Strategy & Operations » Business Partnering » CFO Agenda: A day to remember

Twickenham Stadium, the home of rugby union, is known the world over for the very highest levels of sporting excellence. On Wednesday 9 May, it played host to the CFO Agenda, the blue riband event for finance leaders.

Over 150 attendees, including CFOs and senior finance professionals, representing a wide cross section of sectors were able to hear world class demonstrations of how to achieve excellence in all facets of the finance function at the famous venue outside London.

At the heart of the agenda ran the theme of how to manage the challenges thrown up in an increasingly disruptive environment. In this context, a diverse mix of speakers – including industry experts and finance leaders, tackled themes including organisational agility, the CFO as relationship builder and supporting talent through disruption.

As a glorious Spring morning greeted arrivals, the event started in earnest with a breakfast briefing on reducing risk in the procure-to-pay (P2P) cycle – hosted by John Baker – a director at accountants Moore Stephens. He was joined by David Griffiths, EVP and chief customer officer of Fiscal Technologies, a forensic software provider, who alerted attendees that fraud risk is a board level priority.

Opportunistic lens

Chris Astle, Financial Director’s CFO-in-residence, kicked off the event as chairman with his opening remarks that set the tone of the event- that finance leaders need to be on the front foot in driving their organisations.

The tone of the address by Astle, who is CEO of consultancy Think Forwards, was picked up in the first session titled ‘Seeing risk through an opportunistic lens’ that featured Noreena Hertz, an expert and best-selling author on strategy, economic and geo-political risk.

Picking up on the need to find ways of capitalising on a fast-changing environment, a panel featuring a powerful line-up considered how finance leaders could deliver business advantage to their organisations.

Chaired by Naomi Connell, CFO of construction services group Volker Wessels UK, panellists Richard Beeston, SVP, finance & operations at Syco Entertainment, Jaguar Land Rover’s regional CFO Gianmarco Cicuzza, bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair’s group director of finance Mark Irwin and portfolio CFO Bina Khatwani considered the future of the CFO and asked: “Are you ready?”. The session was sponsored by accountancy body the ICAEW.

The event then split into three silos to address the areas of strategy and business partnering, transformation and operational and performance efficiency. In the first, Wayne Close, General Manager of BUPA’s UK Health Services, revealed how the co-piloting approach at the heart of the healthcare group’s business model, had empowered finance leaders through developing a set of hard and soft skills. “With these skills and a lens on your customers you can turn businesses around, you can accelerate growth and you can improve both employee and customer satisfaction,” he said.

In the transformation leg, McDonald’s UK CFO John Park talked on supporting organisational agility while Wendy Smith, vice president & CFO Kellogg’s considered the importance of the CFO as a relationship builder.

The next set of speakers offered a powerful argument for how the CFO can use new tools to drive agile business models in the digital age. Andrew Wedge, EMEA finance director of applications software company Zuora talked about the modern CFO in the subscription economy.

Financial corporate performance management (FCPM) software provider Trintech’s partner enablement manager Nigel Stanley looked at identifying areas of finance process improvement and how to reach a best-in-class record to report (R2R) process.

Christoph Grossbaier, head of product marketing at process mining specialist Celonis, showed the work undertaken with an automobile company that wanted to move from  selling a million cars a year to selling a billion rides annually. He stressed the effective organisations of the future would “be the ones that could turn their business process into a more efficient structure.”

Completing the morning session, cosmetics giant L’Oréal inspired with engaging films conveying its work on supporting talent through disruption. Commercial operations finance director Jessica McDarren and Katie Miller, HR leader of the consumer products division, led a role play on what finance teams of the future should be doing to address the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. Cultural change was seen as key to success.

In the transformation stream, Ben Kay, CFO UK & Ireland of cargo services company Swissport discussed developing today’s finance function to overcome tomorrow’s challenges. James Richardson, finance director of bookmaker William Hill spoke on achieving performance efficiency through group transformation. He revealed “having the right people, in the right place, at the right time with the right mindset” was vital to being adaptive to change.

VIP think tanks hosted by Inixion, Sage, Zuora and business commerce platform Tradeshift kept brains stimulated through lunch before afternoon activities commenced.

Inxion and Sage examined approaches to managing, translating and giving visibility over information to support business transformation. Automating the recognition of revenue and challenges of navigating the emerging digital landscape (blockchain, AI and payment 2.0) were some of the other discussions taking place behind closed doors.

In the afternoon, Gregory Person, CTP vice president of Kyriba, a cloud financial management solutions provider, asked: Are you winning the fight against payments fraud? Mark Harris, UK sales manager of outsourcing giant Capita, discussed driving strategic transformation and advisory firm Willis Towers Watson’s client engagement and strategy leader Timothy Rees tackled cyber security.

Moving things on

Before the event broke down into hubs featuring the presenters discussing key trends and challenges facing the profession, it was down to a final round of speakers to capture the interest of attendees.

Connie Yang, CFO Europe of Opple Lighting talked AI and automation for SMEs while Rob Collie, Sky’s director of group finance delivery revealed how the broadcaster was delivering an ‘anti-fragile finance’ function- in effect achieving incremental gains in a fast changing world.

Paul Harris, Starbucks’ commercial finance director, rounded off the section with a piece entitled “the annual budget? That’s so last year!” He described the coffee chain’s business unit partners as the most effective players in the fast changing environment “because they can make decisions in real-time.”

The challenge hubs were then organised, led by a set of anchors including Joe Niembro, VP finance consumer, engineering & manufacturing at logistics group DHL and Rohit Shukla, a director of political consultancy Eurasia Group.

It was then left to enterprise cloud application provider Workday’s finance director Brian Montgomery and senior product marketing manager Frederic Portal to consider: The CFO of the future- and why technology matters.

Before Chris Astle gave his closing remarks, a high-powered sporting line up gave thoughts on how to lead a successful team through the unfamiliar and changing business landscape. Moderated by Martin Sanders, Honda Motor Europe’s chief audit executive, panellists consisted of Paralympian gold medallist Peter Hull MBE and Britain’s greatest female gymnast Beth Tweddle MBE.

Fittingly for the event, they were joined by former England rugby players Andy Gomarsall and Matt Dawson, now a senior director of workplace consultancy the Instant Group. Dawson and others met up with attendees for a drinks reception in the Members Bar overlooking the famous rugby pitch, just as the sun was setting over the stadium. It was a glorious end to a stimulating and rewarding day.