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Jonny Jacobs always had a passion for the food, drink and retail industry, spending much of his career in finance roles within the sector. He worked at pladis, the group that owns snacking brands including McVitie’s and Godiva, for eight years across several roles, including interim CFO of pladis North America and Strategy Director.

He is now finance director EMEA at Starbucks. The company takes a ‘human-first’ approach to its culture with gels well with Jonny’s ethos. “Starbucks has got the most incredible mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit…I’m an incredibly values-driven person.”

Jonny is also the sponsor for health and wellbeing for the company in EMEA. Mental wellbeing is a big passion of his; he is involved in several mental health organisations including Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health at Work, and Mad World.

“Humans are the most important asset in any organisation,” he says. “If you buy an asset, you have a maintenance plan for that asset. So we should also be thinking about how we maintain and support people and the health of our humans. It’s also tied into the wider D&I agenda as well.”

We could all be thinking about how we can make our organisations more inclusive, he says. It filters through all aspects of an organisation. “There are many tangents to what it means to be human as an organisation. One is to show empathy, and to show that you care, that you’re passionate about trying to support and listen to your colleagues.”

Jonny’s interest in the subject grew while he was working at pladis. The company had signed a pledge to break the stigma of mental health in the workplace. He had seen the impact that mental illness can have on people, having seen it affect family and friends. “I just naturally gravitated towards the pledge.”

The organisation started with five mental health and wellbeing ambassadors, which grew to over 120. “In that time period, I really started to try to understand myself, and the business case for mental health.”

The need for mental health awareness in the workplace is more important than ever in the wake of COVID-19, and businesses are recognising that. People are talking more about health and wellbeing, which is very promising, says Jonny.

“Things like depression, anxiety, loneliness have significantly increased since the onset of the pandemic. Because of all of that, we’re talking about it more, which in some respects, is one of the positives. I’m just trying to drive awareness; anything I can do to support people and share information. There’s a role that we can all play somewhere.”

This approach also fits in with the digital finance agenda; with the data, analytics and information systems comes a more people-focused approach. “Partnering relationships are about assessing, showing empathy and understanding your organisation. It’s also about change management, have been able to drive transformation, and really understand legacy data analytics.”

Speaking to many finance professionals through his network at ICAS, Jonny knows that there is a big trend towards adopting new technologies and looking at sustainability through a finance lens. “The first thing it often comes to is: what’s the business case for that? What’s the cost? What’s the benefit? What’s the ROI? We try to understand that as best we can, to support those agendas and not hold them back, and identify the value.”

Finance can play a role by understanding the data, the market and some of the opportunities. The flip side, however, is that you can’t measure everything to the extent you might want to, Jonny says. You can get into ‘analysis paralysis’, which can hold you back from making the right decisions.

“These are moral decisions that we need to make as human beings. Finance, has got a role to play to understand the context. Measurement is important, but I think you need to know the overall context without being too linear. Know when to flex, support some of the really big important agendas, and when to really get into the detail on some of the finer cost and benefit.”

It’s where modern finance functions, can better support these agendas, as they go out into the business and have conversations across the wider organisation. That goes for sustainability and health and wellbeing.

“We need to listen and not be afraid to use our position as finance professionals in business to try and support wider agendas,” he says. We play important roles, we often have access to senior people, and decision-makers.

“Wherever you are in an organisation, accounting and finance professionals can have access and influence. How can you use the influence to try and support things like social impact, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability We can’t be afraid to use our voices, because we’ve got the credibility to back it up.”