Brendan Gill—CFO, Cleanaway

Tell us a little about your career path

I commenced my career as a trainee accountant with BHP and studied my degree part time.  I learnt a lot from different rotations across the Petroleum, Minerals and Corporate Divisions within BHP, before choosing to seek out adventure.  I decided, after discussing with my new bride, Jacquie, to take up an opportunity in a cost accounting role at BHPs Koolan Island Iron Ore Mine in the Kimberley.  My reasoning was quite simple.  Great hands on mining experience, world class fishing, big pay and a house to rent for $9 per week.  From there I was offered a “promotion” in Sydney with BHPs consulting engineering business.  I now had to purchase a house in an expensive market, take a pay cut and work harder to catch less fish. 

The work was completely different and that defines much of my career.  I have constantly looked to leverage my skills and apply them to something a bit different.  Post BHP I have had four roles within listed companies and each has been different, providing a breadth of challenges that have added to my personal toolkit to help me tackle the challenges of the modern CFO role. My current role as CFO of Cleanaway is fabulous. I work with a very capable and compatible group of professionals who operate as an effective team. It is absolutely imperative to work with a dedicated high quality team if you want to improve business performance and grow personally.

Any lightbulb moments about what it takes to be a successful CFO?

It’s about taking chances and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.  There will be times you don’t know something and that’s fine.  It’s amazing how many people will generously give of their time to help; you only need to ask.

How is the CFO role transforming?

The role is transforming along with society as we embrace the digital age even more every year and it won’t be stopping any time soon.  The modern CFO needs to be able to keep up and ideally be ahead of the emerging technologies – be they enablers or disruptors.  The challenge for CFOs today include managing the continual transformation whilst also maintaining the disciplines practiced by CFOs of the past.  Today’s CFOs must continue to be across the detail in all aspects of the business.  Costs need to be managed, sound internal controls need to be maintained, customers need value delivered and the right culture needs to be instilled in an organisation.  All this against a backdrop of needing to deliver superior returns to our investors.

Are there risks associated with that pace of transformation?

There are numerous risks and the list seems to be growing.  Cyber-crime is on the rise and we will all be affected by it at some time.  The challenge for the modern CFO is to understand the risks posed by technology and to implement effective risk mitigation strategies.  We also need to ensure the business is not left behind by changing technologies or disruptors.  Our customers continue to expect more from all of us and the CFO plays an important role.  Transformation costs money and a modern CFO needs to fully understand the investment thesis behind some of the less tangible transformations and technologies.  Even the waste management business is undergoing tremendous change.  We have all seen the garbage truck arrive to pick up the bins and take the contents to landfill.  This still happens, but the trucks now have cameras which can instantly update a portal with a photo showing that a householder failed to put the bin out.  In the past the householder might allege we failed to pick up the bin.  Waste has become topical recently, as most of us try to minimise our impact on the environment.  Waste and recycling technologies are emerging almost daily and some will be more successful than others.  The challenge for the CFO is to understand and embrace the fact that new technologies are emerging, whilst also maintaining professional skepticism and rigorously examining investment proposals.  There will be change, that is certain.  The challenge is to help the business with the ”right” change.

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

A CFO should always plan for the future and how far is practical  depends on the business, but they must have a vision of what they want the business to look like in say five years and have a plan to get there.  The CFOs challenge is to be prepared to change those plans as necessary, without losing sight of the objective.

And what are the implications of that planning horizon?

A key challenge is to bring the whole team on the journey in an environment of constant change.  This is where leadership is critical and effective communication is essential.  If the whole team don’t head in the same direction, the final destination won’t be reached.  The concept is simple, but many organisations, departments and CFOs have failed to communicate the vision effectively.

Why do you mentor?

It’s fun and I actually learn a lot in the process.  My mentees have always been younger than me, and can provide a different perspective to me and I can learn from that.  I think they also get the same from me, which hopefully helps them develop as they progress their careers.  It also provides me with a greater opportunity to network with CFOs across a host of industries, which would have been unlikely to happen without the FEI mentoring programme.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Treat everybody the way you would like to be treated.  We make some very hard decisions at times that affect people’s lives.  Fortunately I have been lucky enough to have frequently worked for people who I have been able to learn and grow from, and who have treated me with respect and dignity.  I try to do the same.

Can you share a personal productivity tip?

Find time to reflect.  We all often work long hours, but you must take time to reflect.  For me that’s time to step away from the day to day work activities and to think about what we have done and what we plan to do.  A time to rethink plans, be they small tactical plans or larger strategic issues.  At least once a week I spend a few hours reflecting on the business and how I can best contribute to its success.

And a networking tip?

Never lose sight of your network, but use it judiciously and never burn a bridge.  It’s a very small world.

Interested? Learn more about our Mentoring Program.

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