At a glance
- Formerly partner at CFO consultancy firm Beckette in New Zealand and now chief financial officer with Celsus, the commercial operator of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, since April 2020.
- Combination of strategic, commercial and operational financial roles for Celsus, running the largest public hospital in South Australia with 700 overnight beds, 100 day beds and 40 technical suites.
- Celsus has recently been granted the world’s first “sustainability loan”, which is only awarded to institutions that follow rigorous social and environmental guidelines.
- I head a team of three.
My role: optimising operations, managing expectations
I head the finance function at Celsus. There have been several different phases in the operational growth since Royal Adelaide Hospital came into commercial operation in 2017.
My initial work was to bring stability to the finance function of the business because, like all new public-private partnerships, there are always teething issues.
Now, one side of my role is to ensure the operational side of the hospital is working at an optimum level and that we are fulfilling commitments under contractual arrangements – the asset side of the balance sheet.
The other side is about working with the security holders, the board and CEO in the capital structure and funding of the business – the liability side of the balance sheet. Both are important.
Celsus is owned by four investor groups, who have considerable public private partnership and hospital experience. Managing investor expectations is another element of the role and, while the investor groups have a common objective, each one has its own nuances.
Celsus also has a large portfolio debt – over A$2 billion. When I first started, we had a 28-strong banking group, and managing relationships was not easy.
I’m now more involved in supporting operations and excited about the environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives we are putting in. A great CFO – indeed a great leader – needs to develop an empathetic and socially conscious style of leadership and be able to take that across the business and its people.
Game changers: The impact of mentoring
Mentors have been important game changers for me.
One was Professor David Ward at the University of Wisconsin. Understanding his strategic mindset has enabled me to position finance as a value-add function within the business.
At Yellow Pages in New Zealand in 2007, I worked under Dudley Enoka, who had relationships with most of the 550 staff across the business.
I loosely term Enoka’s style as “management by walking around”. This taught me how to understand the business drivers at an operational level, to view the business from the bottom up, and to build relationships and connect finance to what’s happening “on the floor”.
One on one is important, as is being empathetic in our style. I picked that up from my current CEO, Di Mantell. It is a “hard heads, but soft hearts” approach.
Another game changer and pivotal point in my career was being involved in refinancing the Celsus debt facility with a sustainability loan, Australia’s first sustainability loan and the first in the healthcare area globally.
Celsus was committed to it. We wanted to do it for ourselves, the Royal Adelaide Hospital and for South Australia. Having the support of our securityholders and banking group was very beneficial.
As more firms recognise and commit to ESG principles, CFOs have a key role in making it happen.
My challenges: Going back to basics
I started my role at Celsus in early 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. One of the big challenges was starting a new role remotely.
I was based in Melbourne at that time and trying to construct – or reconstruct – the operational reporting side of the business, having not worked in a hospital before.
Understanding the operational drivers for a hospital was one thing, but not having been in it and meeting the people there was a challenge of human dynamics!
I had to go back to basics. I needed to reach out to my mentors for guidance.
It is always hard to meet KPIs associated with public-private partnerships because, in some cases, project agreements were written years before and things have since moved on.
With many infrastructure assets, it is not the case that you can walk in and turn on the lights on day one.
People need to appreciate the enormous challenges of an 800-bed hospital, which is the size of three city blocks. When things don’t function properly, relationships also get strained. It has its own circular effect.
I, and many others, had to build relationships with key customers as well. This was as much about getting people on board as it was getting the hospital operating.
Lessons learned and best advice
Be on top of the fundamentals of the role: reporting, tax, compliance, risk management. You do not get a “gold star” for having them right, but you will get a “black mark” for getting them wrong.
Be able to transition from “working in the business” to “working on the business”. To do this, one must understand the financial and operating sides of the business and how they impact each other.
Make sure you know how external factors such as technology and change impact both operational and financial sides. You cannot impart commercial or strategic advice without knowing the business end to end.
I never overstate the importance of people skills and leadership. There is shift in mindset from simply leading the finance team to leading the business. One’s own personal values come into play and how one lives them within the business. People want CFOs they can both trust and respect.