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Onboarding in the age of Isolation

CFO Series Editor Richard McBride recently had the opportunity to interview Tony Horton, newly appointed Head of Finance at Facteon on the challenges and opportunities on commencing the role in Stage 4 lock down during Covid-19.

Congratulations on the appointment Tony. Can you share with us a brief of background on your own finance journey and what led you to the role at Facteon?

Starting in 1983 with Alex Harvey Industries* gave me a clear view that manufacturing was not only a challenging industry to work in, but also a rewarding one as it requires a diverse skillset in order to succeed.

Whilst finance is often expected to be historic-based, staying on top of the ever-changing landscape using the results of the past allows finance to provide expertise to help businesses evolve.

Before joining Facteon, I was with Hella New Zealand where I became familiar with the use of modern technologies and the adoption of the industry’s best practice to help a New Zealand company thrive on the world stage.

I have always found the elegant use of technology and systems, in all areas of a business, energising and interesting, so the opportunity at Facteon appealed as much to my skillset as it did to my personal interests. It was just the new challenge I was looking for.

* Alex Harvey Industries (AHI) manufactured plastics, glass and building products. AHI later merged with Carter Holt Holdings, forming Carter Holt Harvey.

Commencing with a new organisation is both an exciting and daunting time for most, however joining during a period of national lockdown and isolation must provide its own set of unique challenges! How have you ‘onboarded’ and met the team? What are your top priorities during your ‘first 100 days’ as Head of Finance?

I spent some of March on-site meeting people and while some areas are still a mystery, we’ll get to those in time when things return to normal.

The main priority for me is making sure I quickly understand what drives the business KPIs and what drives revenue and cash. In addition, I’m learning how the business interacts with its client base and how we ensure a secure financial position in the current climate. A big consideration is how we position ourselves to manage the ever-changing business landscape.

My focus right now is ensuring that

I build a Finance Team with complementary skills to assist the business and become part of a close-knit management team

that is willing to communicate openly and honestly to ensure business success.

You have gained a wealth of finance leadership experience in a range of diverse industries including healthcare, automotive, technology and communications –  How have you seen the role of a finance leader evolve and what do you see as the most important skills and characteristics that make a great contemporary Head of Finance?

Finance has often been characterised as backward-looking, where the Head of Finance (HOF) spends time crunching the numbers on Excel, analysing why something happened.

Understanding the ‘why’ is important so that we know how to apply that knowledge to the future and steer the business from making similar mistakes.

In addition, the HOF must have absolute integrity,

willing to be a sparring partner for the CEO, always lay out the facts, challenge the status quo and provide stewardship.

To really excel, a business must evolve and improve – you’re on a journey; you haven’t arrived at your destination. HOF is a key player in this regard and should understand all parts of the business, how it interacts, where changes will impact positively and negatively, and how decisions will affect the bottom line.

Facteon has grown to become an international specialist in factory solutions, smart manufacturing and Industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies – How can the Head of Finance role and wider finance function drive and support an innovation culture?

Head of Finance should see it as their responsibility to provide clear answers to the question, what if?

As we innovate and see the business evolve, we need to be able to understand the financial impact any move will have. As HOF, I see this as a key part of my role – to understand the business and then provide suggestions for improvement. Facteon has a definite culture of improvement and innovation and, as part of this, the finance team can provide financial stewardship to ensure these changes make a positive impact to the bottom line as well.

Very much appreciate you sharing your time and insights today, Tony. One last question; What is one piece of sound advice you have received that you would like share that has assisted you in your career?

There are three pieces of advice I cannot refrain from sharing:

  1. Surround yourself with people you admire and learn from them. It is important for your team to have a complementary set of skills.
  2. Never stop looking for a better way or a more elegant answer to the challenges your business faces.
  3. Attitude is everything! Stay positive, determined and open-minded.

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