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What the 21st Century Demands of a Financial Director

Here are three things that the 21st century demands of a financial director.

Grant Robson

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In the last years of high school, your parents or guidance counselors might have encouraged you to choose a career. You may have had a love for numbers, you may have liked the doors it opened in terms of job opportunities, or you may have been attracted to rumours about the salary – but one way or the other you decided on accounting.

It seems like light years ago that you slogged your way through university tests and wrote your board exams. Since then your career has enjoyed an upward trajectory, and now you’re a financial director.

Related: What Makes a Good Financial Management System?

But the world in which you function as a financial director is indeed light years away from the world in which you chose your career as a dreamy high-schooler. Decades ago, the pressures and expectations were different from those faced by your role today.

1. The ability to manage ever-accelerating change

Time in the 21st century is fundamentally different from what is was in the past. Think about the impact of this for a moment. In past decades, your company may have wanted to conduct market research. So you would haul out books on your subject.

You would conduct interviews telephonically and face-to-face. You might even visit the library to glean further insights. This process would take weeks, if not months, to complete. The only knowledge you gleaned would be either be what you found out directly or historical information you found in books and journals.

The introduction of the internet has changed all that. Nowadays, if you’re wanting to conduct market research, the first thing you’ll do is hop online and pull up a search engine. In response to a few key words, a plethora of information will come up within milliseconds.

You’ll likely be able to read online books, research reports and academic findings. Then, you’ll be able to conduct online interviews and polls, accessing thousands of audience members instantly at the click of a button.

You will likely be able to conduct some high-level market research within days, literally cutting the time it took to learn new information into a fraction of what it was before. This phenomenon means we have more access to new information at a faster pace than ever. By virtue of the fact that our world changes when we learn new things, it also means that our world is changing faster than it ever did before.

As a financial director, you’re expected to know what’s changing and when. You’re expected to understand the implications of change, and most importantly, you’re expected to make decisions that react to change as soon as it comes.

2. The breaking down of silos

In previous eras, departments existed and functioned in relative autonomy. There was a finance department, a marketing department, a technical department, a Human Resources department and an R&D department. The heads of these departments would meet from time to time, but they generally viewed themselves in isolation, pursuing their own goals often in spite of – or even at the expense of –another. Those days have changed.

Today, your mandate as a financial director is to help the company to view itself as a single collective. Departments need to view themselves as interdependent, and work together to achieve goals.

If you are able to help break down the silos between departments, your reward as a financial director will be a more seamless operation with more sharing of resources and more operational efficiency

3. An ability to predict the future from past experience

The 21st century financial director needs to learn from the past. Despite their ever-changing world, they are required to use experiences from what has already taken place to predict the future. Today’s financial director needs to plan in a way that is more insightful and reflexive than ever before.

Their plans need to say: “this is how the past changed me, and this is how I will change the future.”

Related: The Science of Pricing

If your company is looking for the insight of a financial director who is fully equipped with the skills demanded of them by the 21st century, The Finance Team has the answer. We draw on a network of highly skilled, qualified professionals who can assist your company for the period of time that your company requires.

See more at: http://www.thefinanceteam.co.za

Grant Robson is the executive chairman of The Finance Team a financial executive outsourcing company. He holds a BCom, BCompt (Hons) and is a CA(SA). Grant’s commercial experience includes roles in financial services (African Bank) and the medical industry (Medco), along with international mining experience (Petra Diamonds Plc). He has also served as the CFO of MvelaMasefield (Pty) Ltd, the energy trading subsidiary of the Mvelaphanda Group, with both local and international operations. During his tenure, Grant was responsible for the company’s operations in East Africa, specifically Tanzania and Zanzibar. Following his role at Mvela Masefield, he was appointed financial director of Whiz Property Group (Pty) Ltd, a Johannesburg based, multi-million rand, commercial property development business. Grant’s strengths are client acquisition, service delivery and client retention. For more Information go to www.thefinanceteam.co.za.

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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