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FD Forum preview – How the ship shapes up

The fifth annual Richmond Events Finance Directors’ Forum sets sail from Southampton on 26 June 2002, for three nights on board the P&O ship Arcadia with another top-calibre list of speakers, delegate FDs and exhibitors.

The event has already established itself as the pre-eminent conference in the FD’s calendar and promises this year to equip delegates with a broad range of information and ideas that will be immediately applicable back on shore.

The programme includes more than 20 keynote speeches, presentations, discussion groups, workshops and one-on-one sessions covering subjects such as strategic analysis, emerging technology, “softer issues” and wine-tasting (no one said that FDs aren’t allowed to have a little fun on board).

On top of the opportunity to hear some of the best experts in the business, there are also many social and workshop opportunities to mix with top-flight FDs. This year’s FD Forum will be welcoming many FDs from household-name companies, right up to the FTSE-100, many of whom are repeat visitors to the event.

Neil Chisman, former FD of Stakis and now non-executive director of a number of companies including Zetters, has been on the ship every year – three years as a delegate and the last two years as a speaker. He says that the calibre of the exhibitors – who pay to be on board in exchange for the opportunity to schedule half-hour meetings with delegate FDs – is always high and FDs should not pass up the chance to listen to what they have to say. “The suppliers are an integrally useful part of the event,” he says.

“You get people to show you the latest techniques and technologies, and it is only for half an hour at a time: you can follow up later.” So, however good the speaker programme is, it’s just half the event. Chisman strongly recommends you leave plenty of time to meet the exhibitors.

We have categorised the FD Forum under six headings – corporate strategy; the FD’s role; technology; numbers; value and risk; and personal development – to give a flavour of the breadth of this year’s programme. And many of the speakers have given Financial Director an exclusive first look at some of the ideas they will be talking about.

Wednesday evening kicks off with the opening speech by Baroness Sarah Hogg, chairman of 3i, a governor of the BBC and a member of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. She will be talking about how regulatory responsibilities, international ambitions and shareholder expectations are expanding the role of FDs, and the challenges involved in managing their relationships with the board. Hence, her speech provides the ideal opener for this conference. It is chaired by futures analyst, consultant and broadcaster James Bellini.

A presentation by Simon Carter, MD of Transition Strategies and a visiting fellow at Cranfield, will, he says, encourage FDs to take a broader view of strategy, helping them “become strategic” and develop strategy within the board. “It’s all about the quality of dialogue they can develop,” he says. “I will then go on to talk about the content of strategy and some of the issues faced by boards and senior executives in dealing with strategy beyond just the creation of shareholder value.”

One of the more difficult aspects of strategy is forecasting the macroeconomic environment in which it has to be delivered. Professor Tim Congdon of Lombard Street Research will be doing a presentation on his views on the economic outlook. “I will be talking about whether 2002 will see a recovery in the UK and world economies, and debating whether this recovery will turn into a boom in 2003. There are some signs that it might,” he says.

Congdon will also be conducting a workshop on how forecasters such as the Treasury and the Bank of England do their job, and examining different forecasting methods.

Dr James Bellini – Business Consultant & Broadcaster

OPENING ADDRESS: Challenges facing the modern board
Baroness Sarah Hogg – chairman, 3i

PRESENTATION: Strategic Analysis

Simon Carter – managing director, Transition Strategies Limited and visiting fellow, Cranfield University PRESENTATION: The economic outlook: recovery in 2002 and boom in 2003?
Professor Tim Congdon – chief economist, Lombard Street Research WORKSHOP: Forecasting the Economy and Interest Rates
Professor Tim Congdon, chief economist, Lombard Street Research

Last year Neil Chisman hosted a hugely popular workshop in which FDs had the opportunity to raise pretty much any issue they liked before a three-man panel headed by Chisman that tried to provide some useful guidance.

So what is Chisman expecting to be grilled on this year? “Current hot topics are things such as e-commerce and the euro, and globalisation issues,” he says. “I think that we’re out of the downsizing stuff. I detect that value creation is of growing interest to people but I’m kind of guessing really. But I’ll stand there and answer any question they throw at me – because if I don’t know the answer I’ll ask the rest of the audience. I’ll phone a friend.”

In the April issue of Financial Director we carried an exclusive survey in partnership with the forum organisers, Richmond Events, in which we examined the working relationship between finance directors and their CEOs. On board, former head of Lever Brothers Andrew Seth will address a discussion group chaired by Financial Director editor Andrew Sawers on this subject. Seth, who describes this relationship as “crucial”, will be talking about what the CEO expects of his FD as well as what the FD expects of the CEO. Our survey revealed that about a quarter of FDs think their CEO regards them as “just the numbers guy”. Seth suspects that the real proportion who think that is somewhat greater than that – so his experience will provide valuable insight into how the FD and the CEO can work better together.

WORKSHOP: The FD of the Future
Neil Chisman – former FD of Stakis, member of the Financial Reporting Council DISCUSSION GROUP: The relationship between the CEO and the FD
Andrew Seth, retired Chairman, Lever Brothers; chaired by Andrew Sawers, editor, Financial Director

Rodney Thomas of Academy Internet will be leading two separate but related workshops on technology. One will be on e-business and the value it adds.

“One of the biggest challenges FDs face is the decision when to authorise major investment in new technology,” Thomas says. “FDs sometimes feel they cannot contribute intelligently to the technology debate. This workshop will equip FDs with some serious tools to understand e-business.”

His emerging technologies workshop is “a chance to have a look where we’re going”, he adds. The pace of change in technology may be a cliche, but that doesn’t stop it from being a real problem for businesses. “It is difficult to know which technologies to take seriously. I will run right from today up to ten years in the future and some serious blue-sky predictions. I will look at videoconferencing on mobiles, instant connectivity and molecular computing to name a few areas,” he says. We’ll make sure to interview Thomas again in 2012.

