-What do you consider to be the biggest challenges for your financial department in this new future of work?
-Challenges have become a recurrent reality. As a Finance Department, we take challenges as new routes for development and growth. First, being able to efficiently operate and successfully keep a close collaboration amongst ourselves and with other departments in a remote work environment is very important. One must find creative ways to drive her or his agenda forward. Second, we take scenario planning as a priority. Within the highly volatile macro environment, with many variables in the equation constantly changing, from Covid-19 pandemic, to commodities pricing, to consumer consumption habits, we need to create a variety of contingency plans intended to help us meet our financial performance expectations. Third, the foundation of everything we do is to create Impact. I am a strong believer of the high power and responsibility the finance team has in steering the business towards its ambition. The game plan here is 2-fold: to influence internal stakeholders into taking the best yet fast decisions but also to differentiate against other finance teams throughout the industry which are trying to do the same. Yet, we try to enjoy every single step we take in this new future.
–What do we expect to see in terms of financing in the next period – what types and industries are most active?
-An organization has a variety of routes to go about in terms of further financing its operations. There could be internal financing via net earnings reinvested into the business, or external financing via issuance of new debt or equity. The choice could differ when comparing small & medium businesses which may not have yet reached a level of profitability sufficient for further financing their expansion expectations, to big corporations with easier access to new funding. Given the current low nominal interest rates we are currently experiencing, debt is a good financing option for many organizations. In terms of industries, we see strong developments in digital economy, green transformation, next generation medicine just to name a few which promise to significantly change the way we live our lives. Zooming in on Bergenbier, we continue investing in our brands, people, and production facilities to bring to consumers our rich portfolio of beverage products for them to celebrate all life’s moments.
–I saw that you were a national tennis champion. Do you still practice this sport in your free time? Have you participated in competitions lately?
-Tennis has been part of my junior life and contributed a lot to the person I am today. One could argue that sports trigger a highly competitive behaviour which at times might become a liability, especially in a business set-up. I consider myself to be the competitive type, yes, however tennis also taught me to face my own shortcomings whilst leveraging my strengths and as a result overcome whatever I’m dealt with. The parallels to business are endless. I do sometime practice in my free time, however not participating in competitions. Yet, when I do practice the feeling I get throughout and after is fantastic as it somehow gets me focused on one thing only, and the intensity is up there.
-What are your plans, goals, and vision for 2021 and beyond?
-Our Vision for 2021 and Beyond circulates around being a strong, highly engaged, adaptable finance organization at the steering wheel of any team or project we are part of. The ambition we have is to lead the business towards strong growth both top and bottom line, drive finance process transformation and build the new generation of leaders. We relentlessly look at ways to convert top-line growth into profit and cash by securing sufficient and relevant investments, enable cost discipline and maximize cash collection. Also, we look at financial reporting, data analytics transformation solutions which would allow us to better connect the dots, see around the corners in comparison to dwelling too much into data gathering and manipulation. Last but not least, it all begins and ends with People. We plan to continuously invest in growing our new generation of leaders, setting them up for success, exposing them to new projects such that we have a thriving organization in the future.
-How do you keep up to date with changes in financial sector trends?
–Well, there is a curriculum of trainings, certifications, books, magazines and more for everyone. However, we tend to get very absorbed in our daily jobs, that we might overlook the importance of being in touch with the market trends, or information which could become extremely valuable for us or for our business. With this constant reminder, I enjoy following some of the platforms covering the European & Global headlines like The Economist, Real Vision or Saxo Bank. I am also quite keen on listening to specific Podcasts skewed towards the financial sector trends. One message though that I have conveyed to our finance team is that we should always thrive to become and be perceived as Business People in Finance and not Finance People in Business. The nuance is that Modern Finance is without boundaries and our responsibilities span above and beyond the traditional circles. Hence, from time to time grabbing a book to sharpen your business skills, is priceless.
–What size budgets have you worked with, and what do you find challenging about budgeting?
-I have been working with budgets of tens of millions of euros and it has always been exciting. The thing I find most challenging about budgeting is capital allocation. This is where finance has a really strong influence both in terms of acquiring incremental capital as well as allocating that capital against the best mix of plans to maximize the business results. One thing to always keep in mind is the potential trade-off between short- & long-term returns. You prefer to invest in growth for the long-term health of the business, meeting consumer expectations, yet stakeholders and shareholders alike have become increasingly demanding on short-term returns. What this does is triggering crucial decisions on balancing investments throughout areas like supply production operations, sustainable packaging, or commercial.
–What measures do you use to assess an organization’s financial performance?
-There are several indicators which help in assessing the health and financial performance of a company. I would underline sales revenue, profit, margins, free cash flow and debt level. An organization may be in a different stage of its evolution like expansion or maturity and pending on that, it might prioritize a different mix of financial measures. In my view, the pandemic we all experienced over the past more than 1 year has taught us just how important is free cash flow in keeping a company in the game and ready to come out of the pandemic even stronger. The ability of an organization to generate more cash than it uses, especially during such a difficult macro context, is a testimony of its resilience to weather any storm. There is clear merit in the expression ”Cash is King”.