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So digital leadership is not only about technology – it is about being more agile – more human, and leaving the organisation and its members more resilient and better placed to contribute meaningfully.

Malcolm Finn, Director of Finance – Global Operations and Control, Johnson Matthey

Tell us more about your career and the moments that lead you to be promoted to a senior finance leader?

I was in consulting for most of my career and I was advising several CFOs in a diverse range of sectors and you had to be nimble – switching context and understanding quickly. It is a privileged position as you are close to the concerns of the board and see the leader as a person. I am now on a journey myself in the corporate world having held senior finance roles across hospitality/retail, telecommunications/technology, and I am currently at Johnson Matthey plc (JM) which is an FTSE 100 global science and chemicals company, and a leader in sustainable technologies. In every role I have held I have kept the digital agenda front of mind and delivered change around digitisation – this is a technological and cultural change.

Tell us more about your journey with technology during this time, was it important to you, your promotion, your vision, or not?

My first corporate role was very broad as Global Financial Controller at Costa Coffee. Costa is a very well known brand and has expanded into ready to drink and “at home” in recent years and more notably after being acquired by Coca-Cola. I was then Global Head of Reporting at Vodafone and oversaw the accounting and reporting for the group including the impact of the big three accounting standards in two years, strategic change (M&A and formation of Europe’s largest Towerco), and a change in auditors. A big part of my current role at JM is leading on finance strategy and transformation. What connects all roles is the focus on digital change and an agile approach – so at Costa we looked at new tills, mobile ordering and paying, a new ERP and a GRC for the global business. At Vodafone, I led a project on digital last mile reporting and we developed the technology to produce the annual report that goes to shareholders directly from our systems with no human intervention. At JM, we are putting in place a digital ecosystem for integrated risk management across process, risk, control, audit, and policies. In all these changes technology has been essential but the legacy and the change is also human – culturally adopting agile approaches with rapid learning and decision making and thinking about the experience of end-users and making the best use of our talent.

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So digital leadership is not only about technology – it is about being more agile – more human, and leaving the organisation and its members more resilient and better placed to contribute meaningfully.

LEADERSHIP, TECH AND CHANGE

What is your style of leadership and do you break down the hierarchy to be more connected/agile?

My leadership style is collaborative and I want to create learning cultures in the teams I lead. I offer high challenge and high support – coaching the teams and supporting them through change and uncertainty.

What will be the biggest change in a finance team over the next 5 years and what are the must-have skills or talents to be in the finance leadership team?

So when we talk of finance transformation at JM one of the main reasons for doing the things we are doing is to achieve a better experience for our talent and stakeholders. Of course, technology may enable and accelerate certain elements but a key part of digitisation is cultural and being agile. I do think that as we become more digital the best skills for any transformation and the future are the human skills  – the skills that are hard to hack – critical thinking, creativity, empathy and so forth. There may also be a shift in value to more contextual intelligence rather than content knowledge. Leaders will also need to be adaptive – taking decisions with imperfect information, understanding their own emotions and those of their teams and tolerating uncertainty and complexity. Leaders who can join the dots for their particular context, lead humanly and use technology selectively will be in demand.

There are many tech trends, but what is the number one technology to impact finance? 

My view on technology is not to find a use case for a given technology but to understand the needs of the business and solve for that. I am finding nowadays many cloud applications are inexpensive, quick to deploy and scale and add value within weeks.

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

What is the best podcast or audiobook you listen to for your work life? 

I read quite a lot and I have recently bought a kindle to take books on holiday, as I am trying to become more paperless. I am a bit like Philip Pullman when it comes to the process of thinking and forming ideas – I still like pen and paper (yes I am also aware of the Apple pencil…so watch this space).

I would find it hard to point to a single book about work-life as it is so expansive – I am particularly interested in leadership, culture, innovation and psychodynamic / systems thinking. and currently enjoying a couple of podcasts that are on Spotify – “CFO Playbook” and “Edgy Ideas”.

What are your most-used apps outside of work?

I use online shopping and transport/taxi apps a great deal in terms of lifestyle apps on my phone. I am pleased to see that e-scooter rentals are being trialled in London also!

Are your and your teams’ mental health important to you?

Mental fitness is massively important and we need to take care not to exhaust ourselves working remotely – being always on and manically busy. We need psychological space, time and capacity to think and restore ourselves – and focus on our physical health also.  

Read more about mental health in the workplace, here!

THE LAST WORD

Looking back in your career, is there anything you would have done differently?

I don’t have any strong regrets and I think all my experiences have been incredible learning tools. Looking back I may have done some things differently and I wonder how things may have worked out had I made certain choices. I find that I have my eyes open to opportunities to learn and develop and transfer that to the teams I work with. Learning about ourselves is a lifelong endeavour.