A workshop conducted by Helen James from Investis promises to complement the keynote speech by Mary Keegan. It looks at how technology is developing in corporate reporting, and also at how regulators are forcing public companies to use the internet.

WORKSHOP: Emerging technologies and their impact on 21st century organisations
Rodney Thomas – CEO, Academy Internet WORKSHOP: How, why and where E-Business adds maximum value to your organisation
Rodney Thomas – CEO, Academy Internet

WORKSHOP: Future Development of Corporate Reporting – A Technology Guide
Helen James – sales & marketing director, Investis

For all the growth in popularity of strategic issues and “softer issues”, there’s no getting away from the numbers. Accounting Standards Board chairman Mary Keegan is back again, talking about how financial reporting needs to evolve to meet the needs of stakeholders around the world. But Keegan will also be holding a series of one-to-one sessions with FDs to discuss their particular difficulties with UK and international accounting standards.

And tax expert Ian Nichol will be guiding FDs through the recent Budget, and looking in particular at the government’s approach to the taxation of large business. New rules make it imperative that companies reconsider their group structure, he says. For fun, there’s a tax case quiz in which delegates will be asked to rule on the facts presented in recent tax cases – the answers, Nichol says, are “generally unrelated to the application of common sense”.

John Melo from Xansa – previously known as FI Group – will explain how outsourcing can help create value, provided it’s done at the right stage in a company’s development.

KEYNOTE SESSION: Future Development of Corporate Reporting
Mary Keegan – chairman, Accounting Standards Board PRESENTATION: Outsourcing and Business Process Management
John Melo – managing director of business process management, Xansa WORKSHOP: Tax Planning 2002
Ian Nichol – principal, Ian Nichol Training ONE-TO-ONE: UK Accounting or International Standards
Mary Keegan – chairman, Accounting Standards Board

As Neil Chisman says earlier on in this article, shareholder value looks as though it’s back on the FD agenda, now that cost-cutting survival tactics are (perhaps) being put back into the cupboard. So Robert Bittlestone’s keynote speech on shareholder value is timely. But he promises to go far beyond the well-trodden areas of cost of capital calculations, and so on.

“I would be very surprised if I could teach anything on that topic to such an educated audience as the delegates on the boat. So, as we are on a boat I am going to talk about ICE – imagination, communication and education,” he says. “I don’t believe that shareholder value is all about doing the right accounting adjustments for goodwill or calculating cost of capital. Shareholder value is about communicating a business model to shareholders and the City and that calls for imagination and a willingness to jump outside the professional straitjacket.” It should be a Titanic speech.

The Turnbull report is supposed to be changing company behaviour rather than merely fostering meaningless boiler-plate statements. So Anthony Carey from RSM Robson Rhodes will be talking about how Turnbull can help create value. “I will be asking FDs to reflect on whether they are really positive that they are identifying the big risks and keeping them up to date,” Carey says. “Is the board really taking risk management seriously or are they just updating last year’s information? I will also be covering the area of communicating risks to shareholders and others in the wider business community.”

KEYNOTE SESSION: Shareholder Value
Robert Bittlestone – managing director, Metapraxis DISCUSSION GROUP: The Turnbull Report: Ensuring it is creating sustainable value
Anthony Carey – partner, RSM Robson Rhodes

Anthony Rose, the wine writer for The Independent will be holding a workshop that is certain to be well attended – though we’re not sure yet whether the first tasting sessions will be held at the usual 9am conference kick-off time. But aside from learning something about differentiating between various grape varieties, you may also pick up a few tips so you know when to reject a duff bottle that your wine waiter has brought to your table.

Khalid Aziz makes a return visit to the FD Forum to host a discussion group and a series of one-to-ones to help FDs with their media and presentation skills – which can be useful if your company makes the headlines, hits the buffers or decides to put streaming video of the results meetings on your website. You’ll want to look your best, and Aziz promises that, at the one-to-ones, “FDs will be able to get a good idea just how effectively they can get their message across”. His workshop will focus on “successful internal communications and presentation skills at board level and with direct reports”, he says. “I will examine some of the specific issues that surround the finance function and the spoken word.”

“Lifecoach” Carole Gaskell also returns to the Arcadia by popular demand this year, helping FDs in a series of one-to-ones designed to help them get a grip on their personal success, rather than simply their professional achievements. But the sessions are also helpful, Gaskell says, in assisting FDs with their need to coach members of their own team. “Whatever the delegate wants to achieve with the session, we can help them,” she says.

The conference closes with a presentation by Trevor Bayliss, inventor of the wind-up radio and much-loved media personality. His speech is certain to be entertaining and inspiring. We don’t want to give too much away but he says his message is going to be as controversial as possible. “I am basing the address largely on my own experiences, how inventors are talked down to, rejected and humiliated,” he says. “There is an inventor in all of us: if you solve a problem you become an inventor.”

WORKSHOP: Wine: Don’t we always wish we knew more?
Anthony Rose – wine writer for The Independent DISCUSSION GROUP: Presentation skills for FDs
Khalid Aziz – chairman, The Aziz Corporation ONE-TO-ONE: Coaching for personal success
Carole Gaskell, The Lifecoaching Company ONE-TO-ONE: Benchmark your media skills
Khalid Aziz – chairman, The Aziz Corporation CLOSING ADDRESS:
The best of British Trevor Baylis, OBE – inventor and showman

For further information about the Finance Directors Forum visit
While on board, information can be obtained from the conference office, Tiffany Court, P Deck.

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