The Golden Age for CFOs

By Jay Orsborn

David Craig has an impressive list of career achievements.

David was a Partner at PwC, the CFO of Commonwealth Bank and Australand Property Group, and held board roles with Australian Gas Lighting Company (AGL) and Colonial Mutual Life Assurance. He is currently a director with Lendlease and the Sydney Theatre Company, the president of the Financial Executives Institute of Australia and Deputy Chairman of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

With over 40 years of experience across consulting, finance, executive leadership and board roles, David has invaluable insight and advice to share with current and aspiring CFO’s.

Your time to shine

David is unequivocal in his view that the current climate of change and uncertainty presents a unique opportunity for CFO’s to demonstrate their ability to deliver much more than robust financial stewardship.

“This is the golden age for CFO’s. Their core skills of strategic thinking and scenario planning give them the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how to navigate an uncertain future. This will put them front and centre stage with their peers and their board.”

Leadership and adaptability

So how does today’s CFO stand out from the crowd?

David says that solid technical skills are a given.

The hallmarks of a standout CFO are an ability to succeed in unfamiliar situations and effective leadership.

“What got you to where you are now won’t always take you forward. New challenges and adversity will help you build your career. Being thrown in at the deep end and showing you can swim is the best way to learn new skills and demonstrate your adaptability.”

David says that making the jump from technical expert to CFO requires you to develop effective leadership skills and this involves learning how to rely on others.

“When I was CFO at Commonwealth Bank, my direct reports always knew more about their area than me, so I had to be the coach, not the player. I rotated people across positions to build their adaptability and leadership skills. An ability to lead people with very different skill sets is critical for the successful CFO.”

Building the right team is essential.

“It is important to play to and demonstrate your strengths and not just focus on your weaknesses. Good leadership is about building a team that delivers more as a whole than the sum of its individual parts.”

Broaden your perspective

David explains that the CFO has to take a very broad perspective and learn how to balance internal and external demands.

“When you become the CFO, you have to expand your perspective beyond your core discipline. The CEO and his/her direct reports become your peers and you have to manage a much wider range of stakeholders. You need to establish relationships with the board, the chairman, the audit committee and possibly shareholders, analysts, ratings agencies and regulators.”

Getting feedback on your performance and advice on areas that are new is vital for personal growth and David says that sometimes we need to look beyond the organisation we work for to get the unvarnished truth.

“When we get feedback from within our organisation, we often get a sanitised version of the truth. You need to ask if you are getting the full story or the right perspective. This is where a mentor can play a powerful role as they can be more direct.”

Mentor me, mentor you

Mentors have played pivotal role in David’s career decisions.

“I had risen to COO at PwC and was asking myself where I wanted to go next. I worked with Nick Plummer who co-founded the career development firm, Directioneering. Nick put me through a battery of tests and the outcome of these was quite surprising.”

David describes a deep dive into everything he had done in his career to date. They looked at what he liked and did not like, what he saw as his successes and failures and the types of people he liked working with.

“I thought the projects I delivered would mean the most to me, but it turned out that seeing the people around me grow and develop was what I had enjoyed most.”

This insight helped David to make the decision to move to the US and become the global CFO for PwC Consulting which he subsequently helped to sell to IBM.

“It was an amazing experience that I might have missed if I hadn’t worked with Nick.”

David considers himself fortunate to have had a number of good mentors throughout his career.

“I always had the thought that I could be better. This meant that I was open to hearing other perspectives and very direct feedback. A mentor can help you learn and grow by challenging your thinking and help you build your network through theirs.”

Mentoring is not a one-way street and David is quick to point out that he has gained something from everyone he has mentored throughout his career.

“I learn something new from every mentee. A coach tells you what to do, but a mentor asks questions, listens and asks more questions to help you work out what to do next. This is a skillset that is invaluable in other areas of life, such as serving as a non-executive director.”

Finance Executives International

David’s passion for mentoring and giving back to the community led him to join the Financial Executives Institute of Australia (“FEI”) where he has been a director since 2012, and President since 2016.

FEI is a not for profit organisation that was founded to support professional development in the Finance Community. FEI hosts peer networking events, runs an annual mentoring program and supports members’ learning through speaker events, research and publications.

“FEI has been a great way for me to give back and grow at the same time. Mentoring is a two-way relationship and there is always something I take from the relationship. It is immensely rewarding to see former mentees grow their careers and then return as mentors on the program.”

Giving back to the community when it is needed most

FEI’s highly regarded mentoring program takes in 60-70 talented finance leaders each year.

Mentees work with Australia’s leading CFO’s, who provide their time pro bono to help develop the next generation of CFOs and finance leaders. The mentoring scheme is open to FEI members, and their organisations typically fund the program fee.

“Reflecting our commitment to the Finance community and recognising that this has been a very challenging year, we are offering a number of scholarships for the 2021 mentoring program.”

David explains that the scholarships are being offered to high potential females working either for the not for profit sector or other organisations that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.

“Participation in the FEI mentoring program has been a career defining event for many of our members and we are very excited to be announcing this opportunity today.”

The list of FEI mentoring alumni is impressive, and David’s career is testament to the power of being both a mentor and a mentee.

Regardless of whether you qualify for the scholarship, FEI offers the opportunity to be mentored by some of the best and become part of the next generation of mentors.

The scholarships are available to eligible members and further information on the mentoring program and how to join can be found at www.fei.org.au

Author: Jay Orsborn

Jay has spent 25 years working in commercial and finance leadership roles for companies operating throughout Europe, the UK, the US and Australia including PwC, Time Warner, Culture Amp, Envato and Open Universities Australia. Working in high growth, entrepreneurial companies at the forefront of disruption and transformation, has given Jay a unique insight into the challenges facing the modern-day finance leader that seeks to deliver a robust finance function that supports and drives business performance.

Jay is a regular contributor to the Strategic CFO magazine and runs a coaching and consulting practice that helps business owners, CEOs, CFO’s and finance teams have greater impact on the businesses they are leading and supporting.