An almost childlike enthusiasm for all things technological is not normally something you might associate with the chief financial officer of a FTSE-100 company. Yet Andrew Griffith, CFO of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), has a natural enthusiasm for the digital world that is infectious. Sitting in Sky’s head office in Osterley, greater London, Griffith has a style that is as fluent and friendly as you would expect for a company that has to appeal to all. But his fresh-faced appeal - at 39 he is the youngest FD in the FTSE-100 - doesn’t hide the steel that lies beneath.
When it comes to questions about News Corporation’s £7.5bn plan to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB it does not already own, Griffith won’t be drawn on the subject. With Rupert Murdoch agreeing to spin off Sky News to get the go-ahead for the deal from culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, it is a particularly sensitive subject.
At the end of 2010, television watchdog Ofcom advised that the bid should be referred to the Competition Commission because of the combination of one of the UK’s main providers of TV news with the UK’s largest newspaper publisher. This was addressed by distancing Sky News from the merged entity (see box on page 30 for timeline of the deal). Griffith deals with questions about how the takeover might affect the organisation with a straight bat.
He appears much happier talking about his real passion - technology - and, more pertinently, the contribution he says finance has made, taking Sky into areas of mobile technology, broadband and high-definition television. It’s not long before he whips out his iPad and begins extolling the benefits of Sky’s multitude of apps.
“Who would have said two years ago that we would have been the largest entertainment provider on the iPad,” Griffith tells Financial Director, scrolling through the Sky TV Guide app. “This is a great example of what we have done. I can actually press a button, whizz that off and record it.”
Griffith says that finance has been at the heart of Sky’s digital growth story because of its ability to analyse the viability of new products such as Sky Anywhere, Sky HD and Sky 3D. A large part of Sky’s success is the growth in customers and the number of customers taking multiple products, allowing Sky to grow in a mature market. Take high definition: in 2007 only five percent of Sky customers bought it. By 2010 that figure had risen to 35 percent.
“Finance was at the lead in analysing the opportunity for HD because we saw that this was a product that added incremental revenue. Every customer who also takes HD pays us £10 more,” he says.
“Our business model is around investing up front to get the customer, then making higher returns as a result. Finance was at the heart of the strategy of pushing hard for HD. That has been very profitable and has contributed to the 15 percent topline growth we have seen.”
Griffith attributes finance’s ability to take the lead on the organisation’s growth strategy, and in making the business more efficient, to having the broadest possible sphere of influence and control across the company - but not in the way you would expect.
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