FDs sometimes lament that theirs is a somewhat lonely job, because of the specialist skills that they possess and the specialist function that they perform. Without equally skilled colleagues within the company, it can be difficult to work through particular problems or issues – or even just to bounce some ideas around. Geography doesn’t help: while thousands of Big Five practising accountants may be just a glass-walled elevator ride away from each other, many FDs are physically isolated from other FDs, making informal face-to-face contact very difficult. These are undoubtedly the most important reasons why almost 200 FDs set aside time in June to attend a two-and-a-half day conference known as the Finance Directors’ Forum, which took place on board the P&O cruise ship Victoria. The wide range of lectures, workshops and think tanks, organised by boat-based-conference specialists Richmond Events, was a live demonstration of how FDs are less and less concerned with the crunchier issues such as disputes over accounting standards – “Just give us the rules and let us get on with it,” pleaded one FD. Instead, they are much more interested in managing and leading change processes, adding shareholder value rather than merely measuring it, communicating with investors and, in many cases, preparing themselves for the chief executive’s job. So on the basis that “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you originally expected”, the Forum was a talking shop for FDs to share experiences and ideas. Some talked about how they completely restructured their finance departments, others talked about how to make sound commercial decisions about information technology. There was also the suggestion that FDs should seek out a non-executive directorship – a role that acts as a new learning base as well as an extra part-time job. If anything, the conference showed that FDs are getting to grips with – and initiating – difficult change programmes as well as anyone. But perhaps the most difficult task faced by many FDs is to ‘sell’ themselves to their non-finance colleagues, convincing them that the finance function is well beyond being, in the words of one delegate, “the purchase prevention unit”.
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