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Master of all trades

I WORRIED about this issue of Financial Director. Not because I didn’t think the content was good, but because of the gnawing feeling that we had allowed the content to drift away from the core interests and needs of the modern FD. After all, we gave The Secret FD, our regular columnist, free rein to write about Alistair Darling’s autobiography and asked an academic, Junie Tong, to consider whether business has become easier in China, as was recently claimed by the CEO of beverage maker Coca-Cola. Interesting topics, to be sure, but what have they got to do with being a progressive FD in the UK business environment? What could they tell us about running the finance function and ensuring the finances remain sound? What could they possibly say about the place of the FD on the board and his relationship with the success and growth of a business?

I wasn’t sure I had an answer to any of these questions beyond a slightly empty assertion that the articles “felt” right.

But then we reviewed two more of this month’s pieces: the interview with Trevor Reeves of Croydon’s House of Reeves, and the potted profile of Wan Ling Martello, the Phillippines-born director taking over the FD role at Nestlé. And why were they so important? Half of Trevor Reeves’ business burned to the ground during August’s London riots and yet he reveals his most important lesson in the sorry saga is the value of good communications and PR. Martello’s appointment is a lesson in a company looking for someone who understands, and will be understood, in its new target market – China. The role of being FD is almost irrelevant.

Which brings me neatly to our China cover story. Junie Tong makes the point that doing business in the communist state is not just about understanding the financial landscape, but also the cultural environment. Getting it right means good communication and, in turn, good business. The Secret FD makes a similar point. Comparing Darling and Brown to CEOs and FDs, he ponders how they ever got anything done given that their relationship and communication were so dysfunctional.

These tales tell us little about running the finance function or producing a reliable set of accounts. But they do illuminate a point made to me a little while ago by Hugh Watchorn, FD at Bonhams: the FD has got to master more than the accounts. He or she will need to master cultural insight, communications, relationship management, diplomacy. Martello speaks Mandarin and Tagalog. That appointment says little about the accounts and much about who Nestlé needs to speak to. There’s a lesson for all FDs and companies. Even in SMEs the FD should be doing more than heading finance. He or she will need to add something else – a way of communicating and connecting to business partners and customers that the CEO cannot achieve. The chief executive may offer the inspiration; the FD has got to add the substance. That’s where the difference will be defined.

Gavin Hinks, Editor

 

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