Alistair Bell

Alistair Bell, CFO, Graincorp

Tell us a little about your career path

As a CFO, my path is unconventional and diverse but it’s been, at times, a question of choices influenced by my family, my curiosity, a global interest and a yearning desire to help build successful organisations.

My first job was supposed to be a grad program but the program was cancelled when the company was taken over. Commenced in chartered accounting –

working in Sydney and New York Offices – however, I realized I was commercially focused so I moved into executive management with an ASX100 as a 33-year-old.

What has been a career high?

Whilst working on large scale international M&A and responding to two takeover offers have been extremely rewarding, my highlight is building something sustainable where people deal with growth and change – an enduring high-performing team.

How is the CFO role transforming?

In short, from steward to strategist. With the emergence of technology, increasing cross-border business complexity, and uncertainty with global economics, regulatory and activism comes the speed of information and decision making. It is important to remain flexible – placing greater reliance on technology and analytics to understand trends and insights, constructively challenging assumptions and ultimately making better decisions. Far less of a typical day on financial operations (for me, this is less than 10 per cent of my time) and far more on cross-border, digital, analytics, capital management, M&A, strategy, continuous improvement, risk management, talent and culture and capability alignment.

How far out can a CFO plan, given the pace of change at present?

Typically, there are three horizons when it comes to planning, but the time-frame depends on the industry, the trends and extent of capital investments – short term (execute flawlessly), planning cycle (typically 1-2 years) and strategic horizon (3-5 years). A key thing for the CFO, or any executive, is to create and capture value so remain flexible, agile and have a deep knowledge of trends and customers (and end-consumers).

Underpinning this is the constant planning associated with skills and talent to deliver the right culture, capability and core-competencies.

Why do you mentor?

I enjoy giving back and helping others. Hopefully I can pass on some experiences that give them courage.

More importantly I continue to learn from each of the people – their industry, their businesses, their different challenges and their choices they are making about their development plans.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Four things: be authentic; have a go – it is ok to make a mistake – the most important thing is how you recover; success comes through others – be prepared to share; and, Carpe Diem.

What would you say is the best business book ever read, and why?

“Merchant of Grains” – for those in the industry, it is as relevant today to the world grain trade flows as when it was written in the 70’s. Also, Patrick Lencioni’s book “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team”: a great way to think about a high-performing team.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Remain curious, not judgmental.

Can you share a personal productivity tip?

Ensure you operate at the right level. One way to think about this is by asking yourself, “are you allocating time to the most important things”?

And a networking tip?

Be authentic and be interested. It is ok to feel uncomfortable – the more networking you do the easier it becomes.

Interested? Learn more about our Mentoring Program.

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