Livingston James Group. At Rutherford Cross, we engaged with CFOs to discuss the changing role of the CFO as we look to the future. When COVID hit, our priorities, like those of everyone else, shifted to the wellbeing of our family, friends, and colleagues, and how the Group would operate in the lockdown situation we found ourselves in.
As the country cautiously begins to emerge from the initial stage of the pandemic and resulting lockdown, we have asked CFOs to revisit their ideas on the changing role of the CFO in our ‘new normal’.
This instalment features Michael Sloan, CFO of Whyte and Mackay, who puts the changing role of the CFO into five categories.
Being a ‘Global Citizen’
Being able to interact and maximise the relationships with international stakeholders in an increasingly global environment is essential for the CFO of the future. Whyte & Mackay growth opportunities are in Asia, the Americas and Africa more than the more mature markets of the UK or mainland Europe. The CFO needs to tailor their way of working in a more inter-connected world, finding ways to adapt their style. Having one approach to a global workforce and customer base will not deliver the best business performance.
Sustainability is a huge issue, particularly in the drinks industry where the processes of bottling, packaging, disposal of waste materials, etc. are under such rapid change. It is an area that stretches right across the spectrum including governments, customers, communities, etc. Ensuring the focus of your business is not solely on profit, but also on the most sustainable way it can operate is important not only for the bottom line, but also for employee and customer satisfaction.
There is an increasing prevalence for the IT function to report into the CFO, which is a positive move. Every CFO needs to be alive to the impact of AI and automation and possess an inquisitive mindset to the involvement of technology and how it can be harnessed, regardless of the industry you are working in. COVID has really shown how businesses need to be on top of technology to support flexible working and facilitate as much as possible normal levels of productivity. Disaster recovery is another area which has been brought into focus; businesses need to keep their IT infrastructure working even if a site requires to be shut-down. CFO’s need to be thinking about protecting the business against all potential disruptions.
In the drinks industry, there is a still a huge amount of human interaction, particularly with finance partnering with areas such as sales and operations. So whilst technology is of vital importance, continuing to improve communication skills is still essential.
As businesses grow and become increasingly global, the ability to take complex issues, explain them simply to influence the business as a whole will become even more important over time.
Again, COVID has only magnified the demands of this skill. Communicating effectively and building relationships virtually is different and can be more challenging. This is now essential as even when the impact of the virus dissipates we will not return to the level of travel and face to face meetings we were used to.
Re-skilling and continual improvement mind-set
Over the next ten years we will see an increasingly aging workforce, with the age of retirement increasing. A question of how to reinvigorate people at a later stage of their careers – revamping their roles and setting new horizons is essential for all businesses, and is essential if we are to get the most out of this valuable human asset. Everyone has the opportunity to grow in their role and expand their skill-set; businesses should support all employees to do this no matter what stage of their career they are at.
Taking on and embracing new ways of working has just been accelerated by COVID. No-one in my team is still fulfilling their role in the same way as they were in February, no matter what stage they are at in their career.
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