Career Lessons for Accountants Climbing to CFO
Rohan Higgins is currently the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Kyocera Document Solutions Australasia and has more than 25 years of experience in senior finance, strategy, operations, and transformational leadership forged across significant global and local market leaders, including General Electric, Fuji Xerox, Rentokil, and the NRMA.
His experience spans a wide range of industries from tech to tourism to allied healthcare across Australia and multiple Asian countries. He knows how to drive businesses both operationally and strategically and advises local and global businesses through rapid growth, transformations, turnarounds, mergers and acquisitions, market defensive strategies, and global financial booms and busts.
See his four key tips on standing out and succeeding in the office of finance.
1. Keep On Learning
From the very beginning, I wanted to understand what makes a business tick. The one area of a business where everything ends up is in finance. It doesn't matter whether it's sales, logistics, or marketing, the outcome always appears in finance. Finance provided the perfect platform for me to really understand business.
Was my goal always to become a CFO? Probably not. The way I've always looked at business and the way I started out was by providing assistance to others and by always continuing to learn. I wanted to go as far as I could, but it didn't really matter whether it was as the CFO, CEO, COO, or as a board member. What mattered was connecting the dots for businesses — the CFO position enables me to do all of that.
“The way I've always looked at business and the way I started out was by providing assistance to others and by always continuing to learn.”
2. Be the Person People Come To
The one thing that I always tried to do right from the start of my career was to make myself the person that people came to when they wanted something. Be the person that people trust. Be the person that people go to when they need to find out what's going on — not the gossip stuff — but in terms of how the business works.
“Be the person that people trust. Be the person that people go to when they need to find out what's going on — not the gossip stuff — but in terms of how the business works.”
I’ve found that this was the one thing that drove me to learn more about business cross-functionally. If somebody had a question, they’d come to me and if I didn’t know the answer, I’d find it and figure out a way to resolve the problem. This advice doesn’t change whether you’ve been in a CFO role for 20 years or you’re just starting out in finance in any area.
3. Automate Yourself Out of a Job
You need to have this mindset if you’re going to be effective. Let me explain. In 2003, I was at GE, where they set annual budgets, then they’d have stretch targets that in most cases were almost impossible to reach. They did this so that you had to think of different ways to do your role every day if you were going to achieve those goals. You had to keep re-engineering what you were doing almost daily.
It’s a very scary process, but GE handled it very well — in a non-threatening way. They were very open and transparent and if you did a good job, they’d find something for you to do to continue to grow.
Nobody is removed from feeling scared when it comes to job security. Even if professionals say they support change and embrace technology, in the back of their minds they’re thinking “How is this going to impact me?”
But my advice is, if you're doing a good job from a transformation perspective, there's always going to be something for you, whether it's within the same business or it's somewhere else. Businesses are dynamic. Every day is different. It's not like the fifties, sixties, and seventies where people worked in the same job for 40 years. There are endless opportunities to help organizations thrive.
“If you’re doing a good job from a transformation perspective, there’s always going to be something for you, whether it’s within the same business or it’s somewhere else.”
4. Learn How to Tell Stories with Data
Analytics isn’t all about financial literacy or mathematics. That might sound funny, but to me it's 100% about comprehension. When you're looking at data, it doesn't matter whether it's raw numbers, charts, or a report — you need to comprehend what the information is telling you.
Many of the best data analysts have a strong business grounding that is supplemented with a technical background. They absolutely understand number relationships, but they don't have to be mathematical geniuses, because most of the tools do the heavy lifting.
What is key and what differentiates the star data analysts is their ability to put insights into a business context. Those starting on a technical path often don't appreciate this until much later. So, if you’re looking to develop key skills, get exposure to business problems and improve the way you interpret data to solve those problems.
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