Jo Pohl (Telesure): risk should be a competitive advantage
What do you miss from Standard Chartered Bank?
"I enjoyed the energy and diversity of the business and passion for making a difference in Africa. I still serve on the board of one of the banks and as such remain connected. It was a great blessing when I received Christmas and New Year wishes from Standard Chartered people across the region and the globe. It has a welcoming culture and strong values and I miss the people in the Standard Chartered family."
The first 100 days in a job are an opportunity for bold decisions? What did you do?
"To date, I have spent time getting to know the people. Capital is a commodity. The more money you have, the more you can do in its simplest form. However the IP, upholding the brand, core values, execution, innovation and service culture are driven by a key asset our people."
"Normally I would have started with a fit-for-purpose programme; basically an assessment of the entire finance team. This time I had to be more conscious of how many changes the C-suite and business have experienced. Plus, the energy levels just ahead of the December holidays informed a slightly different approach in the first 100 days. I have focused on walking the floor, meeting people and having some real conversations about what we do well, what we can do differently, any concerns or ideas about what we should stop doing."
"Impact actions include closing out on some pending decisions around in- and out-sourcing, enhancements to the risk and governance framework, stakeholder communications and network introductions, plus product-specific pieces. There is a balance between what we do ourselves and building our own internal competency and what we outsource. External, independent input can help and gives a broader view of the industry, but doing things internally helps the organisation become resilient and broadens our options in terms of growing our own talent and opportunities to step up for our staff."
Why were those changes necessary?
"It is very important to see good conduct, sound governance and changes to legislation as opportunities. Ask yourself what is the rationale behind a law or a change in rules? How do we respond? Regulations are not a necessary evil; the rules are there for a reason. The same goes for risk, which should not be a ball and chain, but a competitive advantage. It is a journey for the finance team at Telesure to buy into that and be genuinely interested in the business. Instead of constantly saying no, we need to be developing things together, knowing that calculated risks are fine. As a risk, finance and compliance team, our people are the spine of the business keeping it all upright and at the same time, we need to be a relevant voice at the table not just risk averters."
Has the move changed your view of the CFO role?
"It has cemented my view on the role we play as CFOs. There is still a need for both operators, stewards and business partners, but in a business that changes as rapidly as ours, the CFO needs to be fleet-footed and aware of what is happening through three lenses - an internal, an external and one that looks at potentials; i.e. what is to come. You also need to earn your stripes. I did a lot of routine and 'box-standard' control function tasks and roles which built up my technical depth and have helped me develop as a modern CFO with a solid foundation. This has been invaluable in developing my ability to articulate or validate my gut-feel with numbers and MI; underpinned by a genuine interest in the profession and our business (what we do, how we do it and where we do it). There is no one-size-fits-all so the ability to view issues and opportunities from multiple angles is a skilled art."
You said you like to work with people who give you a reality check when you need it. How do you find those when you join a new firm?
"I walk the floor and schedule coffee dates and aim to ask open-ended questions without an agenda and allow them to ask the same of me. Asking who is the best Finance, Risk etc. leader they have worked for helps me understand what environment brought out the best in them. What would they do if this was their ship to captain? What does and would add value to them? What is their biggest obstacle? What or who is their or our greatest asset?"
"Over the past months I have spent a lot of this face time with people at various levels. I have found people who give their honest opinion, those who just need to offload, those who need something new (possibly even somewhere new) and some real diamonds in the rough too. People only open up, though, if you have a real interest in them. "Coffee club" is something I try do every time I start somewhere new. Being transparent and authentic when people ask who I am, why I moved from my last role or changed industries and why I joined Telesure and what I think of the business so far has helped too."
Are you happy with your move?
"Yes, this first period really allowed me to feel the culture of the industry and organisation. One of the things that appealed when I was interviewing for the role is the welcoming environment, diverse asset base and innovation. People are proud to work here and passionate about what we do and live the slogan "finding a better way". I might still be in the honeymoon phase but I have enjoyed every minute at Telesure. It was the right decision to move. It's exciting and an industry shift can be a bit like going on holiday. I had to do a lot of homework and still keep up my night time reading too. I am really enjoying learning. It is energising. I can't wait to go to work every day."
Are you enjoying commuting less?
"I am literally blessed to commute less. We recently had a family dinner and we all had to say what we are thankful for and I mentioned less travel time. My commute has gone from between 90 and 120 minutes per trip to 30 minutes. I used to schedule conference calls in the car to maximise my time. These days, I switch my radio off during the drive and appreciate some quiet thinking time after I have dropped off the kids. That way I can focus on the day ahead. If you start the day more calmly, you feel less overwhelmed. My mind is more structured."
How has sharing knowledge and networking at our CFO events benefited you?
"Networking has enabled me to meet executives and peers from the same industry and other industries. I have established really great connections and go-to people. There is something about being in a room and knowing you face similar issues: a room where collaboration can be fostered; a room where you can ask your peers about their approach to challenges (efficiencies, operational and even strategic or the implications of new accounting standards or regulation for the industry). The CFO events have also allowed me to give my team a network to connect with - or even find another CFO to talk to my team to show them another angle. To make networking work, it needs to go both ways - so I also need to make myself available and reach out to actively collect and connect the dots."
What tips do you have for young CAs who see you as a role model?
"First of all, fail fast and fail forward. You will remember a mistake you made a lot longer than others will give yourself a break and get up and move on. Learn from what you did, share lessons, ask others about their stories and learn from those you work with and meet."
"Secondly, have a vision for yourself and specific goals. This is your internal compass' true north and helps you remain tenacious and overcome obstacles. I took a couple of detours in my career I shouldn't have, because I wasn't entirely focussed on my goals. Set three targets that you really want to achieve and go for them. Ask for help and celebrate successes that get you closer to your target."
"Thirdly, always put your hand up and take a risk on yourself to the same extent you would want people to reach out and take a risk on you. Lastly, find a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor guides you, provides a safe place to learn and is a sounding board. A sponsor advocates for you in public and is in essence your 'street cred'."
What are your goals for 2016?
"Drive and deliver collectively as a lean and efficient team with an appetite to be the best at what we do in an ever-evolving market. Be part of an executive team that takes the Group to the next level. And most importantly, be an enabler for the industry as I believe financial services really do help people build better lives through our products."
"On a personal level, be sure to articulate what makes me happy and then appreciate those moments future priceless memories".
- Stay connected, up to date and in the loop on what is happening in the world of finance and keep track of newly published expert insights and interviews with CFOs and CEOs. Become an online member and receive our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook and join us on LinkedIn.
You were really my role model! The Team at SCB are feeling your absence. Good luck and all the best.