" “Even if you think something is a constraint, it can be an opportunity.”

By Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO

Sponsored by Fluence Technologies.

Bernd Stangl

Group CFO

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

We spoke with Bernd Stangl, Group CFO at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and the winner of International Finance Leader of the Year Enterprise at the Digital Finance Function Awards 2022.

Bernd has spent his career in many different finance functions in Alcatel and ASN.  After a carve-out from Nokia, Bernd is now group CFO of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, an LBO-structured company owned by an equity fund. He has gained both breadth and depth of experience in this company, which brings advantages. 

In this edition of our thought-leadership interview series, Bernd explains some of the lessons he has learnt from years of working internationally.

Bernd’s journey

Austrian by birth, Bernd completed his MBA in Vienna before starting his first finance roles at Alcatel in Austria.

His first big career move came in 2000, when he left Austria to move to the Alcatel headquarters in France.

“That was the first and probably the most important career step.”

“This was a big move, not just in terms of job, but also in terms of mindset,” he explains. “Moving to a larger country with a different attitude, which was also the headquarters, means you have to accept that things are done differently.”

Bernd’s career accelerated there. This included becoming CFO for the group’s optics division based in Italy - one of the major profit contributors of the group - followed by becoming CFO for their submarine division. 

In 2015, he joined the carve-out of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise as group CFO.  He has since managed more than 130 people in the finance and legal organisation for the last 7 years.

Being a different nationality can have advantages

Being Austrian and talking on international roles, generally based in France, Bernd has experienced some language and cultural barriers.

“Working in a French entity but not being French can have some problems – but in the end, each constraint gives you an opportunity.”

Bernd explains that if you don’t speak French, you can hit a certain ceiling. This is not specific to France, it is a common experience in any international environment.

“However, once you pass the language barrier, and the acceptance barrier, being a different nationality within a different culture can give you some flexibility, particularly within international business,” he continues.

“It becomes possible to add your own flavour, being a different nationality,” he says. “It allows you to move into areas you would not have thought possible because the expectation isn’t there of how you ‘should’ do it culturally. Who would have thought an Austrian could run a submarine business, which is a French-UK joint venture?”.

“Even if you think something is a constraint, it can be an opportunity.”

Speed is key

Bernd strives for speed in finance, passionate about process acceleration.

“The value of information degrades with time.”

“The more confident you are that the information is current, the better you can run the enterprise”, he explains. 

“So, the quicker you can make your reporting processes, the more you can remove inefficiencies, the better.”

He believes that where you find processes that are possible to do quicker, this faster pathway should be explored on a bigger scale and opened up to everyone, something he focuses on in his current role.

Leading a large team

Bernd is experienced in managing the mix of personalities and cultures that a large team brings. This demands a certain type of leadership. 

Bernd describes his leadership style in 3 ways:  

First, he describes himself as very demanding. He expects 100%, and will challenge his team this way.

“Don’t be happy with your status quo. Demand more of yourself in everything.”

Secondly, he describes his style as collaborative, recognising that with a team you can go much further than attempting to do something alone. 

“I have a strong team,” he explains. “The power and the execution we have in the organisation is because of the team, not down to me by myself.”

Finally, he dislikes hierarchy within an organisation and will happily speak directly with the expert he needs to, bypassing line managers. He wants to be down to earth and honest with whoever he speaks to.

“There should be no barriers in an organisation’s hierarchy. This gives you trust.”

The importance of transformation

Bernd sees transformation as a necessity within business.

“If you do not change, you will get changed.” 

“There’s a lot of hype about transformation,” he continues, “but really it is about change.” 

He recognises that it is human nature not to like change. “We adapt very fast, but we don’t like change,” he says. 

“In finance, if we don’t change, 80% of our roles will be automated. It is a fact, we can debate on the timing – but less on the fact. So we have to change, in respect to ourselves, as well as to our team. Remember, change is uncomfortable, no doubt, but human evolution has shown that change is a good thing.”

Big successes

Managing change and leading transformation is something Bernd is able to do well. During his long career at Alcatel, he’s had a number of successes.

One of the biggest changes or innovations Bernd mentions includes changing a company from negative to positive. He is also proud of having sped up the financial closing process from 1 month to an incredible 3 days. 

Finally, he cites sealing a deal worth €100 million, completed by a small team, up against some huge organisations.

“If you have the mindset of working fast, you can easily beat an overloaded organisation."

"Your way of working fast creates inefficiency on the other side – and you win simply by having simple, lean, and fast communication lines!”

Lessons along the way

Here are a few lessons Bernd has learnt throughout his leadership:

Respect 

Coming into a French business from a different culture, he quickly learnt that mutual respect is important. 

“Just because they do something differently to you, doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he says. If there’s a situation where he doesn’t understand what someone wants, he doesn’t fight it, he takes a step back to understand the larger picture.

Listening 

“If you listen, you learn,” he says, “rather than just speaking what you know already.”

Stress management

During his time in leadership for the submarine business, Bernd had to deal with difficult situations, including the earthquake in Fukushima. He recognises that, in times of stress, you need time to calm down and form your logic. 

“It is not just a management lesson, but embedded in our DNA and linked  to our reptilian brain in dangerous situations to first respond fast.”

“You have to stay calm, avoiding your ‘fight or flight’ brain kicking in.”

Travel can be cumbersome 

“What you perceive at the first as exciting, quickly becomes boring,” he laughs.

This article is in partnership with Fluence Technologies. Check out their Tech 100 profile here.

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Author

Christopher Argent, Founder, GENCFO
GENCFO Team

Chris is the founder and MD of GenerationCFO.com and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!

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