CFOs thinking Differently

A PHRASE scribbled across a whiteboard in Pranay Lodhiya’s office gives his work a broader perspective: “Zero lives lost”.

The words are a far cry from the usual platitudes found plastered across corporate walls. But Pranay’s line of work, as the chief financial officer at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), is out of the ordinary; it actually is ultimately a matter of life and death.

For trawler skippers gauging whether to stay on the high seas, or pilots trying to second-guess the elements, the Bureau’s data is a precious resource.

“That line is for my team – as well as me – to remind ourselves that our ultimate goal is zero lives lost, and how everything we do as a bureau is targeted towards that,”

Working at the BOM presents very different challenges from most organisations. For a start, as a Federal Government agency, it’s accountable to the taxpayer.

Nor do most companies have to worry about whether a force majeure might bring adverse results for its key stakeholders – in BOM’s case the millions of Australians who rely on its wisdom. So Pranay has to think differently about the requests and processes that fly across his CFO’s desk.

“Ours is a science-driven organisation – science and engineering and technology – and a lot of the people are very passionate about what they do,” he says. “Our job is to guide them and help them consider things so it doesn’t come back to bite them. We also need to provide them deep insight and support to make optimum decisions for long term sustainability”

Passionate about the role of Finance as a strategic trusted advisor and setting a vision for Finance that is anchored on what Pranay calls the 3 Cs

Customer Service, Custodianship and Compliance as being equal and interlocked capabilities in a progressive finance function. Pranay uses his leadership skills to help his team realise they are part of a process, which at the sharp end translates to anxious crop farmers or aviation companies assuming responsibility for its passengers. “People may come to us with procurement requests, and a finance person might say, ‘No, you can’t do that’, and leave it at that,” he says. “I want my staff to have the ability to walk them through it and identify a solution that meets the compliance framework but guide them through the process. Education is critical.”

Feedback from colleagues illustrates the effectiveness of this collaborative leadership style, variously describing Pranay as “leading with vision and passion, coupled with a talent that he shares with others”, and combining “intellectual drive, confidence and humility in providing strong direction”. From a finance perspective, the BOM is in an unusual situation. Its intellectual property – forecasting data – is expensive to collate and interpret, yet freely available, therefore other people can use the data and monetise it.

“We do tailored solutions, looking at ways to enhance the service to the customer,” Pranay says. “For example: what does the customer require, and how do we tailor our forecasting to their needs.

“We want to make sure people can rely on our information and have confidence – not just accuracy of data but how we relay that information.

“There’s a lot of people who rely on our services – travel industry, energy industry, water industry, mining, aviation – not just the general public.”

Pranay was born in Fiji but studied in New Zealand, where he landed his first job. This was in the public sector and he came under the tutelage of an inspiring manager. “As a young accountant you always want to work in a Big Four firm,” Pranay says, “but one of the best things I did was I got to work with a fantastic leader and thinker by the name of Dave Foster for Wanganui District Council (in New Zealand’s North Island)

This is where I learnt the art of engagement, mentoring and leadership.

Pranay credits Dave in developing his ability to think laterally and strategically.

“The early ’90s was a time when the New Zealand public sector was going through significant reform, and started looking at activity-based costing, policy versus service delivery, and I started doing some innovative stuff with long-term infrastructure and financial planning. I got some amazing experience in the six years I was there.” He credits this New Zealand experience with honing his ability to think laterally. “I like to add value in a broader capacity than just my finance role,” he says. “I look at my role now as a problem-solver and what helps is the critical thinking ability.”

At the age of 29 Pranay landed the CFO role at an 800-bed hospital, and from there moved to Australia, where his resume includes The University of Western Australia (Perth) and The University of Melbourne, Victoria University and La Trobe University where he was headhunted to lead a significant transformation of Financial Management of University. More recently he was asked to lead similar changes at the University of Western Australia as the interim Chief Operating Officer responsible for Finance, Information Technology and Facilities Management.

Pranay also is a firm believer in developing and mentoring talent. “As a leader it is our responsibility and duty”. He also believes in having a team that complements each other as ” the CFO is only the director, motivator and champion and can not possibly have the skills across everything” When Pranay isn’t overseeing the figures, he sees the world through a different lens, pursuing his passion for photography and poetry. He has a healthy number of Instagram followers for his images, and jokes: “If this CFO gig doesn’t work out I’ll be selling photos at Vic market.”

A recent holiday hiking in Tibet gave him more than just material for jaw-dropping photos; it also reinvigorated his appreciation of humanity and, by extension, his role in the workforce.

His passion for photography is matched by his passion for driving a values-based leadership within a corporate setting. “this is something that I see lacking in organisations these days, where the pursuit of results and advancement is at the deliberate expense of respect and values. This is something that needs to change”

“Tibet was a really surreal and humbling experience – the hike itself is the journey, learning the life stories of the Sherpa. It brought me back to the things I value most – humanity and people.

“In the corporate world we get caught up in the executive space – there are a lot of egos – and we forget the humanity part of it. Tibet reinforced for me of what I value” – that positive change, improvement and transformation is possible with values-based approaches”.