View from the board: kings of the hill

Surely it’s time for everyone to head for the hills?

Well, no. I don’t think you can say that. Certainly not if you are sitting in
finance ­ because finance is the new sales. The new marketing. It’s the function
you just can’t do without. But the difference this time around is that it’s not
because you add up the numbers.

In the last big market downturn, MDs and CEOs were saying: ‘Don’t worry about
a good FD. Get me a chief accountant and I’ll run the business. You pay me to
make decisions, so a mid-level FC is all I need.’

Fast forward 16 years and it couldn’t be more different. Now they’re saying:
‘Get me the best FD you can find, because without that person, I’m not going to
run this business as well.’ All CEOs know that right now, they can’t afford to
do anything less than their very best.

And the really great thing about this is that, once finance is recognised in
this role, it’s going to be very difficult for it to move backwards. The signs
are everywhere. More plc FDs are becoming chairmen. The most recent is Ken
Hanna, who has just been made chair of Inchcape. And let’s not forget Sir Philip
Hampton, who is in the same role for RBS and Sainsbury’s. More FDs are moving
into COO or even CEO-type roles as well.

So why is this? Well, as someone very clever once said, it’s the economy,
stupid. When businesses are in crisis mode, it’s the numbers that people look
to. And when investors need reassurance that everything is ok, it’s the FD they
want to speak to. Because the FD is the voice of reason, of integrity, the
person who will tell it like it is. The FD is the person who will tell them if
the business has enough cash to see this period through.

When your top line can’t grow, sales and marketing won’t help you. It is the
team that manage the bottom line that will and any finance function worth its
salt knows that’s their domain. I’m not saying it’s fun, but it’s very valuable
right now and, frankly, that’s what matters.

So, finance functions of the UK, gird up your loins, undo your top buttons
and get out into the businesses for which you work. You have an opportunity to
make a difference like you have never had before. Don’t let it slip through your
fingers, and the finance functions of the future will be in your debt.

I may have had a little bit too much coffee this morning, but there is an
upside here and I don’t want you to miss it.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Ray &

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