After a long career in the construction sector, Gert Van Gestel took the helm of Connect+ Group in 2020. This group of three companies is active in a rapidly changing market as a marketplace for consumers, SMEs, producers and craftsmen. How does Gert estimate the importance of finance? And how does he surround himself with the best finance talent?
The importance of finance for a CEO
For Gert Van Gestel, one thing is clear: without a thorough knowledge of key figures, a company cannot be managed properly. “Because I don't have a financial background myself, the CFO is my wingman. Managing three large companies – each with its own culture, sales model and market – means that my CFO plays a crucial role in controlling, supervising and reporting financial and non-financial figures. As captain of the ship, this provides me with vital information to determine and maintain the correct course.”
Which key figures are central?
For Gert, of course, the classic financial key figures, such as cash flow, EBITDA and margin, count. “Those numbers must always be under control. But I also attach equal importance to non-financial values, such as the satisfaction score among our employees and customers (measured via the Net Promoter Score). Because you cannot conduct a good policy without satisfied and happy people inside and outside the company. By providing our customers with the best possible service and offering internal employees optimal working conditions, the way to sustainable turnover and growth is open. And this in turn ensures satisfied shareholders and other stakeholders.”
Qualities of a strong CFO
How does Gert estimate the qualities of a good CFO? “Obviously, the quality and accuracy of the financial figures provided are of prime importance. Certainly at various business entities – as is the case in our group – the necessary expertise is required to properly manage and report on various figures. In which markets do we score well? How does our group perform in terms of cash flow? What about the stock rotations? And how does our approach compare to our direct competitors?”
“I also rate the element of empathy very highly. Personally, I think that a CFO should not only focus on numbers, but should also be connected with the business and involved with what is going on in our three companies. Because I want to keep my finger on the pulse with my CFO via 'low level' updates, I count on him to have a healthy dose of assertiveness and extroversion to provide sufficient counter-acting in discussions with external stakeholders. As CEO I can then play a slightly more commercial role. I advise colleagues to pay sufficient attention to a good match with the company culture when recruiting finance colleagues.”
First 90 days: what to focus on?
With a new job, the first 90 days are very important. After all, during that start-up phase you get to know your new company, tasks and colleagues. How did this go at Connect+ Group? Gert: “In our company, the CFO and I started working in quick succession. As CFO I did my best to get to know the various entities and employees as well as possible, combined with detecting bottlenecks in mainly operations and sales. My CFO mainly focused on the financial structure and associated bottlenecks. We then presented our Board of Directors with an initial plan with priorities, in order to pick the low-hanging fruit and optimize internal processes and margins.”
“The first three months you have to thoroughly understand all business processes, to avoid having to put out too many fires afterwards. You have to communicate this thorough study round well to the shareholders, so that they know that you provide a time block for leak detection.”
Challenging each other is key
Through open and transparent communication, Gert continuously discusses possible points for improvement: “In the first place, we are a C-team, with weekly consultation moments about what each C-executive is working on, what he or she encounters and how colleagues can possibly help out. Thanks to clear internal agreements, we let everyone tell their story, without interrupting, judging or pushing their own opinion. As a CEO, I sometimes have to admit that a colleague's vision is more valuable. Without talented colleagues around him, the job of a captain is very difficult, and the ship is sailing in the wrong direction. Dialogue instead of discussion goes a long way.”
Curious about Gert Van Gestel's vision on the importance of good interaction between CEO and other members of the C-team? Listen to our podcast ' CEO Series: Gert Van Gestel' now.