56 How to be Successful, Happy, and Satisfied in your Role with Anthony Rawlinson, CFO at Papier

21 April 2022   |   13 Minute Read

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Episode 56: Papier | With Anthony Rawlinson, CFO

Anthony Rawlinson has more than 12 years of experience working in finance. He joined Papier as CFO four years ago, after serving as a consultant for the brand beforehand. Previously, Anthony worked in investment banking with Greenhill & Co. and PwC, providing generalist corporate finance advice. Since starting as the finance leader at Papier, the team has grown to 20 people. Not only does Anthony lead the finance operations at Papier, but he also oversees Data at the company. He believes it is important to have synergy between the two functions to help better the organization.

To be a successful CFO, Anthony feels you need to challenge yourself to take a holistic approach to business and be as forward thinking as possible. In business it is important to not just think about if you can do things faster, but what are the best ways to accomplish your goals and make sure you’re spending your time efficiently. He stresses that however you solve challenges today, they need to also be done in an effort to help you achieve whatever is being planned for the future. 

Anthony believes chemistry within your finance team and organization at large is very important. Having an alignment of mission and vision is fundamental to help you lead effectively.  With the finance team, he has adopted a hybrid decentralized approach model to how it focuses on different aspects of the company. The finance team functions as business partners with different areas within the organization to benefit accuracy and efficiency. Anthony thinks you need to go above and beyond and challenge yourself to encourage continued team engagement, being cognizant of culture and experimenting with ways to find the right balance for your team. 

In this episode of The CFO Playbook, Anthony talks about how his path to CFO was led by his interests and passions for the product and autonomy that comes with working for a startup. He explains the importance of having a centralized source of truth for data. This allows the company to have a standard reporting function that sets up the organization for success by focusing on insights and action. Anthony also stresses the important traits that every CFO needs to help them learn and grow personally, drive the company to prosper now and in the future, and how to maintain a content and capable support team.

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Guest Analysis

Name: Anthony Rawlinson

What he does: Anthony Rawlinson is CFO at Papier, an online company that is building a category-defining stationery brand for paper people all over the world. Alongside in-house collections, Papier collaborates with upcoming artists, iconic brands and inspiring fashion labels to curate its emporium of notebooks, notecards, diaries and more. Anthony has more than 12 years of experience working in finance. He joined Papier as CFO four years ago. Previously, he served as a consultant for the brand and worked in investment banking providing generalist corporate finance advice. Not only does Anthony lead the finance operations at Papier, but he also oversees Data at the company. 

Key Quote: “If I’m doing my job right, we’ve created a machine, and a system, and a team that’s capable of delivering. And, frankly, they can. It’s become a lot more holistic and a lot more forward-looking as a result and challenged me in different ways as I’ve developed through the role.”

Where to find Anthony: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthony-rawlinson-69885139/

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From Anthony’s Playbook

Highlight hiring

Hiring should be part of your reflex. You always have to be continually responding to and reevaluating what’s happening in terms of team culture and resourcing. Your team tells your company’s story. Having great people on your team is fundamental to that. You need to make sure you have a diverse and representative workforce that reflects the customer base, but also doesn’t skew too close to people who have already hired before. It’s about the way you do things as much about the raw numbers. 

Details in the data

Having some level of autonomy can go a long way with you and your staff. There is no single way that really works the best when approaching your work. What can help you to achieve this is having tools and technologies in place that will allow people to dedicate more time to other things, while all working from the same information. Having a central source of truth for data, along with a team centralized for responsibility over it can help your organization. This will allow the company to focus on action with common insight to help set it up for success. 

Learn through flexibility

Have confidence in what you’ve learned throughout your career as you move into different roles. Your training and insight can differentiate you in many ways from others. It is okay to try before you buy, gaining beneficial experiences by trying new and different opportunities. Being flexible and experimenting with working in different roles, ways, and formats can be beneficial. Use your strengths that you’ve been hired for but also have the humility to take it back to the basics and educate yourself more to enhance your knowledge base.

Capitalize on opportunities

When you are looking to identify a new opportunity, take a look at the market, team, investors, and get a sense of what the chemistry is like between the organization and management team. As you make a decision towards a huge investment in your career and journey, you always want to look for alignment in the company’s mission. Once you have taken on your role, work on cross functional collaboration, building relationships and being a resource to the entire company. Be willing to utilize entirely new processes, new systems, and new ways of doing things to optimize or evolve as the business changes.

