Reflections from the Executive Director

Part of a Series

This Reflection is a part of the 2017 CFO of the Future Summit Report.

To see the complete report, click here.

Dear Colleagues,

Sir Francis Bacon noted “For it is a secret, both in nature and state, that it is safer to change many things than one.” I would venture that given the growth of the digital world, Bacon would say the same about organizational transformation today – keeping pace will demand redesigning all elements of an organization.

The backdrop for this transformation is unprecedented demand by customers for services and products that synchronize with their digital lives. In fact, attendees of this year’s Summit ranked “customer-facing digital technologies” as the biggest driver of change in their operating environment. And the change is profound, as 72% of attendees said they have faced “significant or extreme change” in their operating environment over the past five years, and 84% anticipate even more change over the next five years.

Transforming enterprises for the digital world isn’t about chasing a fad, it’s about creating long-term value. According to research highlighted in Harvard Business Review, digital leaders outperform digital laggards in average gross margin, operating margin, and profit margin as measured over a three-year period. Thus, responding to the digital world is no longer an option – it’s an imperative. As Dr. Christian Campagna, Senior Managing Director for CFO & Enterprise Value at Accenture Strategy, said in his Summit opening remarks, “the CFO and the CEO must see the whole enterprise, as it’s only these two that feel the pain when something, somewhere is not headed in the right direction. Together, they need to design the future.”

Given this challenge, a consistent theme in this year’s Summit was the need for chief financial officers to work hand-in-hand with their chief executive officers to transform their enterprise. As you’ll see in this report, savvy CFOs are doing this by optimizing current business value while managing for risk; generating new business value by guiding breakthrough innovations; and creating dynamic capacity by aligning human capital with the business model of the future. In doing this challenging work, they’re positioning themselves as Summit keynote speaker Jeff Campbell, CFO of American Express, advocated: “The role of the CFO – the role of the finance organization – more than anything else, is to provide true honesty about where you are. You uniquely have that 360-degree view….”

As you delve into this report, please join me in thanking Accenture Strategy – as without their generous thought leadership and expertise, this important program would not have been possible. I would also like to extend our gratitude to the Executive Leadership Group – their subject matter knowledge and insights on what it means to be a CFO of the future are pivotal for the Summit. And last but not least, thank you for investing your time and energy into learning from the CFO of the Future Summit and report. I’m certain the insights will help you on your transformation journey.

Let’s get to work,

Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie
Fellow, Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard
Executive Director, Leadership for a Networked World
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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Leadership for a Networked World’s applied research, student innovation challenge, and on-campus summit programs are an initiative of Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. TECH is a hub for students, faculty, alumni, and government and industry leaders to learn together, collaborate, and innovate. LNW accelerates these efforts by connecting leaders across sectors and developing cutting-edge thought leadership on innovation and organizational transformation.

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