Christine Fromont, CFO Neuroscience at Novartis, has successfully transitioned from FMCG, through Fashion into Pharmaceuticals, moving from Canada, to USA, to Switzerland in the process.
Enjoying change by nature, Christine embraces transformation within Finance and suggests organisations need to adapt to accommodate everything coming their way.
Here we discover more about her journey, her leadership and how she has embraced Finance transformation.
Christine’s journey began in Canada, where she gained her accounting qualifications and first position at the Pernod Ricard Wine and Spirits Group.
Ultimately, she relocated to the US with the group and spent about 12 years there, moving up from Finance Manager to CFO of one of their subsidiaries.
“Pernod Ricard was really the school where I learnt finance.”
“It was the beginning, where it became ingrained in me that I like transformation.”
Christine was part of 3 major acquisitions during her time there, building her experience and expertise of transformation with each initiative.
Since Christine couldn’t follow the company’s relocation from New York to Miami, she took a short position as CFO of Inditex, Zara, USA, before being able to follow her true dream of relocating to Switzerland.
It was in Switzerland that Christine was able to join Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA) in the Pharmaceutical Industry. They were ultimately purchased by Novartis, where she still is today.
“AAA was my dream job. It was a small organisation looking for an IPO, with plenty to be built and implemented, she continues. “They also wanted to go public on NASDAQ, which means SOX compliance, which they were far from being able to achieve,”
“It was really a great adventure where I could use everything I’d learned in my career - plus, we were successful.”
“We went public in 2015 and were purchased by Novartis in 2018.”
Christine brings to life several of her personal characteristics as she talks about her career.
While Christine couldn’t personally move with her company Pernod Ricard from New York to Miami, she supported the organisation to go through the transition, motivated her team to relocate, rebuilt a team there and then left once the job was done.
Christine describes the Pharmaceutical industry as for “working for real purpose, because you do save lives.”
She feels that doing 3 acquisition initiatives at Pernod Ricard in a short period really changed how her brain was wired.
“I don’t see roadblocks. You need to keep your eyes on where you're going,” she says, “Then if you come across anything that could get in your way, you just adapt and change slightly to get there.”
During her early experiences in transformation at Pernod Ricard, she realised she had a positive attitude to change, different from her peers.
“I realised how easy it was for me to embrace those changes and how difficult it seemed to be for all my peers.”
Christine enjoys transformation within companies, she recognises that what drives her “is really process improvement and the transformation to get there. A lot of people are afraid of change, but for me change gives me energy.”
Citing a budget process example, Christine says the team were able to transform the 9-month cycle to 6 weeks, using AI and machine learning.
“Like most big organisations, we had a bottom-up budget process, involving negotiation, originally taking 9 months.”
They had to do a lot of reassurance that the new top-down method works, helping the business to trust the numbers provided by the AI.
“We had to say: do your bottom up, and then let's benchmark that with what AI is giving us.”
It was a year-long process, and everything had to change. This included the incentive process because they could no longer reward based on achievement of a budget, as it was a number the teams could no longer control. Instead, they now reward on market share, implementations or soft skills.
“Going through this, really helping the organisation to embrace, believe and trust it, is definitely something that I'm proud of.”
Christine explains that her journey with transformation really started with her first acquisition at Pernod Ricard.
“At the time, Pernod Ricard was number 10 or 12 in the wine and spirits industry, and they co-purchased number two. It was a massive change,” she explains. “Everything had to be reviewed, the way we were thinking, systems rebuilt and reengineered.”
At the time she was young in her career, and appreciates that she was still learning. She had the support from mentors and external advisors, and leaders in the organisation.
She was able to realise how much she enjoyed the process improvement and helping organisations go through changes. She hasn’t looked back.
“In today’s world, with the increase of AI, machine learning and automation, Finance organisations must adapt more than ever. And you need a transformation and change management leader on the inside, if you want to succeed.”
Looking ahead, Christine sees two skill sets having increased importance for Finance teams.
The first is Business Partnering. Christine is passionate that Finance can no longer sit behind their computers crunching numbers.
“Finance teams need to really understand how their organisation functions to be able to bring value financially at the table,” she explains.
“If you don't understand how it works, you won't be able to see where we can have savings, where we can streamline operations, what the implication is of making a decision, and so on.”
The second is storytelling. Bringing your people with you through storytelling is an important skill, historically lacking in Finance leaders, Christine feels.
“You need the skills to convey the message,” she says.
“You need to be able to convince people that what you're saying makes sense, conveying with a passion where you want to go. Other departments have this, but it is something we need to develop in Finance.”
Now, for her next chapter, Christine is about to start a new challenge as CFO of La Tour private hospital in Geneva.
"My first hero is Peter Buck. Never let the kid die. This is where creativity, innovation and curiosity starts, with your inner child. So, cultivate it. When you go back to your inner child, you don't fear taking risks and you find that curiosity that you have when you are young. My second example is more serious. A leader that really had a lasting impression on me is Suzanne Schaffer; she was the CEO of Novartis Oncology. For the first time in my life, I was able to relate to a leader who shows her emotions, crying, smiling, joyful, but who is still a very strong leader, making tough decisions."
"When I write articles, when I work or when I face a problem, my default is jazz. Recently, I've also been listening to an old song quite a lot, from Dizzy Gillespie, “On the sunny side of the street.” It's just really joyful; it has a good vibe."
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