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Episode Highlights

Culture and possibilities

“I suppose we think about it (retention) as holistically as possible. Yes, people will focus on the numbers, and the salary, and the comp, and all the benefits. But, to be honest, if you’re a young person looking for a job, you don’t necessarily go to a startup or scale-up for those things. I think you’d need to pay people fairly and offer people something that is competitive on the market for their skills. But, I think for us the differentiation really comes around culture and the things that we can do that are big cost drivers for the business and really drive a lot of employee satisfaction.” 

Promote people’s progress

“The way I like to do things is just simply trying to encourage best practices of having an agenda, trying to be respectful of people’s time, and try not to be too prescriptive about how people actually do things. You just need to find your level.” 

Be flexible and humble

“When it comes to actually that transition from advisor to principal, there’s lots of stuff you have to learn. You have to be open-minded. You have to be a generalist. You have to be humble, particularly interpersonally, and you have to be flexible in your approach because you go from a world where you’re effectively operating with lots of very similar people, to a world where there’s more diversity in the different skill sets. Not everyone loves numbers. Not everyone speaks the same language as you, and you do really have to affect your approach in ways that you haven’t ever before.”

Always aspire to align

“In particular the chemistry with the organization, the management team, I think that’s obvious in any role that you’re looking for. But, it’s no different at a senior level. That personal chemistry, particularly with the CEO, who for me has become a good friend over time, is really fundamental. I do also think that alignment to mission and vision is also fundamental. You can’t lead and effectively dedicate your life to something that is not something you believe in.”

Top quotes:

03:59

“As I was leaving university, I’d have said in the end, I wanted to be part of building something and making something happen. I think in the course of my career, I sort of got distracted by a combination of what other people around me were doing and also, frankly, the huge bubbles around investment banking. And I suppose, when it comes to what happened, I think actually it took me back to why I really went into all of that, which was to ultimately be responsible for a business, make it successful. At the end of it all I’ll be able to say I did that. I think that’s ultimately what motivates a lot of us that certainly what motivates me.”

05:32

“Certainly when I talk to people who are looking to join my team, or when I talk to other people who are thinking about leaving that world (traditional finance), and what their motivation is, often it boils down to autonomy. It also is about this feeling that they want to be the person who makes decisions and achieve their full potential where the buck stops with them. Ultimately that’s what we look for when we’re trying to hire in terms of our team, particularly senior level.”

07:19

“The nature of the challenges (from Covid) that shifted the resources of the organization has also increased. And I suppose the number of entirely new processes and systems and ways of doing things that we need effectively started from the beginning. They have reduced the number of things that we’re optimizing or evolving as the business changes are increasing. Just by virtue of that, I have the luxury of being able to spend more time looking to the future and looking at the bigger picture and less time focusing on the here and now. If I’m doing my job right, we’ve created a machine, and a system, and a team that’s capable of delivering. And, frankly, they can. It’s become a lot more holistic and a lot more forward-looking as a result and challenged me in different ways as I’ve developed through the role over the last four years as well.”

08:46

“Someone once mentioned to me that if you’re spending more than 20% of your time on any particular thing, then you need to resource it in a different way. And I think that’s actually a pretty good rule of thumb overall for me.”

10:30

“Hiring is part of our reflex. I suppose at larger organizations perhaps they don’t have that or may struggle to have that flexibility to kind of continually reevaluate and respond to what’s happening in terms of team structure and team resourcing. To be honest, it’s something that I have definitely had to try to learn since I joined here. I mean, I was involved in recruiting before. But, not at a team planning level and certainly not at the pace at which it’s required here. So, that’s all part of the fun.”

11:37

“The first thing that we’ve done is we’ve hired a full-time people team, which is definitely beneficial. That was an argument from an organizational perspective that’s definitely proven to be a good investment because in the past we’ve perhaps over relied on recruiters and placement agencies. We’ve certainly seen benefits there in terms of not just the pure economics of it, because that can obviously make sense from a finance team perspective, but also from a differentiation in the market. You can only tell your story. It makes a big difference if you’re telling the story yourself to candidates even at the top of the funnel, rather than having someone else tell that story for you. So I definitely think having a great team is fundamental to that.”

