Welcome to "Leaders Insight” the first in an insightful series that delves into the captivating professional lives of these Senior level professionals and showcase their multifaceted expertise to inspire the next generation of CFO’s.
We will delve into the stories of CFO’s from various industries and walks of life, shedding light on some of the challenges they have faced on their journey to becoming a CFO, how they feel the role might change over the next decade, what key skills and attributes the next generation of CFO’s will need and how future technology might impact the role of the CFO.
This first instalment is with Chris Lewis at Endless LLP. Chris is big 4 trained and has a wealth of experience at listed and private equity backed businesses. Chris started at Endless LLP in 2015 as Financial Controller and was promoted to the position of CFO in 2019. More recently, Chris has been promoted to Partner in April of this year.
1.Which of your earlier roles played the biggest part in your career development to becoming a CFO?
I think there were two roles. The technical grounding and people skills that I developed whilst training to be an accountant at PwC remain invaluable. The training programmes offered by the big 4 / top 10 are unrivalled in my view. Secondly, my time at Priory Group was a much more commercial role with a strong P&L focus – I don’t think I looked at a balance sheet in four years. I also reported into the Group Board monthly at a relatively young age. There was no hiding place and it really helped to develop my skillset.
2.What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew as a newly qualified Accountant?
That it is acceptable to say that you don’t know the answer right now, but you will come back with the right answer shortly. Don’t pretend to know everything – nobody can.
3.How important to you was a mentor / mentorship in your career progression?
So important. You should never underestimate the value of somebody who is willing to sacrifice their own time to help you develop and progress in your career. My mentor at PwC was technically exceptional but, more importantly, experienced, and very wise. It helped a lot to have that sounding board and I try to offer that to my team now.
4.The role of a CFO has changed over the last decade. What further evolution do you see in the role of the CFO over the next 5 to 10 years?
The role is always evolving. I think the next 5-10 years will bring about two challenges. One of those will be people – employee expectation of employer will change dramatically in my view and helping a business to manage that will be crucial to the success of any CFO. The second challenge will be technology. Tech Stacks, Data Lakes/Warehouses and AI (amongst many other things) will play a huge part in the role of the CFO in the next decade. Today’s CFO is facing up to a generational shift in how the finance function serves the wider needs of the business.
5.What new key skills or attributes do you think the next generation of CFO’s are going to need to develop?
Exceptional IT literacy will become a pre-requisite in my view. My generation talks a good game but proficiency in Excel is just so 90’s. Certain core skills will always be important though – provision of quality MI and knowing the numbers inside out, carefully managing numerous stakeholder groups, being front and centre of the business, offering leadership and strategic guidance. They will always be key attributes and as night follows day, a trusted, versatile and highly competent CFO will always be critical to any Board.
6.Having become a CFO what do you “think of the view from the top” and how does it compare to what you thought it would be like?
It is the best place to be. Undoubtedly better than I anticipated. The CFO should be central to everything that is happening in the business and it means that no two days are the same. It’s fast paced, exciting, influential, and challenging all rolled into one.
7.What technologies will reshape the role of the CFO over the next few years?
See point 4. I suspect there are also technologies we’ve not yet heard of that will also reshape the role of the CFO over the next few years. The speed of technological progression is quite daunting. I used AI to create a bedtime story for my kids the other night…
8.What is the one single best piece of advice you would give to an aspiring future finance leader?
I’d say what I said when I was judging Young Accountant of the Year – never turn down an opportunity. For better or worse, it will provide you with valuable experience and, if nothing else, it’ll give you something to chat about whilst networking!
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