As ex-CEO at Telindus and vice president at Belgacom, Jan De Schepper built up extensive management experience. He is currently a Partner at BDO Belgium and director of various companies. What qualities does he think a CFO should have? And how can CEO and CFO lift each other to a higher level, for the benefit of their own organization?
CFO of the future
Jan De Schepper first emphasizes how the position and role of a CFO has evolved in recent years: “A CFO used to be a specialist in operational finance, with classic tasks such as accounting, controlling, budgeting, analysis and reporting of financial figures. In recent years, we have seen that he or she must also be familiar with specialized domains such as tax, audit, external relations (particularly at listed companies) and treasury. This broader interpretation of tasks and responsibilities also gives a CFO extra strategic weight, including thinking about the direction of a company and the objectives to be achieved in the long term. And of course the current digital transformation creates a lot of extra challenges for finance professionals.”
From financial feedback to future vision
According to Jan, finance is no longer just about learning from the past, but increasingly about proactivity and the ability to help shape the future. “It is evident that an excellent broad knowledge of finance – from tax to legal – and of the sector serves as the basis for a strong CFO. In addition, it will be an important asset to 'upgrade' the insights from the classic feedback analyzes (after each month and quarter-end close) to future-oriented advice that the executive committee can use to adjust the policy where necessary. Which business within the organization yields the most sustainable profit? How can scarce resources be used as efficiently as possible? Classic financial feedback is always behind the times.
Complementarity and trust
Which aspects, according to Jan, give a boost to the collaboration between a CEO and CFO? He explains: Personally, I attach great importance to complementarity and trust. Complementing each other with their own qualities and knowledge ensures that a CEO and CFO constantly challenge each other and continue to raise the bar. That approach ensures better performance and a rising learning curve on both sides. In terms of trust, I see three essential pillars, namely competences, consistency - or consistent thinking and acting - and maintaining a long-term vision, away from the issues of the day. By the way: trust is not merely a rational process, but is also fueled by emotions. Without a click between CEO and CFO, building a close relationship is almost impossible.”
First 90 days
When a CFO comes on board a company or organization, the first 90 days are crucial as an onboarding period. After all, during that start-up phase, he or she gets to know the organization, tasks and colleagues. What does Jan think are important points for attention? “During the first three months, a CFO must try to understand the business well, in various areas: financial, strategic, performance management, sales, and so on. In other words: where are the pain points and challenges for the organization? What about allocating resources to business units? How can the efficiency and effectiveness of organization and employees be improved? Active listening is very important to perform this screening properly. As CEO, I never had the ambition to play 'mother-in-law'. On the contrary:
Digital savvy, open-minded and strategic
As digital initiatives are being initiated in more and more organizations, a CFO must look at digital transformation with an open mind. Jan: “More and more technology is involved in the development of products and services as well as for internal processes. A future-oriented CFO can play a pivotal role in the digitization of organizations. Just think of the robotization of repetitive work (such as entering invoices or making payments), upgrading reports in terms of visualization and using big data for analyses. The faster report data is available within an organization, the faster top management can make the right decisions.”
Did you know…?
Jan De Schepper is the author of two fascinating books on leadership. In 2015 he wrote the book 'Kopmannen. What leaders can learn from elite athletes and vice versa' . And together with Paul Van Den Bosch, Jan wrote the book 'ConneXion – 7 paradoxes for the modern leader' in 2020 . Or how future-oriented managers make maximum use of the combination of human and digital through connection with others. Both books are published by LannooCampus.
Curious about Jan De Schepper's vision on the importance of good interaction between CEO and CFO? Listen to our podcast ' CEO Series: Jan De Schepper ' now.