12:19

“Staff retention and the way that we measure it is really important for us is having specific data and making sure that we’re tracking employee satisfaction. Otherwise our drivers are off. And I think that’s really helped us a lot in terms of overall staff retention. So our retention is extraordinarily high.”

12:56

“I suppose we think about it (retention) as holistically as possible. Yes, people will focus on the numbers, and the salary, and the comp, and all the benefits. But, to be honest, if you’re a young person looking for a job, you don’t necessarily go to a startup or scale-up for those things. I think you’d need to pay people fairly and offer people something that is competitive on the market for their skills. But, I think for us the differentiation really comes around culture and the things that we can do that are big cost drivers for the business and really drive a lot of employee satisfaction.” 

14:33

“When I think about the organization, we need to make sure we have a representative workforce that reflects our demographics and our entire customer base. But also not skew so heavily towards the people we’ve already hired before. I think that’s something that we as an organization are definitely working on as a team.”

16:09

“There was a certain amount of energy and creativity that just came out of that (trying to deal with covid). As people try to figure out what and how you can possibly maintain employee engagement in such adverse circumstances, I think as a reflex, we definitely continued to try and experiment as a team with things. I’d say that experimentation can also be a bit of a blessing and a curse, and you can become a bit hyperactive and try to launch too many trials. And then you have to be a bit cautious. I think if anything, we’ve been a bit over creative at times. I think as we’ve reverted back to hybrid ways of working, things have kind of normalized. We found a little bit of our kind of natural level in terms of hybrid work and how we give people the right balance and so on.”

21:29

The way I like to do things is just simply trying to encourage best practices of having an agenda, trying to be respectful of people’s time, and try not to be too prescriptive about how people actually do things. Because, ultimately, there is no single way that really works the best. Then you kind of got to find your level.”

22:45

“Having a central source of truth for data in the form of a BI platform, having a central team that’s responsible for standing reporting; clearly that that’s sort of baseline competence that a finance team can play in an organization. But, if you have BI and a BI platform you do then also create that baseline across the organization for any meetings. So there is as much less of – ‘oh, is that number right? Or can I just check that?’ It does also come down to not just meeting practices or data across the entire organization, but how you set the organization up for success. So we look at what we can take out of the equation, so that means meetings can focus a little bit more on insight and action, as they should do.”

32:10

“In particular the chemistry with the organization, the management team, I think  that’s obvious in any role that you’re looking for. But, it’s no different at a senior level. That personal chemistry, particularly with the CEO, who for me has become a good friend over time, is really fundamental. I do also think that alignment to mission and vision is also fundamental. You can’t lead and effectively dedicate your life to something that is not something you believe in.”

32:57

“I think if you’re trying to make a transition, and that’s what I did effectively from adviser to management, I definitely think there’s a bit of a case of be careful what you wish for. Either lots of people who are advisers say that they want to go and walk the road of being a principal, and be a part of a journey and it’s hard. And, you have to really believe it. And, you have to live it. And, you have to be ready for the fact that it’s as much work, if not more, but it’s a different kind of work. It’s satisfaction and autonomy, the things that if that’s what you’re looking for, they come to you in spades.” 

33:32

“When it comes to actually that transition from advisor to principal, there’s lots of stuff you have to learn. You have to be open-minded. You have to be a generalist. You have to be humble, particularly interpersonally, and you have to be flexible in your approach because you go from a world where you’re effectively operating with lots of very similar people, to a world where there’s more diversity in the different skill sets. Not everyone loves numbers. Not everyone speaks the same language as you, and you do really have to affect your approach in ways that you haven’t ever before.”

34:38

“I at least found a benefit from my experience was the ability to try before you buy. In my case, partly because of personal circumstances, I took time out to experiment with something else. And that proved to be a good option. Hence, here I am today. Clearly it’s easy for me to say, but if you can do something where it’s a bit more flexible and kind of experiment with a few different ways of working in different formats, a few different roles, that can only be beneficial.”

35:53

“Going into a small company you may have a sense where you feel like you know it all. And when it comes to operational experience that you have, you’ve got some strengths and those are the reasons that you’d been hired. But, also having the humility to take it back to basics and educate yourself more. You need that fundamental base of knowledge and almost trying to bluff your way through it is very dangerous.”