" As Chief Financial Officer, Johan has leveraged digital transformation to enable better business partnering.

By Joanna Argent, Writer, GENCFO

Johan Olsson

CFO

Volvo Car UK

Johan Olsson has spent most of his career within Volvo. Now, as Chief Financial Officer for Volvo Car UK Ltd., he has leveraged digital transformation to enable better business partnering.

“Senior finance leaders know that transformation using digital is the direction we’re going in and they buy in on that - but only few have started”, he says.

Johan’s journey

After he achieved a Master's in Business and Economics from Sweden’s Uppsala University, Johan joined the Volvo Global Graduate Programme. 

He enjoyed a range of roles as part of this, from HR to Strategy to time across all parts of Volvo’s value chain.

He was then able put this experience to practise in longer term positions, including Business Controller in Canada and CFO in Denmark.

Now, Johan is CFO for the UK, and has taken on a large-scale transformation journey.

Johan’s transformation leadership

Johan moved his team from their traditional role “in the corner”, isolated from the rest of the business, to being more integrated and providing commercial advice. 

How did he do this? By using digital transformation to increase automation and streamlining processes. 

“We were then able to start moving the finance team towards the business partnering model.”

It started with significant restructure within his finance teams to allow faster decision making and provide roles with clear accountabilities. 

This “significant investment in people development”, which he says is to provide the business partnering soft skills they needed, has been successful.

How and why did he increase business partnering?

The project has involved a variety of different initiatives. For example, they developed a model called ‘Listen, Learn, Lead’ for defining business partnering. 

“We did a digital transformation to enable business partnering to happen.”

Johan explained that business partnering, providing more commercial advice and being out in the business, means his finance teams needed to gain the time necessary to be able to do that. This time was created in part through automation.

They also supported the change by providing the teams with the resources they needed, from individual coaching to “a bespoke Learning and Development Programme that ran over a 12 month period.” 

“It has taken nearly two years for us, and now our finance team is partnering much more actively with the business.”

Despite all the changes he’s made, he remarks that there’s more to come:

“You are never finished when transforming a team and a business. We're doing even more this year and continuing the journey.” 

The industry isn’t keeping up

Johan is sometimes surprised at the number of industry peers who haven’t started their transformation journey yet. 

“I would have thought we would be further on by now as a finance profession”, he says.  

That said, he recognises that how we conduct ourselves in business and how we operate is quite deeply rooted. 

“It is hard to drive sustainable transformation that sticks.”

“The challenge is to just start, to be persistent and to dare to invest”, he says. 

Thriving on engagement

Johan explains that his role is now split approximately 40% on engagement and communication, 40% on commercial decisions and 20% on more traditional finance work. 

“It is that 80% chunk of commercial and then engagement and communication that really inspires me.”

It means you talk to so many people and get to know what’s going on in the business.

Johan finds that the more you talk to the whole business, not just your own finance team, the more you understand the challenges. 

“As CFO, you get an excellent overview of what's happening in the business, and that is probably what I thrive on the most.”

Power Profile

What music inspires you?

"I love to listen to all kinds of music from Tchaikovsky to The Weeknd, but I would say that a Swedish alternative rock band called Kent inspires me the most since it takes me back to my youth."

Who is your hero?

"My wife."

Author

Joanna Argent, Writer, GENCFO
GENCFO Team

Joanna is an interviewer and writer at GENCFO. Read her finance leader and industry expert interviews for The Shift.

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