Abdullah Verachia provokes CFOs to think about the future in CFO Day presentation

The global speaker laid down four provocations to change the way finance drives the growth of their organisations.

At CFO Day, held at Marble restaurant in Rosebank on 11 May, South Africa’s leading finance professionals were provoked by global speaker and author Abdullah Verachia to think about the future of their businesses and the skills they need to get there.

He started his presentation with his famous analogy, saying:

“The canvas we are painting on today is very different from the canvas we are used to. If the canvas is different, then without a doubt we need a new combination of colours. And if both the canvas and the set of colours we use are different, then we need new skills as painters.”

Abdullah explained that the painters are the CFOs in the room, the canvas is the external world and what’s happening around them, and the colours are the decisions they make.

Old innovations, new combinations
Abdullah’s first provocation of the evening was that almost every innovation in the history of the world is not something new. “It’s a new combination of existing products and services that, in that combination, deliver different value.”

Skilling forward
The second provocation Abdullah made was that CFOs need to skill forward in order to build the organisations they want to have in the future, without disrupting the businesses they have now. “Amazon started as an online retailer selling books,” he said. “They learnt that the value of their business sits in the platform that links buyers and sellers without owning any of the inventory. So they built the capability of their organisation around a marketplace.”

To do that, he explained, Amazon had to have a great cloud infrastructure and great IT capabilities, so they skilled forward and built AWS.

In order to skill forward, Abdullah said, CFOs need to build and infuse an innovation culture in their organisations that are in an ambidextrous environment. “You have to run the current business, and at the same time build the future of the business by pretty much changing it.”

New language
Abdullah argued that, while CFOs are brilliant at the finance function, they need new languages to build this ambidexterity in their organisations. “The third provocation is, if you can take orientation in your team from proving to learning, you change the very essence and DNA of your team,” he said. “If your team has a learning mindset, they will strive for the best solutions.”

Subtracting in order to grow
The final provocation Abdullah laid down was that organisations need to subtract in order to grow. He referred to Apple when Steve Jobs took over in 1997. “Steve was a serial subtractor, and the company’s success was based on that subtraction. He took away the keyboard, the keypad, the USB driver and the CD ROM, and created the iPad.”

Bringing all of his provocations together, Abdullah asked the CFOs in the room: “How do you manage the short-term priorities of your organisation with the long-term requirements in terms of the sustainability of the business?”