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The Changing Face of Leadership in Finance
The world of finance is changing rapidly from intern to director level. There is a new need for finance leaders to tap into their soft skills and become company storytellers - by explaining fiscal performance, directing investments and identifying profitability.
And as many of our 20 interviewed CFOs from around the globe said, what a finance team now needs is not more technical skills but in fact a soft skill that isn’t talked about all that much – curiosity.
As Pürnur Üner, CFO of Ajinomoto-Örgen Gıda, explains, her role has been shifting with the times, morphing from financial management into, in her words, “a change management role, an integrator role. 25% is in managing the shareholder situation, 25% the IT transmission, 25% collaborating with my senior leadership colleagues, and the last 25% is spent with my finance team and other functions.”
A balancing act
With this rebalancing of the role to one that is much more public facing, the modern CFO needs a very different skill set to those of the recent past. Presenting data to shareholders means that not only do CFOs need to be confident in front of crowds, but also able to help other senior leaders think differently.
As Andrea Wesson, CFO of Eversholt Rail explains, the role would no longer suit a ‘pure’ finance person because “you need a mixture of operational knowledge. I am quite happy to roll up my sleeves and get involved and play. I can absolutely see that different sizes of business would require different sets of skills for their CFO,” she concludes.
Florence Rocle, VP Global Finance Services of Sodexo also believes this transformation was always coming, and the development of the role inevitable. “We no longer expect CFOs to be accountants. They should rely on people who are accountants since their role is much more global.”
One key dimension of the ‘new’ CFO role is managing talent and mastering leadership. CFOs need to look at their own competencies and drive their agenda forward because leading a transforming team requires soft skills that were not previously sought after.
Pürnur Üner explains this as a change in mind-sets, a rebalancing of skills, in her words a, “re-designing of processes, an integration of automated systems and a transformation of finance. We are looking for different mindsets, different skills: advanced financial skills together with technological skills and leadership skills, to develop future finance leaders.”
What then, is the reason for this step change in the organisation of financial teams, apart from technology? Simply put, the CFO must act as a pacesetter for their closest team, becoming a coach and motivator at the same time. CFOs will also increasingly have to deal with external forces on their business such as demographic changes – which bring about many positives, alongside pain points.
Working towards diversity
In many countries and spanning decades, finance departments traditionally had more men than women. In the modern world of work, diversity aspects play a much more important role, for talent attraction, employee satisfaction, and employee retention, as all of our CFOs acknowledge.
What Pürnur Üner sees in Turkey, however, is a function already dominated by women, partly by design and partly through cultural norms. As she explains, “Finance is normally a female-dominated function in Turkey. More than half of my team is female. My accounting and finance manager is female, my budget and planning manager is male, but at least half of my team is female.
“Only 25% of the female population is in the workforce in Turkey. So, this 40%-50% is really unusual, but it definitely reflects the senior management’s perspective regarding gender equality,” she explains, highlighting that this drive for diversity and balance in her immediate team. Because, simply put, “the key thing is to have the right people on the bus and to tap into their potential.”
- Turkey has a good diversity in finance, thanks to cultural norms and strong support from senior management
- Financial leaders are looking for new mindsets and new skill sets that are outside of the traditional analytical scope
- Modern CFOs need to be agile workers, ready to ‘roll up their sleeves and get involved and play”, moving away from their traditional behind the scenes work
- CFOs need strong teams behind them to reach their departments potential
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