Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Fortune favours the brave. FD’s annual poll reveals all

Looking ahead to 2010 are Brian Mullens, chief financial
officer at McDonald’s UK and Ireland; Arif Kamal, group finance director at
property consultant at GL Hearn; Margaret Ewing, vice chairman and head of CFO
practice at Deloitte; and Richard Pennycook, group finance director at Wm

What is your most pressing priority as an FD in 2010?
Brian Mullens (BM): Ensuring we keep investing in our
restaurants to improve customer experience.

Arif Kamal (AK): Maintaining liquidity, positive cashflow
management and ensuring that our banking relationships remain strong.

Margaret Ewing (ME): Successfully managing the transition
from recession to slow growth. FDs need to stay focused on cash, financing
facilities and costs and be in a position to act as a strategist and a catalyst
to allow the organisation to capitalise on the opportunities.

Richard Pennycook (RP): Making sure we continue to offer
best value by reinvesting the proceeds of our growth.

2009 was all about financial market corporate failures. What do you
think will characterise the business world in 2010 ­ and why?

BM: We can expect uncertainty until the general election. This
will likely be a catalyst for change ­ potentially across business taxes or
challenges on consumers’ disposable income.

AK: Businesses will need to tread very carefully, as
previous recessions have shown that more companies collapse at the beginning of
a recovery than in the depths of a recession.

ME: Strengthening the financial system and reducing debt
levels will take time. With banks focused on building their capital base and
consumers focused on saving, that means a lot less bank lending and a lot less
consumer spending. That’s a very different world from the one we all knew before
the recession.

RP: Businesses in the UK will have to run very lean, as
consumer demand will continue to be weak in the face of rising taxes and
unemployment. Businesses with overseas activities will fare better and UK
businesses will start to be vulnerable to overseas takeovers, due to a weak

Where do you think the FTSE-100 index will be at the close of

BM: This year we have witnessed classic upward FTSE movement as
the market recovers from having built in the worst fears of the recession. I
think this will slow next year to around 4% to 5% growth.

AK: 5,350.

ME: 5,800. More relaxed monetary policy should be good for
equities, but, without a strong recovery to drive a major rebound in earnings,
the upside looks limited.

RP: 4,800.

What crucial advice would you give to a fellow FD for 2010?

BM: Next year could be tougher than 2009, with higher levels of
unemployment and a decrease in spending power for consumers.

AK: Any FD needs to be seen as an integral part of the
strategic team and ­ with his or her expert knowledge ­ helping to make
difficult decisions.

ME: Above all, project energy and confidence when no one
else feels that way. It’s easy to be positive when everything is going well.
It’s most important when times are tough and uncertain.

RP: Don’t be suckered into believing in the ‘green shoots’.
If you miss a little bit of upside because you are running too tight, this is a
price worth paying.

What have you learned about business in 2009?
BM: In recession customers are more discerning, not less.
Businesses that remain focused on the customer will be rewarded as the climate

AK: We should not assume that we cannot grow in a downturn.
Opportunities present themselves and we should remain positive ­ but also

ME: The past year has given FDs the mandate, or provided the
“burning platform” to make changes and drive out cost. The influence and
importance of the FD was also significantly enhanced ­ often their voice was
heard over that of the CEO.

RP: I’ve re-learned how much more healthy a tough
environment is, compared to an artificial boom. Good people can be more easily
attracted and retained. Discretionary spend can be eliminated, weak businesses
shaken out.

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