Exchange rate volatility is our biggest risk, says Jonathan Murphy, CFO of Big Concerts

"We forward-hedge where we can but need to carefully manage our budgets and allow for exchange rate volatility."

Tell us in brief about your current role and responsibilities. Is your focus more on strategy or day-to-day finance tasks?
“Big Concerts, with an effective date of 1 January 2016, sold a controlling stake to listed entity, Live Nation Entertainment (NYSE:LYV). Until then, Big Concerts International was a private, family-owned business. They had an FM but once they became a listed business, there were controls and procedures they needed to get in place, and compliance matters they needed to start delivering on. The mandate for getting me in was to tackle the changeover from being a family business to complying with group corporate. There was a good control structure in place, but it needed to be better.”

“A lot had to do with changing the mindset of the employees – we do still have a number of family members employed in the business in various roles. It’s never easy to go in and dictate, as a new person in a business, and change the ways things have been done for the past 25 years. It’s all about communication and being able to explain the reasons for the changes. There wasn’t too much resistance. On my side, I had to realise people weren’t complying not because they didn’t want to but more out of habit. So, people have responded well to the change.”

“Initially my focus was day-to-day finance and control, but going forward, it will be more strategic – as all the compliance matters are resolved and running efficiently. I support the executives in securing artists and contracts. In terms of once a deal is concluded, there’s a host of paperwork and insurance and contracts that need to be finalised. I’m involved in that too.”

What achievement over the last 12 months are you most proud of as CFO?
“Getting US compliant! Also, the internal control audit that we had to go through. We were selected quite early post coming into the group, so, within a year of joining, the internal audit was scheduled. We got through that with an adequate rating. There was a lot of relief and satisfaction to get that from an independent party.”

What do you most enjoy about your job; what do you enjoy the least?
“Being an accountant! I love that I’ve been able to work in multiple industries and in multiple locations around the world, and travel to numerous countries. Setting up so many new businesses in new locations all came with different challenges. Part of the satisfaction in doing this is trying to solve those challenges and implement controls or procedures you can see working.”

“What I least enjoy are the long hours. There are occasions with high pressure and long hours, though that often brings out the best in people.”

What are you most excited about work-wise for 2018?
“We’ve got some big international tours coming later in 2018 and early 2019 which have recently been announced. That gives us an opportunity to work with international superstars and their teams; people who’ve worked in the industry a long time or who have been on the road a lot.”

“From a finance point of view, we recently implemented cloud-based services, which was exciting. There are other developments within that space that we are going to be working on soon too. We’ve also  implemented an approval system that integrates with our accounting package, and there are further developments that I’d like to make to that this year. The opportunities to get together with other Live Nation finance groups is also great. Last year we did a finance conference in Bangkok and I have visited our European Finance headquarters in London this year. It’s really helpful getting together with people from around the world to discuss current trends in finance. There are so many exciting opportunities.”

What external factor has the greatest impact on the business and its performance?
“Easily the biggest is exchange rate volatility. The highest percentage of a tour cost is the artist or artists’ cost. That can make or break tours, so we try to actively manage that. We forward-hedge where we can but a lot of the times, the major tours are agreed up to a year in advance. So, we need to carefully manage our budgets and allow for exchange rate volatility in this. It’s a real risk and one over which we have very little control.”

In your opinion, what makes a great CFO?
“You’ve got to be more than only a finance person. You can’t come into the business and just be an accountant if you want to be a CFO. The role requires that you’re in control of finance, but also that you’re a partner to the business and support the execs, as well as other people in the business. The CFO is in a unique position because they touch all other departments. So, they can have a dialogue with other departments and gain an understanding of the business in which they’re working. And you need to be aware of what’s going on outside the business too; so, be up to speed with current developments and how that may impact the industry you’re in.”

What is your personal leadership style like? What are your strengths as a leader?
“My communication skills are good and have served me well in the past. I can communicate upwards and downwards. At Big Concerts, there’s been a lot of change since the acquisition. It’s been a transformational leadership style to develop and change and challenge the norms. That’s required careful communication with invested parties in the business. By empowering them to do more and to change, you drive change within the organisation. So, the big thing at the company has been change. As a leader you should be able to adapt your leadership style and be able to lead and motivate for whatever the business requires at that point in time.”

With the increase in automation and AI, how is the finance function changing?
“I’m excited by it and I think AI is going to help from an input side, so we should see better reliance on data. As a CFO, it’s going to be what we do with that data that counts. It’s going to becoming around business intelligence and usage, because automation and AI will do the transactional stuff really well and give us all the numbers, but ultimately, we need to interpret those and advise the rest of the business on what those numbers and charts are saying.”

What keeps you busy outside of work?
“I’ve been married for six years to my wife, Monique, and we have a little boy Matthew, who’s two-and-a-half. I spend a lot of time with my family and the focus has definitely been on him. I have a very good work-life balance. I live within ten minutes’ walk to the office. So, I get an extra hour in the mornings and afternoons, and that extra time is invaluable. I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. When we get the chance, we travel.”