CFO of Steel > Interview with Richard Smyth

Informed by the philosophy that a business is nothing more than a group of people working together for a common goal, Richard Smyth serves as Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary at NZX listed, Steel & Tube, one of New Zealand’s leading providers of steel solutions. After a tenure of more than 15 years with SkyCity, Richard joined the Steel & Tube team in mid-2021 and in this interview with CFO Magazine A/NZ, Richard reflects on his career to date, some of the biggest learnings to come out of the global pandemic…. and the joys of raising a puppy!

Tell us about your career to date

I started my career with PwC and I spent 14 years (and one day) with the business. My first 13 years with PwC was in auditing roles. Then, I moved into a technical accounting role which I really enjoyed. During my time with PwC, I initially worked in Wellington and Auckland. As my role was focused on oil and gas accounting, I also worked in Dallas, Texas and later London, UK.

SkyCity was a client of mine when I was at PwC so when I was approached to join their team, it was a relatively smooth transition as I was somewhat familiar with the people and culture of the organisation. At first, I held the position of Manager – Group Accounting. Later, I progressed to the role of Deputy Chief Financial Officer. This role focused on external financial reporting, group taxation and treasury reporting.

My journey to joining the Steel & Tube team was rather unexpected. I was approached regarding the role. Having been with SkyCity for just over 16 years, it was a difficult decision to leave. However, Mark (our CEO) and Anna (General Manager – People and Culture) invited me to breakfast as a first interview of sorts. I really enjoyed chatting with them about everything from my experience through to the role at Steel & Tube. It was a fluid and easy conversation. I found that I clicked with Anna and Mark straight away which made the decision to continue with the recruitment process an obvious one. Once I joined the Steel & Tube team, I felt so welcomed which makes all the difference when you’re the new person settling in.

What do you enjoy most about your role with Steel & Tube?

I am fortunate to genuinely enjoy the people I work with. I’ve also been able to visit several Steel & Tube sites. So far, I’ve visited our Auckland, Napier, Wellington, Dunedin and Hawkes Bay sites. I’m planning to visit all our sites over the next year, alert levels permitting that is.

At the sites I have visited so far, everyone clearly enjoys working together. It’s a bit of a cliché but it does lead to the development of trust within the team and an ability to push to get the job done.

The variety of my role is another aspect I love. In my prior role as Deputy Chief Financial Officer, I had a depth of experience in specific narrow areas. However, as Chief Financial Officer, I am able to become involved in a lot of different areas of the business. It has been fascinating to learn more about operations, help manage inventory positions and better understand the intricacies of marketing and brand.

Lastly, it would have to be the opportunity to learn about a new industry and organisation. I enjoy that experience of learning and bringing my own experience from different industries and organisations to the table. By the same token, I can draw on the expertise of the wider Steel & Tube team.

What has been the greatest learning for you as a leader during a pandemic?

The importance of communication and giving as much certainty as you can. That is my greatest learning. You need to talk and communicate as often and as candidly as possible. I say ‘talk’ as you need to be prepared to have a dialogue to check in with your team, your superiors and your peers.

Another key learning for me has been to look after yourself as best you can. For me, that involves attending Steel & Tube’s wellbeing seminars and blocking out a lunch break in my calendar each day. Some days, you won’t be able to take that break and other days, it may be later than planned. However, if you start the day with that intention, you are on the right path.

At Steel & Tube, we certainly have a high-performance culture. However, work-life balance and flexibility are both supported and enabled by the business. Often, a high demand and flexible work culture are defined as the anthesis of one another. However, I’ve learned as both a professional myself and as a leader of a team, taking that time to rest and unwind is critical to doing your best work every day.

What is your advice to up and coming finance leaders?

My number one piece of advice is to ask questions, even if you think they’re silly. People love to share their experience and knowledge. Also, making assumptions can be dangerous. So, you’re better to ask and get the clarity you need. A supportive and positive work culture will encourage you to do so.

My second piece of advice is to work for a company that you are genuinely interested in. You need a passion or at minimum, an interest in your work. The passion can come from the projects you’re a part of, the company vision or the people you work with every day. This will be what drives you and keeps you motivated to learn and positively contribute to your organisation. Work is a significant part of your life. So, you need to either love it, learn to love it, or leave and find something you’re passionate about.

Always remember than an organisation is just a collection of people. Everyone has their strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities. It is important to learn to accept and value the difference in people. Also, always remember it’s important to be kind to yourself and others.

Finally, be honest regarding your technical proficiencies. In reality, these skills are important, but they are not what make a career. There is so much more to career success.

Outside of the office, what are your interests?

My partner, Brett, and I have recently adopted a puppy, Beau the Cairn Terrier. He is absolutely gorgeous but eats everything! When I’m not chasing around after the puppy, I’m spending time with my kids, they’re 21 and 24 years old. I enjoy catching up with them often.

As my roots are in technical accountancy, I enjoy being a Member of the New Zealand Accounting Standards Board, a sub board of the External Reporting Board. This allows me to keep up to date with technical accounting best practice. As a group, we also have great debates and I really enjoy being a part of that community. The Board also has a different set of skills to the people I’m currently working with which makes for interesting conversation.