‘Never taking the easy way out’ Meet CFO of the Year, Jenny Woodward

Jenny Woodward explains to CFO Magazine A/NZ’s Jessica Mudditt, why she never takes the easy way out during a business transformation.

Jenny Woodward wanted to be an accountant ever since she was a kid, which is exactly what she went and did. She has spent the past 25 years happily ensconced in the world of finance and recently won CFO of the Year at an awards night held in Sydney supported by CFO Magazine A/NZ.

“I remember being in year six and telling people that I was going to be an accountant. I don’t know why – I didn’t know any accountants, although I did find maths easy,” she says.

Woodward’s first role out of university was with big four firm, KPMG.

“It was such a good grounding for understanding best practices in terms of processes, compliance and governance,” she says.

Woodward put in long hours and enjoyed the diverse nature of her work. The experience also taught her a great deal about how to manage stakeholders in sensitive situations.

“People often don’t like auditors,” she says. “That’s because you’re asking difficult questions, and some people may feel you’re questioning their performance as an individual. They know you’ll go back to their management team and tell them what’s not working.”

This experience taught Woodward how to build a rapport with people and to take the emotion out of difficult conversations.

Over the next few years, Woodward held a series of technical roles in financial accounting. Her focus was on financial statements, compliance, risk management and governance.

On the road with the sales reps

After gaining a solid grounding in technical skills and completing her chartered accountancy, she moved into more managerial roles at ASX-listed companies such as Coca-Cola Amatil and Lend Lease.

Woodward harboured ambitions of becoming a CFO but received feedback that she didn’t have the necessary budgeting and forecasting experience. So she promptly took a role as commercial manager at Novartis, which she describes as “a career sideways step, but well worth it.” It gave her experience in a business partnering-type role which included budgeting, forecasting and strategic planning. Within three years, she was the company’s regional marketing manager.

“Who knew that an accountant could go into sales and marketing?” she quips. “I never wanted to be a general manager – I still wanted to be a CFO, but I knew that understanding the business would make me a better CFO in the end.”

Woodward connected with the operations any way she could. She hit the road with sales reps, did some merchandising, and put pharmaceutical products up on the shelves.

Her first role as a CFO came in 2018 with YMCA New South Wales, which at the time was making a loss. Her focus was on improving business and finance strategy, which has remained her preoccupation.

Reimagining finance and transformations

Woodward became the inaugural CFO of engineering consulting firm Douglas Partners in July 2020. Pandemic lockdowns were in full force so she didn’t meet most of her colleagues in person for about five months, and had the extra challenge of “reimagining the finance team” remotely.

The company was performing well, so it didn’t require a financial turnaround as such. Instead, Woodward set about moving the private company into a more mature business model, and replacing legacy systems and practices within the finance team.

“My goal was a shift in thinking about how finance can support the business. We went from being the paper shufflers who said ‘no’ to everything to providing valuable insights and driving metrics that mattered.”

Woodward built out a business partnering function and put seasonal budgets and quarterly forecasting in place to improve business performance and cash flow management.

“We looked at quarterly forecasts in terms of our project pipeline and we thought about how to mitigate certain risks. We did a lot around transparent reporting,” she says.

Woodward also implemented a digital transformation with the introduction of various tools and automation.

“Linking operations with finance was the first key thing to remove the stigma around the finance team by reducing data entry and transactional work.” she says.

Award Winning CFO of the Year, Jenny Woodward

Never taking the easy way out

Woodward derives enormous satisfaction from her role as a ‘turnaround CFO.’

“I absolutely love it when people begin to recognize the value of the finance team and the contribution it can make to the business,” she says.

She describes herself as a “people-centric CFO.” When executing a transformation, her goal is to avoid a corporate restructure “where you get rid of everyone.”

She feels the cost of replacing a person and the IP that gets lost when they leave is significant. There is also the human impact redundancies have on both exiting and remaining employees.

“I don’t feel that [mass firings] are a sustainable model for finance transformation,” she says. “I think it’s a copout. Sure, you could think, ‘We’ll take a hit in the first year with redundancies, and by year two we’ve reduced salary costs and increased profitability as a result.’ However, it doesn’t address the underlying issues as to why the business wasn’t performing in the first place.”

Woodward instead prefers to dig deep into operations. She will examine the sourcing costs in the supply chain, identify underperforming products, reevaluate warehousing costs and assess product portfolio health.

“It’s very easy to let people go,” she says. “What’s hard is to change the nature of the business because there’s so many moving parts. Boards and shareholders want to see quick results. My approach is to leverage people’s knowledge and experience to make the business perform better both in the short and long term.”

Woodward loves nothing more than driving the business strategy in partnership with the executive team.

“I wanted to be a CFO because I wanted to develop and drive organisational strategy. I love all aspects of a business, not just Finance. I don’t stay in my own lane,” she says.

“I’m not a CFO that only focuses on financial performance. I’ll present at a town hall, work on training and development programs, implement cyber security strategies or be walking the floor talking to people in all different departments. For me, it has for worked.”

Advocate for supporting women

Woodward is a passionate advocate for professional women, believing in diversity and inclusion, gender equality and the importance of supporting the progression of women in their careers.

In her spare time, she coaches and mentors ambitious professional women, empowering them to lead fulfilling and rewarding careers – supporting them to achieve their full potential. She believes in confident career decisions tailored for every stage of career and life.

“I have always been confident in managing my career and I want to teach others how to do the same. Careers are an important aspect in our lives so we should feel empowered in making these decisions.”

For more information about Jenny’s coaching and mentoring visit: www.jenny-woodward.com

Jenny will be presenting at the CFO Magazine Sydney CFO Symposium on 8th February at the ICC Sydney > For more details visit www.NSWCFOSymposium.com