‘The CFO role is much less regimented today,’ says high flyer Rexine Jones

Rexine Jones thoroughly enjoys the purely financial aspects of her role as a CFO, yet she has always been drawn to opportunities with a broader remit. Her career journey began with Qantas in Sydney in 1992, where as a Senior Business Development Manager, she negotiated industrial agreements for the national carrier across Australia’s international and domestic airports. The airport’s customer service and baggage handling systems were put out to tender and Jones and a team negotiated with the successful tender providers.

“My background is in finance and that’s what I’m comfortable with – and I love it,” she says. But at Qantas I was managing the financials and its operational performance and ensuring that both were closely aligned. It was an interesting journey and there was lots of travel – I was young and it was amazing.”

Over the years, she has noticed that the mindset about the CFO role has become less regimented. She recalls how a recruiter once phoned her up and asked her if she would be interested in a CFO role that was “purely technical”. When Jones said that her current role involved strategy, the recruiter replied that Jones wasn’t the right fit.

Happily, for Jones there has no shortage of opportunities for her to utilize all her skillsets. Her talents were recognized in 2011 when she won the ANZ MD leadership award for developing investments that delivered growth in gases across the ANZ portfolio while working for BOC.

Jones is currently the CFO and CIO at the Australian owned and operated construction company, Hansen Yuncken. She took up the role in April 2021 after working as a finance director at Alstom, a producer of rolling stock and rail signaling for government and corporate clients.

“One of the reasons why I came here and love it, is because it is a technology-enabled and highly innovative company. It is 104-years-old but always ahead of where things are.”

Jones says that the most challenging aspect of being a CFO is being the “voice of reason.”

“A CFO is always about driving and transforming a business. But it also involves having to call it when things aren’t so good, and being that voice of reason. That is a hard role,” she says.

A changing industry

Jones recalls that the finance industry was heavily male-dominated when she started out in the nineties, and on at least one occasion she was introduced as: “This is Mrs Rexine Jones, she has four children and we are managing that.”

 “It’s hard to imagine this kind of introduction taking place in the professional world today,” says Rexine. “It is great to see women recognised for their qualifications, rather than their gender or home life. I’m excited to see even more progression in terms of diversity and inclusion, particularly across C-suite roles.”

When Jones was taking on increasingly senior roles at Qantas, she was also growing her family, and paid maternity leave didn’t exist in Australia. She was grateful for her employer’s flexibility, as she was able to take six months off and then work from home on a part-time basis for another six months – an arrangement quite unthinkable for most organisations back then.

“Some people manage really well being a part-time accountant and a part-time mum,” she says. “But I never felt that I was doing justice to either role in that capacity. I felt like I was trying to be all things to all people but struggling to have any balance for myself.”

So when Jones was expecting her third child in 2004, she left her high-flying corporate career to become a stay-at-home mum.

“Being a stay at home mum was challenging,” she concedes. “After six months, I realized that I need challenge and intellectual discussion. I needed connection with people.”

Jones happily returned to the workforce and took on a role with Rex Airlines. As a manager in business and finance integration, she handled the acquisition of Hazelton and Kendal Regional Airlines and the creation of REX as a new entity, and merged the two finance teams.

“My absolute claim to fame is that I got to sign off and choose the final artwork that you see on Rex aircraft today. It is an opportunity I am proud to have had,” she says.

Jones and her husband have four children, and over the years she has adjusted her approach to managing a heavy workload along with the responsibilities that come with being a parent. Jones says she has an amazing husband who shares the work and family responsibilities as a true partnership.

“I don’t like to fail at anything – whether it’s at work or at home,” she says. “But I have learnt to be realistic. I actually got to the point of saying, ‘I am going to fail and that’s okay. It’s a balance of averages. Sometimes things will go swimmingly and at other times I’m only just keeping my head above water. Both of those scenarios are okay.’”

New tech will alter the CFO role

Jones believes that the CFO role will continue to evolve, particularly as artificial intelligence and automation play an increasingly significant role. However, she is not worried about the kinds of change these new technologies will bring.

“I love change and I’ve always been at the front-end of it. I’m not apprehensive of change and I certainly don’t think the CFO role will be replaced by AI. We can already see how the role has evolved over time, from being a technical accounting function to requiring commercial acumen and thinking about all the levers that exist within a business.”

She sees an increasing number of CFOs taking on the CIO role, and considers it an advantageous combination.

“If your CFO is your CIO, you are servicing the entirety of the business. You’ve got AI capability, a digitally enabled workflow, and the commercial acumen that can pull the levers. It all comes together naturally because the two functions bookend an organisation’s operations.”

Jones sees the future of finance as being inextricably linked to delivering on organizational purpose.

“The finance role is very much about creating a future for the community. At the end of the day, a business still needs to create profits to self-generate, but it can achieve that by creating a vision with purpose that service the community,” she says.

Hansen Yuncken has a number of projects underway that encompass sustainability and purpose, such as the restoration of Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, the Thomas Dixon Centre, an arts and ballet centre in Queensland, sustainable housing in Victoria and Meadowbank TAFE in NSW.

Global supply chain issues are a challenge for the construction industry, but Jones says that Hansen Yuncken can draw on its 104-years of experience to continue to prosper.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressures on China and I think the supply chain will have to transform itself. But Hansen Yuncken has incredible longevity so it will continue to do well despite difficult circumstances. It has already withstood two world wars and moved with changing technologies. It has an inherent culture of entrepreneurial spirit, plus the ability to deal with change. We’re extremely proud of our company values, and are expanding our focus on innovation, community engagement and social procurement during these times that are challenging for the sector.”