Business leaders expect more from finance today than they did in the past. Technological progress, integrated ERP systems and digitisation of information have all contributed to increased quality and speed of the traditional finance back office.
Quick and efficient closing of the books and management reporting are seen as a given nowadays, with most CEOs expecting finance teams to spend their time analysing strategic investments, delivering forward focused business insights and actively supporting decision making for the business.
Tomasz Nowakowski, VP Finance at Red Bull (USA) will be presenting as a keynote at Finance Innovation & Tech Fest, speaking about transforming finance from traditional record keeping to true business partnership. We interviewed him in the lead up to the event and he shared a few insights into his experiences of building this strong partnership between finance and the business.
We look forward to seeing you in Australia later this year. What motivated you to make the trip and what are you looking forward to?
The topic of the “future of finance” has been my passion and the focus of the various roles I’ve filled for the past decade. I’m excited about the opportunity to share my thoughts with the group of finance leaders in Australia and engage in a stimulating discussion to learn new perspectives. Looking forward to spending few productive days in beautiful Sydney!
Is there a good business partnership with finance at Red Bull? What has been the driving force for the formation of this relationship?
Yes, we have a strong business partnership in place. Maintaining market leadership in the fast moving consumer goods market is not easy and requires different business functions to work swiftly together. Efficiency is not optional, it’s a need. Also the company culture plays an important role.
From my experience building an effective partnership is not an easy task and takes time to accomplish. Finance is often drawn between its innate duty to protect shareholder value, reduce risk, and the urge to invest heavily in growth and expansion. To start building an effective business partnership we must balance those two conflicting directions. The benefits however are usually worth it. Once our team earns the needed level of credibility, they become a frequently sought-after advisor. That in turn positively impacts the overall quality of the company’s decisions.
Strategic planning processes can usually provide a tangible insight into how well the different functions are working together. If a finance manager does not understand the industry, the market, the products, and the competitors they will bring little to no value during the strategic planning process. On the other side, a strat plan without a quality finance input will rarely contribute to viable and smart business decisions.
In your opinion, what are the top 5 new skills that finance professionals need in order to thrive?
For me the top 5 new skills would be:
- Innovative mindset
- Adaptability to changes
- Fluency with data based insights
- Good business acumen
These come in addition to the more “traditional” finance skills like knowledge of accounting principles, proficiency with planning, budgeting and management reporting. Finance leaders still need to be well versed in those, but today’s technology has helped simplify and automate a lot of the finance processes – which has in turn decreased the overall demand for “traditional” record keepers.
In this time of rapid process change, why do you think so many finance transformations fail?
There are multiple reasons for failures. Each organisation has a different DNA and culture, both being key factors in implementing successful process changes and transformations. From personal experience I would highlight three common pitfalls:
- Poor implementation of the shared services concept and loss of customer focus that ultimately slows down the business
- Inability to re-focus and re-train finance talent to new roles and assignments
- Cost savings being the primary driver and KPI of the finance transformation process, leading to underinvestment in the new organisation, tools and training, or poor quality outsourcing
Tomasz – tell us about your journey in the finance space. What has led you to your current role and what do you enjoy most about your work?
My journey in Finance started in Brussels, Belgium working for in Internal Audit function with Johnson Controls. It was a great several years with many opportunities to learn about the diverse business units and geographies. Visiting more than a hundred locations across the globe gave me a unique perspective on the finance function’s impact on the business – from being an accelerator to a disruptor. This led to my interest in the concept of finance-business partnership.
My next stop was working in Monterrey, Mexico – leading the regional shared service center and the finance side of our Mexico business. This assignment put me face to face with the reality of implementing a financial transformation and building a top performing regional team.
In 2011 I moved to the USA to work on several cross-regional projects and lead a global initiative to build a more effective business partnership platform between the finance teams and the rest of the business. It was an innovative project, involving work on accelerating development of our talent, building a new finance playbook, and launching a global collaboration platform.
Two years ago I decided to join Red Bull to learn more about a new industry and get to know the unique culture of this iconic company. The aspect of work I’ve enjoyed the most by far is connecting with people, enabling their development and empowering them to grow both professionally and personally. When this happens, engagement always increases and strong business results naturally follow.
About the Speaker
Tomasz Nowakowski is the VP of Finance at Red Bull, USA.