" “You shouldn’t be doing something just because that’s the way you’ve always done it!”

Kat Lees

Finance Director

Gem Imports

From private patient transport to an exciting new role in retail, Kat Lees has never been one to shy away from taking a risk. She’s got an impressive twenty-year career to prove it: 

“I've moved around to get the right type of exposure. I’ve never played it safe.” 

We caught up with Kat, one of GENCFO's Exec Members, for a lesson in uncovering opportunities for digital finance transformation and professional growth in the places you least expect it, along with her advice for aspiring finance leaders looking to do the same. 

Transforming the finance function through disruption 

In an age where dramatic technological change is shaking the role of the CFO to its core, Kat is only losing sleep over digital transformation for the best of reasons: 

“Yes, I’ve been known to play around with automating processes at two o’clock in the morning!" 

"I just get such a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement when I can use technology to make life easier for me and my team.” 

Starting a new role can be a prime time to drive digital finance transformation with fresh eyes and a fresh approach, according to Kat. She credits a varied career with providing some of the best opportunities to flex her digital transformation skills:

“I’ve only been here two months and everything I’m reviewing is open to change” she says of her current role at Gem Imports.

“My biggest focus is on streamlining. Too many Excel documents and systems hold the answers for things that should all be in one place! Implementing more automation into credit control processes frees up the finance function, operations and sales to be way more proactive in their work.”

Beyond boosting efficiency, Kat is leveraging digital finance transformation for leadership buy-in and better communication between teams: 

“The job of finance leaders today is to tell a story. I’m currently developing an EMI suite for that very reason, to help our owners understand why the numbers are the way that they are.”

It’s an observation that speaks to the changing role of the CFO and how digital transformation can elevate the finance function to new heights:

“Today it’s all about finance business partnering and strategy. That might look like creating an exciting new dashboard that works for employees at different levels, or it might just be sitting down and explaining how things work to someone who isn’t a part of the finance world.”

The people powering the future of finance

People strategy is transformation strategy, and not having the backing of your workforce is a huge sticking point when it comes to driving tech disruption. 

If you think it’s only the old and out-of-touch to blame, think again, says Kat. It seems a change mindset - or lack thereof - knows no limits when it comes to age: 

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the older generation. I recently worked with a younger person who was extremely resistant to change and continuing to do things the long-winded way, because that's what they've always known.”

It’s an attitude that’s a pet hate for Kat.

“You shouldn’t be doing something just because that’s the way you’ve always done it!” she says.

Instead, Kat champions a curious mind. Channelling her passion for digital finance transformation into upskilling her team has reaped rewards both professionally and personally: 

“My favourite word is future-proofing. I once managed a guy who joined as a finance analyst, with an engineering background and no Excel skills. By the time I left he'd qualified and was the best person on the team at using Excel. That was a proud personal moment and that's what we've got to be working towards - it’s all about the future value mantra.”

However, Kat is keen to stress that tech savviness alone isn’t enough. Adding the value of human ingenuity to tech transformation is key to succeeding in the future of finance: 

“It’s not about being good at adding up anymore, systems and spreadsheets can do that for you! What you really need is to be able to problem solve. If you can't do that, you're not going to understand underlying issues and be the strategist your business needs you to be.”

Advice for aspiring finance leaders

With her infectious enthusiasm for supporting team members to thrive, it’s no surprise that Kat places a high value on having the right people around her: 

“The best jobs are when the people you’re working with feel like family, and that’s how I feel at the moment. I’ve got a great team behind me, not just within the finance function, but across the business as a whole.”

When you love what you do to the level that Lees does, it can be tough to keep work/life boundaries in place. But Kat cautions against letting the job consume you: 

“The biggest thing I've learned over the last few years is that you've got to make time for yourself. It's easy to fall into the trap of work, work, work when you're an ambitious individual. However much I love my job, I’m always keeping a lookout for my next holiday destination. Downtime is essential - don't burn out!”

Kat is one of GENCFO's Exec Members. If you want to learn more about becoming a member, click here.

Power Profile

Who is your hero?

"My dad is my hero. He was a managing director and I learned a lot from him when I first became a manager. I never thought I’d be good at managing, but it turns out when I had somebody developing under me it became one of the best parts of the job."

What music inspires you?

"Music is in my family, I grew up with such an eclectic mix! Even the concerts I’ve been to this year are wildly different in genre - everything from Lewis Capaldi to Bruce Springsteen. Having music on in the background at work is how I give myself a boost when things get busy. "

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