Tell us a little about your career path
I started my career at KPMG and had five years there which I loved and as I look back it was a tremendous grounding. From there I moved to Europe and worked for Credit Suisse Group for five years. I then moved to Commonwealth Bank and was there for eight years. I held a variety of roles – running monthly reporting, capital analysis, the planning team, group investment team and built an internal consulting team. I took on the role of CFO for Colonial First State Global Asset Management (part of CBA) and was fortunate to also do a couple of years as an investment manager within the Colonial Infrastructure business. Just prior to the GFC I took a role as CFO for Westpac New Zealand which was a great learning experience and then transferred back to Australia with Westpac to take on the CFO role for BT Financial Group. I did that role for about four years which also included a year running the Superannuation business. That brings me to today where I have been the CFO for Vicinity Centres for the last three years.
Did you always want to be a CFO?
I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to do when I left university and, as you can see from my experience, I have gone in and out of finance roles. The thing I love about CFO roles is you get involved in everything in the business and the interaction with the investor and investment markets. I do love the P&L responsibility of running business roles as well.
What do you see as the major challenges for the CFO role currently?
Technological change. The speed of technological change currently is presenting both the biggest challenges to business and the greatest opportunity. Specifically companies are being disrupted at an ever increasing rate and using technology to both be innovative within the revenue line and also within the cost line is absolutely critical for corporates to survive and thrive. This is equally important within finance and utilizing artificial intelligence to drive efficiencies and provide greater insight to the business is absolutely critical.
How far out can a CFO plan, given the pace of change at present?
Realistically it’s difficult to plan in detail more than 2-3 years out – depending on the industry. Technology and the competitive environment is changing so fast that making deep plans beyond that is problematic. That said companies need to look far beyond the immediate horizon to potentially shape short term decisions and build in flexibility and options into the business. For example within the shopping centre business, driverless cars and drones are not viably commercial just yet and the regulations have not even come close to catching up with technology. But one cannot ignore these future forces as they will have an impact at some point.
And what are the implications of that planning horizon?
It is critical for businesses to build in flexibility options and allocated funds to start seeding future revenue streams. Businesses that assume the status quo won’t survive too long. Funding for those initiatives needs to be freed up from a sharp focus on efficiency across the business.
What was the best advice you ever received?
There are probably two pieces of advice that have had the greatest impact. The first is to deeply understand yourself and to know your strengths and weaknesses intimately. Take on roles that play to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses wherever you can e.g., hire around your weaknesses. The second key piece of advice is to keep networking and building relationships. It’s the best way to get work done quickly within large organizations and it has also provided me with almost every single job opportunity over the years.
How do you switch off?
I do three things that are really important. Firstly, exercise is critical. Exercise gives your body a chance of physically de-stressing and I certainly feel it when I don’t do any. The other two things I love which I find both mentally meditative and quite physical are fishing and veggie gardening. I love both of these activities as it keeps me grounded and plays to the ‘hunter/gatherer’ in me.
Where do you get your ideas?
Honestly there are probably few ideas that are ever new so the best I ever receive are from peers or colleagues, both internally within the company and outside the company. People are happy to share their ideas as long as your companies are not directly competing so you’re crazy not to listen.