The Power of Storytelling for CFOs

Storytelling skills are an increasingly important part of the soft skills required by CFOs.

Finance people love numbers, but being able to convert them into a story that can be more easily digested is an increasingly important skill for CFOs. That’s the widely held belief of Sujeet Jena, who just so happens to be the CFO of Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).

NIDA is widely viewed as an acting school, but it’s much more than that, with the wider ecosystem of the theatre, film and television space, including design, costume, props, theatre technology, writing, directing, cultural leadership also falling under its remit. It has produced some of the world’s most influential and in-demand storytellers across stage, screen and beyond.

But NIDA also sets out to empower storytellers of all ages and backgrounds, with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and vocational diplomas as well as short courses, training and school programs.
This also includes corporate training, which can be useful for finance people wanting to use the techniques of NIDA to train people to be a better version of themselves in their professional and personal life.

These courses help finance people hone their dynamic communication skills, which sits at the heart of every professional interaction, and with training from some of the nation’s best performers, NIDA corporate training programs can help people articulate and execute conversations and ideas, Sujeet says.
These soft skills can help finance people be far more persuasive, teaching them how to adapt their narrative to their audience and filter the relevant information more expertly, according to Sujeet.

NIDA corporate helps people achieve greater impact to ensure that no matter who the audience is so that your message is heard loud and clear, he says.

“Stories make meaning of the numbers for other non-finance people. You can make people feel motivated and encourage buy-in to a corporate vision through stories. And when people feel things, they will do things,”

Sujeet Jena, CFO | NIDA

“One of the things that we often do is focus too much on what we say when we should be focused on what our body language says. These elements can have a big impact on a conversation in the boardroom for a finance person conducting a presentation,” he says.

Learning the art of storytelling is a skill he’s put into practice in his role at NIDA. “My experience here at NIDA is that I’m often dealing with a lot of non-finance people to help solve their pain points. Making sure that the numbers make sense for the people we report to is paramount.

“The people who work here in the business are very motivated people who want to do the right thing to ensure the continual growth of NIDA. My job is to explain to them why we’re doing things that we need to do and to ensure that they buy into the vision,” he says.

Remote control Sujeet’s remit extends across finance, risk, legal, technology, data and facilities, with about
24 people in his team. He’s navigated NIDA through the pandemic, which proved to be a financially challenging period, with revenues splitting in new ways as business evolved amid pandemic lockdowns, which forced a radical rethink of how the business conducted itself.

“We took very quick, decisive action on the technology side of it, with people out of the building in 10 days and working virtually,” he says. The bigger challenge was then working out how to give that same experience to students, which became the next priority, leading to the creation of a Digital Theatre Festival. “We had to make sure that we took as many elements of our offering online and implement new
learning management systems, which was a big undertaking.”

Sujeet has also implemented a number of future-proofing measures, including a technology transformation that he’s been driving to ensure that people can work from anywhere, anytime, from any device. These radical rethinks have transformed the business and opened up many of the courses to anyone in a move that has cemented its future. Depending on the role, most of the time it’s up to the individual to decide where they work, with most people taking a hybrid approach. “I like to come to the office every day. The energy here is infectious and you can feel the excitement.”

The story so far:
With more than 15 years of experience delivering financial and business objectives, Sujeet previously worked as a financial controller at UNSW, where he implemented a new budget and forecast model, among countless other projects.

Prior to UNSW, he was head of accounts and finance for Cornerstone Community, creating centralised shared services and modernising the IT and finance infrastructure. Sujeet landed the CFO role at NIDA six years ago after a colleague recommended him for the CFO role. After conversations with the Board to better understand what was involved in the role, he was certain it was a great role for him.

He’s a member of CPA Australia and a fellow member of CA Institute of India and holds an MBA (executive) and holds a Certified Information Systems Auditor accreditation he gained from ICASA, USA.

To learn more about NIDA Corporate please visit: www.corporate.nida.edu.au/