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Time to change gear

But our biggest fears since then have not been realised. Neither the world economy nor the international banking system have been paralysed by global terrorism, nor the fight against it, nor the fear of it. After a winter of extreme caution in almost every industry sector, it is now starting to look as though glorious summer could bring respite from the brain-crunching, morale-sapping need to focus on clever ways of cutting costs, removing overheads and minimising risk. It’s just possible that things are going to get better again, and that growth will once again be on the corporate agenda.

I hope it’s not exaggerating the importance of financial directors to suggest that the reason we’re now in a hopeful economic environment is in no small part due to the wisdom and experience of FDs who have not engaged in the kind of scorched-earth, slash-and-burn financial management that wreaked havoc a dozen years ago. Instead, considered surgery has removed costs without crippling the patient.

Here’s the bad news: the last few months have played to the FD’s strengths: financial skills, analytical capability, strategic thinking. But if, as Neil Chisman says in our preview of the Finance Directors’ Forum, we’re about to move towards growing shareholder value, then the FD’s job will get a lot harder. The new agenda will require leadership and communication skills, more creativity, greater awareness of commercial opportunities and technology capability. Finance teams will have to be motivated and mentored, board colleagues cajoled and encouraged. Through it all, there will still be the need for the FD to act as the corporate conscience, reining in the excessive ambitions and occasional arch stupidity of the CEO and his henchmen with tact, diplomacy and consummate authority.

Sometimes, it’s a wonder that we expect one person to do it all.

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