To be a successful CFO you need to do whatever you can to remove friction and extra effort when driving towards success. This requires that you bring in modern tools to help free up your team and employ people that can be creative and don’t just follow standard processes. You need to be someone who over-indexes on being a leader, focusing on the company’s goals first, and finding ways for your finance team to be as supportive as possible.
Huw Slater is hugely passionate about technology that facilitates innovation and enhances both people’s work and personal lives. Currently, he is COO at TravelPerk, a next-generation travel booking and management platform that is pioneering the future of corporate travel. Previously, he served as CFO at TravelPerk and Typeform, with a long career in finance, business, and technology. Huw has helped lead his company through the pandemic and into the new world of corporate collaboration and business travel. Through the use of strategic partnerships, TravelPerk is ensuring the future of travel is successfully supported by top-level technology.
In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Huw talks about how over-communicating and transparency have benefited him as a leader. He explains why taking on hard tasks and surrounding yourself with great people will help you to be successful. In addition, he provides insight on his career path, navigating a company focused on travel when that was limited due to the pandemic, and how partnerships make companies strong and provide better services to customers.
The journey from strategy to tactics starts with asking how you are going to deliver it. While there may be thousands of options, try to narrow it down to the three best.
Then, just keep asking how until you get down to a tactic that you can actually deliver that isn’t so complicated. Assess the actions required and how much work someone will have to put into a task.
“Definitely ambitious leaders or ambitious people take on more than they can deliver. Right? And breaking that down into simplicity and asking those how and why questions you often find actually, this is a great and really good idea. But, when you say why, it takes you on a path that doesn’t at all achieve our goals for the year or for the next three years. Right? So, bringing that simple framework in allows you to focus the entire organization. So whether it’s company strategy and therefore OKR, so as a consequence or whether it’s your team structure and what’s important for the team, just that kind of one or two tools really help you focus.”
Also consider the “why.” If you don’t have a good reason for a task, then you’re never going to connect your action to the strategy.
COVID has accelerated hybrid work and globalization of the workforce that was already happening. This acceleration has driven CFOs to look at their tools and their ecosystem to assess if they’re giving the best solutions to their distributed workforce.
Look at ways to make your job and your team’s job easier with tools and partnerships. You don’t want to inundate people with multiple outlets when you can find one that bundles solutions together.
“We don’t want to build everything. We want to partner with the world’s best expense tools, corporate card tools, whatever it might be. Because I think that’s how you win. Winning for us is the customer being happy. It’s that seven star service that we always talk about. Right? We can’t deliver a seven star service in travel and expense, and ERP…that’s just not what we want to do. We want to focus on that travel in the real life segment. And then partner with the world’s best platforms for the other bits.”
Look at the market and find ways to use resources that will help take friction from employees so you’re positioned to do the most for you, your team, your company, and your clients.
Always make company goals your most important task, even if team goals come second. Too often people believe that to be successful you need to go head to head against other companies and defend your corner. However, that is a recipe for disaster in which you won’t survive and won’t add value.
Come together to work out what your company is doing and where it is going. Determine how the finance team can support the company delivering on those goals.
“Your job is to give better coaching on accounting or make sure the technical side is done. But much, much higher value is sharing that context. It’s inspiring people, telling them where you’re going as a company, telling them where you’re going as a team. So over-index on leadership because the technical stuff actually can be found elsewhere.”
Sometimes it is part of the job to say no. So don’t be afraid to say no if it is in an effort to reach your ultimate goals. It is much easier to have the tough conversations where you are open, honest, and clear on what success means for the company then deal with issues that pop up later.
Survival is your first goal in business and as a CFO. Solve for the customer and do whatever is necessary to gain a return on investment.
It is not just about the company, your focus, and how you execute your job, it’s also about what’s good for the customer. Communication is also hugely important and a learned behavior, so create habits that force you to do it and don’t be afraid if people don’t engage with you at first.
“Run towards the flames. You just have to get stuck in and don’t stand back. Whether that’s in your current company, go and find the hardest problem that exists in the company. Just go and help somebody get it done. And if it doesn’t exist in your company, then go and find another company. It’s flames everywhere, but that’s how you grow. That’s how you attract great talent. Surround yourself with great people. It’s by doing hard things, not by doing easy things.”
Speed can equal success. While it is important to pick a direction and focus, how fast you can get there will keep the team focused on the ultimate goals.
Huw believes the job of any leader, and specifically the CFO, needs to be focused on gaining a return on investments. He says you need to run towards the flames and not stand back in the face of adversity. You should always strive to raise the bar, help set the direction, and ensure speed and efficiency.
He believes over-indexing as a leader and focusing on what is best for the company are important, as a CFO needs to raise the bar, help set the direction, and ensure speed and efficiency to get the best business outcomes.