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As soon as Margaux Gregoir started her job as the Vice President of Finance at Luko — a France-based home insurtech startup — she encountered a pretty major speed bump: the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic halted the worldwide economy, and threw a wrench in her plans to build out Luko’s finance team.
As someone who’d just made the jump from advisor to financial director, Margaux could’ve panicked. Instead, she got creative: She used the emergency to take a deep-dive into every aspect of the company and its operations.
Through this company-wide audit, Margaux learned what Luko could afford to give up for a while, if it meant that they could eventually experience the kind of growth she knew it deserved.
Getting this kind of perspective on the company allowed Margaux to think carefully about how she works as a leader. She credits her self-discipline and natural curiosity for her success. When she’s confused about the way something works, she doesn’t give up: she digs in even deeper.
Now, having led the Luko finance team through periods of both stalled and intense growth, Margaux has a better understanding of what she values in her team and in her own work.
In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Margaux talks about what she thinks is important in a finance leader, the necessity of following a detailed roadmap, and how people who work in the operational sides of a company can stay motivated in their ultimate goal of making customers happy.
Name: Margaux Gregoir
What she does: Margaux is the VP of Finance at Luko, a French home insurance startup that aims to save insurers money by using AI to reduce household problems that often result in insurance claims.
Key Quote: “If we want to survive in this industry and grow and develop, the only thing we can do is accept the risks.”
Undertaking a huge challenge can be a major growth opportunity.
Margaux started as VP of Finance at Luko two days before the COVID-19 pandemic forced worldwide lockdowns, and made businesses rethink entire financial strategies.
Because she was so new to the Luko team, Margaux had to learn the basics of how the company worked, while simultaneously figuring out how they were going to survive a global pandemic and economic shutdown. Ultimately, she says this was an opportunity to get to know everything about Luko in-depth, even cultivating a more innovative and flexible financial strategy than what would’ve emerged in more “normal” times.
The “support team” isn’t separate from the rest of the business.
Margaux says she notices that people who are on finance or operational teams often see themselves as separate entities from the part of the business that interfaces directly with clients. She thinks that’s a mistake.
Clients should always be your first priority, and their happiness should ultimately drive members of the support staff. Every member of a company should be frequently checking a roadmap that outlines milestones of the company’s vision, making sure they don’t lose the ultimate goal: making customers’ lives better.
Having a high-level view of your company allows you to anticipate challenges instead of just reacting to them.
Being cognizant of everything going on within and around Luko is vital to Margaux. She took the opportunity the pandemic presented to become super familiar with how all the company cogs turn, and used it to develop an anticipatory outlook. Now, she feels like she has a comfortable view of the game plan, and exactly what pieces need to go where in order to make it happen — and how to overcome any unforeseen obstacles.
“During my first meeting with the CEO, he told me that what he needed [in a VP of finance] was the adult in the room, and asked me if I could be that adult. I said yes, and I jumped into a company where finance was basically led by the CEO — it’s essentially fundraising and survival at that stage.”
“We are the support team, but we’re supporting the business. What is the first thing you need to think of? Your client, always! [Support teams] are not in direct contact with the clients, but at the end of the day, the way we perform our own role is super important. It totally matters to the final delivery to the client.”
“We asked people for a while to really stick to the must-haves, and not the things that are nice to have. We talk a lot about frugality: we want people to think of and develop frugality. If you’re capable of creating that mindset at a VC-backed startup — which can be a challenge — it gives the sense that you can be positive and enjoy being uncomfortable. Six months later, you can look back and think, OK, you know what? It went well.”
“When you’re alone, it’s very difficult to be proactive and anticipate. Everything is going so fast. Every morning, you can just prepare for war and then the war begins. The more you grow, structuring your team and hiring people, the more brain power you have. I’m recruiting people that are better than I am in their own disciplines. It’s super cool. I feel pushed forward with everything they do, and everything we’re working on together.”
“I try to have a super large roadmap in my head all the time and think, OK, this week I need to push here; this week I need to push here. Sometimes I have to fight a couple of fires at the same time, but I would say often it’s possible to manage that and have a balanced timeline for everybody. It gives everybody the opportunity to breathe in and breathe out, and it balances the energy.”
“I still force myself to read everything and go into details. If I have a doubt about something, I open the document and go through it myself, and go to the person I want to ask a question. I think it’s because of that self-discipline that I’m quite well aware of everything, and I’m capable of reacting, because I know the company. I forced myself to be aware of the context at any point in time.”
Finance leaders should be more curious than spotlight-seeking
“If you are super curious, [finance leadership] is super cool, because you learn a lot about all the profiles, you discover new tools, new positions. You’re not under the spotlight, so if you love that, finance is maybe not for you. But if you love to observe everything, and to have a deep understanding so you can help anticipate and be smart on the next move, then it’s for you.”
“When I look at the people I’m working with today, they are the people that don’t say no and do ask why. They’re people who are willing to understand the constraints on the other side, and want to take part and contribute.”
“I’m not a micromanager at all. I need a couple months to trust the people I’m working with. And I want to have and develop that mutual trust where I feel like I give them enough ownership and delegation, and they can call me anytime if they need to.”
“The finance role is not really under the spotlight. It’s not about you speaking a lot: It’s about being the best partner of the leader of the company, and analyzing and pushing the ideas.”