The Changing Role of the CFO

L to R: Jan Hutchins, veteran journalist and news anchorman interviewing Thack Brown, COO, Interim CFO, SAP Latin America and Caribbean (Photo: SAP)

The CFO Dimensions Conference 2012, held September 18-19 in Chicago, kicked off with a keynote from Thack Brown, COO and Interim CFO, SAP Latin America and Caribbean, who shared advice for modern CFOs. According to Brown, while a CFO’s core responsibilities continue to revolve around risk, compliance, and supporting profitable global growth plans, expectations of the role have significantly changed. Delivering business results is now paramount to success.

Brown’s speech on the role of the modern CFO, titled, “A New Tomorrow for the CFO in Driving Growth and Managing Risk,” was peppered with humor and insights drawn from his experiences in Brazil.

He talked about the unique challenges and opportunities that globalization and emerging markets provide. Brown said that although Latin American countries like Colombia and Peru are excellent venues for business expansion, success or failure depends on how the CFO navigates complex issues such as risk, regulation, and compliance to promote growth. These efforts are often undertaken against the backdrop of a volatile economy and occasional political instability. He emphasized that understanding the local environment is critical to outperforming financial objectives and managing risk for the company.

The other major challenge for CFOs today is that new technologies and services are transforming traditional business models. Brown said that the modern CFO needs to stay updated on the latest advancements and bring them into the business to automate processes and improve efficiency wherever it makes the most sense. CEOs, boards of directors, and other company leaders require the financial savvy of the CFO to help control costs where needed and invest in appropriate opportunities.

Brown pointed out that while mobile devices make data available everywhere and social media empowers people by redefining business and personal boundaries, they also introduce risk. This makes it necessary for CFOs and other business leaders in the organization to rethink the way they run the business.

Brown shared best practices for ensuring global regulatory compliance and managing risk, for building a global shared services center, for delivering superior value at reduced costs by focusing on value-add activities and automating processes, and by redirecting the saved time and dollars into growing the business. He also shared lessons learned from managing the finance organization in emerging markets.