How To Stimulate Innovation And Balance As A Global CFO

11 May, 2016 / Articles
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In a recent survey of senior finance professionals, IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) found that just 28% of respondents were either “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their work-life balance. Further, of the 12% who noted they were “very dissatisfied,” 85% of those individuals reported pressure to work more. It’s no secret that balancing personal life and work is an ongoing battle. For financial professional under pressure to work longer hours due to staff cutbacks and strained resources, it’s even harder. I recently spoke with Pernod Ricard CFO Gilles Bogaert on his secret to keeping life balanced and how having fun can help you deliver more value.

Jeff Thomson: You have served as CFO of Pernod Ricard in Argentina, Brazil and now France. While each of these positions was within the same umbrella company, did you observe any differences in the role of the CFO and finance department between continents?

Gilles Bogaert: Each of these roles was different – in entity (market company, region and headquarters) and in time (crisis, growth, transformation). In Latin America, for example, you may deal with volatility and high inflation, which requires a lot of agility and short term reactivity. Cash is often a better key performance indicator (KPI) to monitor the business there than profit and loss (P&L). In a fast changing environment, you have to manage constant risks and opportunities, like currency exposure, pricing, cost management and cash generation.

Now, as a global and corporate CFO in France, my role is to help deliver a longer term strategic roadmap, covering both top line and operational excellence, and allowing the delivery of group growth and value creation ambition.

Thomson: Pernod Ricard has been ranked by Forbes as the world’s 69th most innovative company. What are the top three things you do as CFO to stimulate innovation?

Bogaert: It’s as simple as focusing on the following:

  1. Learn to say “yes.”
  2. Help allocate resources behind prioritized opportunities, even risky ones.
  3. Set the right KPIs to track progress and make decisions, including investment levels and ROI criteria.

Thomson: When it comes to issues of risk, funding, etc., CFOs are often viewed as naysayers. You’ve said one of the most important lessons you’ve learned as CFO has been to say “yes.” Can you expound on that? How did you learn the value of saying “yes” and why should other CFOs say yes more often?

Bogaert: Being a business partner means the CFO has to make sure the company is going forward. By helping to articulate the link between business drivers and financial objectives, and by defining the guidelines, the CFO can clarify what the objectives are and ease the decision process without having to use a “veto right.” At the end of the day, the magic financial triangle is about finding the right balance between top line growth, value creation and cash generation; it is a business decision.

Thomson: In an attempt to achieve work-life balance, you play four hours of sports every week. How do you encourage similar balance in your team, and have you observed a positive impact as a result?

Bogaert: In general, I try to have balanced teams and so I try to hire balanced people. There is not a single way to be balanced in your life, but I genuinely believe you are a better professional if you have fun. It clearly delivers superior scores of engagement, team work, productivity and added value, as shown in our employee surveys. My motto is, “work seriously without taking oneself too seriously.”

Thomson: You don’t stick to a routine when taking on your CFO responsibilities. How does this increase the value you create for Pernod Ricard and would you recommend other CFOs eschew strict schedules?

Bogaert: We all need tools and processes but what makes the difference is the capacity to step back and make sure we focus on the critical topics. I try to keep four hours a week with an open agenda. My best ideas come in those free moments (and also sometimes while jogging). If finance is a square with “imposed figures,” the true added value is when you go beyond the limits of that square, challenging the status quo.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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