Fueling the Growth Agenda

A Report from the 2017 CFO of the Future Summit

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Overview

Amidst a backdrop of deepening digital disruption, growing political uncertainty, increasing regulatory complexity, and shifting consumer preferences, one thing is certain – chief financial officers are creating a new agenda for growth.

To effectively lead in this new environment, chief financial officers and finance executives must become “chief growth officers”—the point persons who not only control stability, accountability and risk, but also grow profitability, enterprise-wide agility, sustainability, and customer trust.

This growth-oriented pivot will be valuable, yet difficult. The chief growth officer must redefine the playbook of finance by embracing disruption, spearheading the development of new business models, and building agility into operations. Growth oriented and finance-led organizations often manage two or more different business models under one roof, free up resources to invest in growth initiatives, define and measure new key performance indicators, and create new ecosystems and platforms for rapid value creation. Perhaps most critically, the chief growth officer will spend time recruiting and building new talent to lead these initiatives, creating a team that thrives at the intersection of technology and finance.

At The 2017 CFO of the Future Summit: Fueling the Growth Agenda, convened by the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and Leadership for a Networked World, in collaboration with Accenture Strategy, current and next-generation CFOs from leading global companies workshopped their successes and learned about the future of business from top researchers in the field.

The Summit focused on critical skills and questions CFOs grapple with today, including: What is transformational change and what does it take to drive transformation in a large organization? How can organizations disrupt themselves and find new business models? What is the future of value creation? What is the new face of the CFO and finance team? Beyond spreadsheets and financial models, what does a finance-led transformation look like?

A letter from the Executive Director

Dr. Antonio Oftelie, Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World, reflects on this year's summit and it's implications.

Read his letter here. >

“One of the most important things for people to learn and kind of make peace with is the fact that they can’t be excellent at everything. You have to make decisions about what are the things that we’re going to excel on and what are the things we’re not going to do so well on.”
Dr. David Ager
Senior Fellow, Executive Education, Harvard Business School

Report Insights

  1. Architecting a Growth Strategy and Driving Shareholder Value at Accenture

    Accenture recently embarked on a transformational journey to become a first mover in the new digital economy. In her presentation at The 2017 CFO of the Future Summit: Fueling the Growth Agenda, KC McClure, Finance Director for Communications, Media & Technology at Accenture, reflected on the company’s journey and the importance of the role that CFO David Rowland played in leading the change and creating shareholder value.

  2. Driving the Business and Creating Change: Leadership Lessons from Jeffrey Campbell

    When Jeff Campbell dropped out of Stanford and joined a rock band at 20, he wasn't envisioning a future where he'd be managing a trillion dollars of cash flow as the CFO of American Express. Beyond simply identifying ways to improve the finances of a given organization, CFOs have to be able to interact with all of the parts of the business and create value. Campbell says the key to success is spending the right time in the right places.

  3. Evolving Gannett in a Digital Media World

    Gannett has a rich history as a media company, with outlets that include top local newspapers as well as national newspaper USA TODAY. The company also has a strong digital presence locally and nationwide. However, in 2016, the company decided it needed to make a change. While Gannett was growing rapidly on the digital side, many investors still saw the company as a declining newspaper publisher instead of an online leader.

  4. Special Forces Teams at Stanley Black & Decker

    If you read the name Stanley Black & Decker and think of your power tools you wouldn’t be wrong, but you’d also be missing the whole picture. Ryan DuRussel is the chief financial officer of Stanley Security Solutions, one of the groups within the more than century-old company. During his presentation at The2017 CFO of the Future Summit: Fueling the Growth Agenda, he spoke about the critical role of the finance organization in supporting innovations that have allowed the company to build a platform that services and supports 18 market-leading brands, while keeping an eye on the future.

“The CFO is uniquely tied to the CEO on the success of the company. And that’s what both gives the CFO and the finance organization a tremendous platform to drive change, because we really don’t care who gets credit, don’t care what part of the company succeeds, we just want the company to succeed. And it’s what allows a CEO to say, this is the organization I need partnered with me to help drive to success.”
Jeff Campbell
CFO, American Express

Summary

To stay ahead in today’s fast-moving business world, organizations have to learn how to disrupt themselves or risk being put out of business. The old model of focusing purely on the P&L won’t safeguard a business from external disrupters who see industry differently and simply create a whole new model of their own.

The CFO of the future will be someone who has taken the time to build a diverse team with a broad set of skills that can sit at the intersection of technology and finance. By taking this integrated approach, the finance team can define and lead transformational change that puts the organization on a growth trajectory. In this role, the CFO transforms into a Chief Growth Officer, focused on maximizing new business opportunities and stakeholder value. However, no transformation happens easily. Many established organizations today are grappling with how to create transformational change to avoid being disrupted. When CFOs begin thinking like growth officers they can drive impactful change efforts within their organizations. The leaders at The 2017 CFO of the Future Summit: Fueling the Growth Agenda identified three key areas for CFO success: spending time appropriately, investing in people, and developing a thorough understanding of customers – what they want, how they make decisions, what they value most deeply.

Ultimately, the profile of the CFO of the future is that of someone who works on a team with the CEO to drive change in an organization. CFOs and the finance team are change agents that can help better define broad organizational goals by tying them to key growth metrics and communicating tactical plans back to investors, stakeholders, and customers. In many ways, the CFO is there to help the organization implement key lessons from the market, competitors and clients in a way that disrupts outdated models from within and creates a pathway forward that is both consistent and viable from a revenue perspective.

In order to make the most of transformational change, the CFO must no longer spend her days in front of spreadsheets; instead, she should be meeting with each part of the organization, understanding what the needs are and how best to reinvest in the business to create value. Alongside that listening time, the CFO must be talking to and training key people in each functional area so that they understand the evolution that must occur and feel empowered to make that happen. Finally, with the advent of big data and improved customer insights, the finance team should leverage those inputs to understand how customers make decisions and craft services that are more responsive to their needs.

The Executive Leadership Group

Leadership for a Networked World, and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard would like to thank the Executive Leadership Group for their vision and ideas that aided the development of this Summit.

Donald Allen, Jr.
Executive VP & CFO
Stanley, Black & Decker
Charles Bancroft
CFO
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Brett Biggs
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Wal-Mart
Jeffrey Campbell
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
American Express
Alison Engel
Senior Vice President & CFO
Gannett
Bob Fishman
EVP, CFO and Chief Accounting Officer
NCR
Kevin Jacobs
Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
Hilton
David Rowland
CFO
Accenture

Videos from This Summit

Hosted by

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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