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Interview: Siemens Industry UK & Ireland FD Robin Phillips

AS the company makes everything from washing machines, fridge freezers and tumble dryers to microwave ovens, the chances are you will have owned at least one Siemens product in your lifetime. What might be less well known about the German industrial giant is that it is a leading supplier of systems for power generation and transmission as well as medical diagnosis.

Given that Siemens has revenues of €75.6bn (£53.4bn), 348,000 employees and operations in 289 major production and manufacturing plants worldwide, as well as office buildings, warehouses, research and development facilities or sales offices in almost every country in the world, Robin Phillips, finance director of Siemens Industry Sector UK & Ireland, could be forgiven for feeling like a cog in one of the machines produced by the manufacturing giant.

Working within Siemens UK’s industry division – responsible for the manufacture of automated, industrial drive technology – Phillips “very much lives in the matrix”, with reporting lines back to Siemens plc and two divisional CFOs based in Germany. However, he has few concerns about becoming siloed within the wider business.

Phillips points to the “very powerful, well-established UK FD community” that exists within Siemens. “We get together on a quarterly basis” – facilitated by the UK CFO – he explains.

“A lot of people in that community have come through the same commercial training programme as myself. There are really good commercial and financial structures within the company,” Phillips explains. “We push collaboration. It is very much an open-door policy but the fact that we know each other helps us to open up discussion very quickly.”

Commercial background

Aside from the relationships and collegiate atmosphere it created, Siemens’ training programme forms the core of Phillips’ development as a finance director with a strong commercial bent. Unlike many FDs, Phillips never acquired an accounting qualification but this has done little to stymie his development.

After graduating from Nottingham Trent University with a BA (Hons) in European Business, Phillips joined the Siemens graduate commercial training scheme in 1985, having worked for a year with BASF – another German company – in sales & marketing of technical plastics.

During his time at Siemens, Phillips held various positions spanning disciplines ranging from sales engineer to corporate auditor. Between 2003 and 2006, he held a global role as commercial director of sales at Siemens Standard Drives, based in Erlangen, Germany.

Phillips says the secondment in Germany – where he was responsible for business development worldwide financially and commercially at the standard drives business – was a “great opportunity”.

“My job was to go round and work with different countries and different regions to put business plans together to basically grow the business globally,” he remembers.

Nor does he see the lack of an accounting pedigree as an issue. Indeed, the commercial background has arguably proved more beneficial. “I have definitely come from a commercial background,” he says and adds that finance was a big part of Siemens’ graduate programme.

Much of the distinction between FD and commercial manager is one of semantics.
“We used to call ourselves commercial managers and then as time has progressed, we’ve been business administration managers and finally were called finance directors – it’s been a metamorphosis within the company in terms of titles,” Phillips explains.

“My role is very much finance and commercial. I have got people in my organisation who are clearly qualified accountants and do all the accounting and control and reporting jobs, so I am really very much a commercial and finance director rather than purely a finance director in the classical sense of the word.”

At the same time, a lot of the transactional processes are consolidated, with a global shared services operation that handles core areas like payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable. “I just have to make sure that all the checks and balances and the necessary controls are in place to make sure I am confident to sign off the books every quarter,” Phillips says.

Pet area

With many of his accounting and finance responsibilities handled at head office or within shared services, Phillips’ time is devoted to using his finance brief to drive commercial performance and strategy within his division.

He says he is “inherently involved in strategy setting within the organisation” in terms of measurement, communication and transparency to show where the business is in terms of actions that come out of that process. However, one of his “pet areas” is championing Siemens’ productivity activities.

A business excellence group reports to Phillips and he has tasked himself with the measurement of productivity and its subsequent accounting within Siemens P&L. “That goes across our manufacturing organisation and our sales organisation,” he explains.

“For years we have been very much focused on productivity within our manufacturing. We sell ourselves as an organisation on our manufacturing productivity and harnessing technology, so we should be practising what we preach in our sales offices and service organisations. We must take the principles of lean manufacturing and take them through to the office and support organisations as well.”

But what does that mean in practice? One of the functions Phillips and his team provide is that of “gatekeeper”. For instance, if a certain level of productivity is required, Phillips and his team work on “making sure the measurement is robust and that the measurement is reported transparently and is effectively accounted for”.

“Members of my team will be assigned to the sales force looking at sales productivity topics such as calls per day or activity spent in front of customers, having value-based discussions,” he adds.

Quotation factory

Phillips says his view has always been to improve productivity year on year – something that has “always been the DNA of the organisation”. That process and method is then applied, with the help of finance, to a sales environment, producing quotations.

“It’s like having a quotation factory – what’s the throughput of quotations, what are the KPIs relating to auditor cash? It’s measured in time – what can we do to improve that throughput rate of delivering the order and getting the cash and what are the sub-processes that support our failure or success in improving that time?” he says.

“We can take the cost of non-conformance in first pass yields in the factory and actually get the right quote to the right person at the right time with the right level of detail, for that person to be able to make the right decision. There are quality aspects to the quotation that we would apply 100% with a factory.”

But that, says Phillips, requires a review of technique. A lot of companies are guilty of churning out a lot of statistics and powerpoints and spreadsheets: “It’s about making that stuff visual, embedded in the process, so that the people doing the work are ultimately the best people to make changes and identify the right KPIs.”

By applying that “visualisation review process” to the sales and customer services, business growth has improved significantly, Phillips says, with improvements to Siemens’ net promoter score both in terms of pre-sale activity and post-sale activity by applying these manufacturing techniques to its office operations. ?

Robin PhillipsRobin Phillips: Career Bio

2008-present Finance director, Siemens Industry UK
2003-2008 Commercial director of sales, Siemens Standard Drives
1991-2003 Corporate auditor, Siemens
1987-1991 Sales engineer/manager, Siemens
1985-1987 Graduate commercial training scheme, Siemens

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