Mentor of the Month: Mark Ashby

What is Finspec?

It’s my advisory company. In addition to providing mentoring, CFO support and non-executive director roles, Finspec provides support to companies in financial structuring, IPO projects and governance management. We have access to a high level of skills covering finance, retail and project management.

Tell us a little about your career path

It started a long time ago costing road construction jobs. Since then I’ve been Director of Finance at Motorola, Finance Director of Sportsgirl Sportscraft Group, and then with a couple of partners formed a business development company, which ended up specialising in turnarounds, which gave me an introduction to Mitre10.  I actually joined Mitre10 initially as General Manager of the Home and Trade business, and then moved to the CFO role.  I joined Myer as CFO in early 2008, went through the IPO in late 2009, and after seven years moved to Texas to join EZCORP, a NASDAQ listed entity – the second largest pawnbroking operation in the US. Now back in Australia, on some private company boards, helping companies with IPO and operating structures, as well as general advice.  Also mentoring two finance executives involved in public companies – one a CFO and the other a senior finance executive.

And your education?

I completed a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) as Swinburne, am a FCPA and a graduate of the Institute of Company directors.

How has the CFO role changed over the last decade?

There is an increased focus on risk management and mitigation, and higher levels of disclosure and technical requirements in preparation of financial reports.  The increased disclosure is a good thing, often offset by the technical nuances of some of the reporting where it is not possible to understand the underlying performance of a business in a language that most investors can follow.

How will automation and AI change the finance function in the next five years?

This is a continuation of the changes that have been occurring over the last 20 years.  Really any role that is predominately processing or somewhat repetitive is unlikely to exist.  The skills required are those that can use the output of the automation and AI to benefit the business. 

How should CFOs prepare themselves and their teams?

Be proactive and transparent. Understand the difference between the management consulting technobabble and what it really means, and how to best engage the team in the process.  Retraining the team may help to a degree, but the size of the shift in expectations of roles will be a challenge. Hence, I believe being as transparent as possible on the strategic path the finance team is heading along.

Why do you mentor?

One of the greatest sources of satisfaction I received as a CFO was to see individuals develop. Three of my previous direct reports are CFOs of public companies and it is nice to consider in some way you influenced their career.  Using your experience to help people think through issues and opportunities is very enjoyable and it provides an outlet for them independent of the work environment. 

Who was your most influential mentor?

I have been extraordinarily lucky with the people I have worked with.  It is hard to go past Bernie Brookes who was the CEO at Myer.  His ability to decomplicate issues was amazing and put trust in people to back themselves taught me a lot.  On a similar line, Bernie Bicknell as CEO at Mitre10 would back you 100 per cent – even when he had a differing view.  They both had strong social conscience and without seeking recognition, kept a strong grounding in supporting the community.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Always employ or have people working for you that are better than you are.

If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice at the start of your career – what would that be?

Back your instincts – if it doesn’t feel right, it most likely isn’t. It’s ok to question decisions.

How do you switch off?

I like cars.  I am restoring a 1974 Ford Fairmont, which is a bit of fun.

Can you share a personal productivity tip?

I found getting in early to do more complex tasks without distraction quite effective.  The day was usually spent working with other people. Also, when you hit a wall, go do something else – take a break, work from home or something that breaks the cycle.

And a networking tip?

When you meet with people take a genuine interest in what they do – it is a great way to learn.

Why do you mentor?

One of the greatest sources of satisfaction I received as a CFO was to see individuals develop. Three of my previous direct reports are CFOs of public companies and it is nice to consider in some way you influenced their career.  Using your experience to help people think through issues and opportunities is very enjoyable and it provides an outlet for them independent of the work environment. 

Interested? Learn more about our Mentoring Program.

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