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CFO Success Series: What makes a successful CFO?


3 Mins Read | 02-09-2019
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Debbie Wilson, CFO ANZ at SwissRe shares her insights.

I think the most valuable piece of advice is believing in yourself, setting targets and going for it.

What's the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?

I would also say getting mentors on your side because they will back you in your development. I think a lot of it is also about integrity – how you carry yourself is huge. I believe in leading by example and ‘walking the talk’.

What do you believe will be the most important skills within finance over the next 5 years and why?

I think business partnering has become more prevalent. It’s not about just crunching numbers anymore - analytical skills and communication are a given but you need to also be involved in setting and driving the strategy for the company, being a risk manager and being able to stand up and present to various audiences. There is a lot more focus on soft skills now, so you need to be a good leader or role model to ensure you get the best from your teams.  Lastly a role as a change champion.  We often hear about "change fatigue" so the CFO needs to learn how to motivate and coach their teams through a sea of eternal change programmes.

What's the most challenging situation you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

I guess it’s working out competing deadlines. Quite often these days we work in a matrix environment with offshore reporting lines – there’s a lot of different stakeholders with various needs and deadlines.  Another challenging aspect is dealing with different personalities and working out how to communicate with each person - it needs to come in various styles. Not just one size fits all.

What are the key habits that you feel make you successful?

Organisation. I am driven by deadlines - I am a perfectionist. I like to get the job done and I won’t stop until the job is done. I am more than happy to roll up my sleeves to make sure the job gets done and deadlines are met.

What's the most rewarding part of being a CFO?

Lots of things! I think the rewarding thing is to be able to help and develop team members - to mentor them through their careers. I also get a real sense of accomplishment when financials are signed off – the relief is instant gratification. You get to do all sorts of wonderful things and for me personally as a CFO, I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively with my roles which has been wonderful.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving over the next 5 years?

I think the CFO role will continue to broaden.   Technology is evolving in leaps and bounds and robots are performing many of the tasks that used to be done by our people.  The CFO needs to be able to harness this technology so they can 'add value" by bringing to the table data driven insights.

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