By Verge Das Neves
SHK is a specialist people advisory firm and through the CFO One-on-One series, aims to take you inside the minds of Australia's most successful and forward-thinking Chief Financial Officers, who will share their personal views on both the local and global market, the evolution of their role, and new trends. Below is a snapshot of our interview with David Lamont, CFO of CSL Australia. The full interview is available as an audio file at the bottom of the post.
David Lamont was appointed as Chief Financial Officer of CSL in January 2016. As Chief Financial Officer, he is responsible for managing the financial aspects of CSL’s strategy which includes financial planning and reporting, capital management, tax, treasury and investor relations.
Immediately prior to joining CSL, he was the Chief Financial Officer and an Executive Director at MMG since 2010. Prior to this, David served as CFO for several leading multinational public companies across a range of industries since 1999 – including MMG Limited, Oz Minerals Limited, PaperlinX Limited, BHP Billiton’s Energy Coal and Carbon Steel Materials divisions and Incitec Pivot Limited.
David holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree and is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (Australia).
"Finance needs to embrace changes in technology and not see it as a threat but an opportunity."
I read that you never thought of actually going into finance when you were younger and now you’re the CFO on one of Australia's biggest companies. Where did it all start and begin for you?
"It’s an interesting question. Certainly when I was growing up I didn't think that I would do anything like [this]. My father was a motor mechanic. He worked with his hands and both my grandfathers were tradie’s in one way shape or form. My father's best friend, when he was growing up, was a chartered accountant, and he just happened to be a partner with major chartered firm, so when I was doing Commerce at Deakin, I started to have a bit of a conversation with him about where I could possibly take this. He suggested to go into the chartered side of things, as a good way to graduate and use the skill. From my side I enjoyed working with Deloitte, I made some very good friends at Deloitte who I still talk to today. Part of the beauty of starting out there is you get a really good grounding. I was in audit and got to see a range of different things, so that was very interesting and quickly sort of worked out though that rather than consolidate I actually wanted to be on the other side, in a company, and trying to make a difference that way. So I got my start into industry and really never looked back from there."
How important is it for you to surround yourself with the right people?
"People and culture drive so much of what [we are] actually doing. I am very fortunate at the moment in the role at CSL whereby we are very much driven by patients. Everything we do ultimately is to look after the patients that are getting life-saving and life extending drugs through what we do at CSL and you need to have people that embrace that culture in all facets including the finance side of things and people is a core part of our strategy. It’s a core part of most companies' strategy. Getting the people with the right skills is very critical, but I think [it needs to be] also with the right cultural background that fits with an organisation. By getting that mix right, unashamedly as a senior manager, if you get it right you do get discretionary effort out of your employees and that's what can make a real difference."
We are continuously seeing technology and especially the digital element being incorporated into the CFO portfolio. How are you harnessing data and making use of it from a finance perspective?
"Look I think it's certainly a developing area and I wouldn't sit here and say to you today that we’ve got it right at CSL. We’re starting, and one of the things that I keep saying to my team to experiment a little bit here, around how can we use some of the new digital wares and apply it. I think in finance it's always been the issue - that there is always enough data out there but the question is, how do you actually use the data and turn it into some form of information that enables you to make a business decision.
You start a little bit whereby people actually see the technology in the digital side as an enabler in the sense of getting information quicker. Ok that’s the first stage, to it but where you get to actually use that to be better at predicting where [you are going]. There's a lot of work that we're doing around that side of things, around predicting things, looking at a lot more ‘trend data’. Another thing is that as finance professional sometimes we get down into the historical actual reporting and it's ingrained into more about that predictiveness, and trying to actually see how that plays out from a forecasting business perspective."
"Too often CFOs look back and don't embrace where the next range of talent comes from"
Are you seeing any interesting trends in the global market at the moment?
"We are seeing a bit of concern around global trade, as the US is our biggest market. It's over 50% of our overall revenue and certainly just understanding how it's playing out from a trade side of things. A fair bit of pressure; also coming through in different areas around healthcare budgets globally with governments and how they're looking to spend their money, so you've got to use innovation there as a way to actually fight back against that. By innovating, bringing new products to the market, you can have an economic outcome that is beneficial for governments as well."
"We're always looking for candidates who have international experience"
Any advice for CFOs heading into the last quarter of 2019?
"Yeah look I think now is a time with a bit of uncertainty around a potential recession [and so on]. It's a good time just to have another look at where you are on your risk side of things where you are in relation to the funding of the organisation, and just make sure you have a little bit behind you if things do go wrong, looking at some of the contingencies - hopefully we come through this period and it's not such a shock, but you always have to be prepared in case it is, so shoring up that balance sheet is a good place to start. "