Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » FD Forum: Clash of styles

It was an energetic and intriguing start to the eighth Richmond Events
Finance Directors’ Forum on 3-6 November, which took place on board the P&O
ship Aurora. Tim Smit (pictured), visionary founder and chief executive of the
Eden Project, launched the proceedings by explaining how he got the idea, how he
raised the money and how he got people to work for him for nothing.

But it was on the subject of his current management style where the audience
of more than 200 UK finance directors became most engrossed. Smit – by any
definition, a maverick – was once told by his chairman Ronnie Hampel, a former
chairman of ICI and a doyen of the corporate governance industry, that he needed
to implement a proper management system. Smit agreed, but under the condition
that he got to write the system. The result of his efforts, which he labelled
‘Monkey Business’, is reproduced in the righthand column on this page. (The part
about the samba drums seemed quite logical when he explained it – space reasons
prevent us from trying to make sense of it here.)

Tim’s strictures about working with the team over a meal with lots of red
wine were taken to heart by some of the participants in a debate that took place
on board. The theme was “Is the CFO ‘organisation man’ or ‘entrepreneur’?” The
participants included ex-Ranks Hovis FD, Martin Craddock, Kerr Luscombe, FD of
the life side of Abbey plc, and Chris Edwards from the Cranfield University
School of Management, arguing on the ‘organisation man’ side. On the side of CFO
as entrepreneur were David Tovey from The Pace Partnership, Howard Beeston, FD
of the British Olympic Association, and Suzzane Wood from Heidrick &
Struggles, the headhunting firm. The ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek debate
kicked off with the ‘entrepreneurs’ showing up with a bottle of red wine and
three glasses, which they sipped throughout the session, chaired by Financial
Director editor Andrew Sawers. CFOs should be organisation man to
entrepreneurial CEOs, said one side. CFOs should be taking more risks, argued
the other.

The audience vote, when it came, was almost exactly evenly split, just
slightly in favour of the risk-takers. Perhaps the delegate FDs are organisation
men but really want to be entrepreneurs.

Eden Project’s Tim Smit’s management rulebook

Rule 1 – You cannot start work until you have said “Good
morning” to at least 20 people in the office.

Rule 2 – Read two books that everyone would say are not your
normal reading matter and review them for your colleagues.

Rules 3, 4 and 5 – Do the same for a movie, a play and a

Rule 6 – Give a speech once a year on why it’s great to work
for the Eden Project. If you can’t think of anything, you’re out.

Rule 7 – Perform a random act of great generosity to a

Rule 8 – Prepare a meal for the 40 people who make it
worthwhile coming to work (though we’ve had to modify this for health and safety

Rule 9 – Work by winelight: take the whole team out for an
evening meal.

Rule 10 – Learn to play samba drums with your colleagues.

FDs’ success depends on the team

The increasing demands placed on the CFO and the growing complexity of the
role make it increasingly important that the head of the function be supported
by the right team. Suzzane Wood, head of the European CFO practice at
headhunting firm Heidrick & Struggles, said that there are two sets of
conflicting challenges: CFOs have to try to reduce headcount while increasing
quality, while the makeup of the finance team itself requires people who have
technical skills and people with commercial skills.

This, she said, has implications for the type of person that the CFO has as
their ‘number two’: should that person be a group financial controller or a
divisional FD? In truth, Wood said, in larger companies there is an increasing
need to have two or three potential successors rather than one deputy.

Wood advises that CFOs should regularly review the structure of their
department, and not just the people within it. To get the best from the finance
team, people should be rotated through various roles, fostering an attitude of
interchangeability rather than ‘silo’ thinking. And when particular major
projects surface, Wood suggests that the CFO transfers a member of the team onto
the assignment, rather than bringing in consultants or interim managers, and
then back-fill that person’s own role.

But to really get the best out of the team, said Wood, you should be thinking
about your own management style: “Is your team bringing you problems or