Insider Business Club: designer FDs

How has the FDs role changed?

Carolyn Bresh, global head of finance, Reuters

Based on what I’ve seen at work here, the role of the FD is certainly
becoming much more strategic.

Finance directors are out there visiting customers, talking to the analysts
and really doing a sales job on the company, particularly in organisations where
you haven’t necessarily got a chief operating officer, where they are the right
hand man or woman of the CEO and are expected to portray very much the external
face of the organisation, leaving the group financial controller to manage the
finance function and to do all the day to day operating.

And, the traditional accounting skills in my mind are now very much a high
key factor.

You have to have them to get to those sorts of roles in any organisation, but
they’re pretty much taken as granted and so it’s your strategic vision, your
business acumen and your leadership and communication skills that obviously come
for the fore.

Certainly [my finance director] was spending much more time out and about
with customers and with the analysts and with the media also, and so a lot of
the day to day running of the function was left to myself. So, that was very
much ensuring all the proper controls were in place, driving the Sarbanes Oxley
programmes that Reuters had in the US marketplace as well.

So, at the end of the day, it’s being accountable for all of those things,
making sure that there weren’t errors in the accounts, the controls weren’t
slipping, to allow him to step up and look more outside of the organisation, but
feel confident that the department and the team was going to run effectively

What specific skills do you need as a modern FD to succeed?

Steve Dunn, finance director, Microsoft

We are certainly migrating to a new model where we’re not bean counters and
policemen, but rather value added business partners.

I think that I can say that Microsoft is migrating there and other companies
that I have seen are migrating there, but it’s definitely a journey and a big
part of that is looking at the talent you have on board today and seeing if that
talent fits into the model that we’re trying to build for the future here.

In some cases, it just requires some additional re-training, but in some
cases, you also need to look at the types of people you’re recruiting and
perhaps alter your recruiting requirement to an extent.

In addition to looking for people who have those core skill sets and
technical excellence in accounting and finance, you need people who come with a
higher degree of business acumen and can partner with other business people at a
higher, more mature and senior level.

It’s critical to get those types of skills because, for some roles despite
how technically excellent you might be, you won’t succeed as a value added
business partner if you can’t effectively communicate with the rest of the

Training could work in some of these cases and the most pertinent training
would be negotiation skills and understanding how to bridge gaps and find
win/win situations.

And then for some folks that don’t have that, that might be one of those
scenarios where you need to actually change the profile of people you’re
recruiting, depending on the role of course, but to bring in someone who does
have those skills.

Do smaller companies require different skills from an FD?

Chris Jackson, Head of finance and management faculty, ICAEW

When we go out, most of the companies we talk to are larger companies.

They’re the ones who are most likely to encounter new techniques and tools

but the same tools and techniques can be applied further down, and there’s a
trickle down effect.

I’ve occasionally spoken to people from smaller businesses and asked them
specifically what they get out of some of the events that we hold, which look at
some of the big tools and techniques, the modern ones, and they say, if you are
creative, you can take these tools and techniques and apply them to your own

So, if you take something like a balanced scorecard, that is important to any
size of company and really what it means is get a balance between the financial
and non financial measures performance. I think that this is equally important
in all sizes of business.

Regarding smaller companies, HR divides into two parts of the work.

One is coaching and the people side of things, but for a smaller company very
often the finance director is responsible for the employment law side too.

This is a very difficult area because the amount of employment law is
increasing constantly and I think it’s quite scary for finance directors,
because the danger areas in employment law are quite significant.

The challenge for the FD is maintaining a balance between being a business
partner, but also having the independence to step back and question and free up
more time to do the business acumen part of the work.

Chaired by David Rae, deputy editor of financial

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