At a glance
- Took up the current role in August 2019.
- Experience across sectors such as banking and funds management, manufacturing, media, medical and biotech and start-ups.
- 17 years of ASX, NZX and Nasdaq listed company experience.
- CFO’s team: about 10, based in Elphinstone’s manufacturing headquarters in Burnie, Tasmania.
My role: driving profitability within the group's manufacturing business
My current role is as group CFO. However, my first engagement has been to assist the group’s manufacturing operations in Tasmania.
The group’s manufacturing business, Elphinstone, is a Caterpillar original equipment manufacturer, which manufactures equipment for the global surface and underground mining industries.
More broadly, the Elphinstone Group consists of nine operating businesses, including the Cat dealership for Tasmania and Victoria, William Adams. There are also more diverse operations in other states, including the group’s only ASX-listed company, Engenco.
Further afield, the Elphinstone Group owns a share of the Cat dealership Phu Thai Cat in Vietnam.
A central theme across all of the operating companies is the supply of heavy equipment to the mining, construction and infrastructure sectors and the ongoing support thereof. I am currently working within the growing Tasmanian manufacturing operations to drive efficiencies and build towards best practice operations.
Game changers: getting my hands dirty
In my latter years at school, I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise. My dad took some action and ran me around a number of people he knew in business circles. We sat down and talked to them one by one.
One chap made a connection, and he was a long-term company accountant and company secretary. I decided there and then that this is what I wanted to be – and that is what I have become. I deliberately built my skills and experiences over the following two decades to get this right.
My father spent his whole career in the automotive component business, and so from my earliest days I was exposed to forklifts, furnaces and foundries, pouring ingots and getting my hands dirty.
This helped me gain an understanding of what works and what doesn’t in industry. I learned that it’s not all about the numbers – it’s the people in the business that matter. I’m the CPA who likes to have that whole-of-business insight.
As an accountant, there have been a couple of foundation pieces for my career. It started very early, being involved in packaging and production with James Hardie. I gained an understanding of all parts of that operation, from manufacturing and warehousing through to logistics.
That gave me an early understanding and love of management accounting – knowing the power it has to drive decision-making, if well presented.
The 1990s really shaped my career direction. I was group treasurer for Cement Australia based in northern Tasmania – a role that involved significant industry-wide rationalisation. The first-class finance team I worked with actively pushed the business towards world’s best practice.
I was lucky enough to have two extraordinary CPA mentors, and they both took a real interest in making sure I was growing in the role, deeply involved with the business and committed to the industry-wide changes we needed to make. We achieved a lot.
My challenges: financial and operational discipline
Our Tasmanian Elphinstone operation is in the middle of an intensive period of new product development – building a complete product suite or underground mining equipment for international deployment.
Our products are world-class. Our ambition is to build the best underground mining equipment on the planet, and I think the early signs are that we are on track to achieve that. There are challenges, and we need financial and operational discipline to succeed.
Lessons learned and best advice
Invest in yourself. Never stop learning and do not ease up with your professional development. Not only do things change, but we all get rusty and need a refresher. This knowledge of how to do things, and where to get answers, is a CPA’s edge.
Be a part of the profession. I’ve always engaged with other CPAs and with CPA Australia, and I am a past president in Tasmania. Put something back into the profession, and you will get a lot back out. You will meet some great people who will be your contacts for life, and you’ll also hear other views on how to execute business strategy.
Listen and absorb. I have found that my listening skills have improved greatly since the age of 45. I am sure I was not so good at this at an earlier age, probably typical of most young, less experienced and perhaps overly eager accountants. Listening skills are particularly relevant if you intend to grow and nurture a finance team, aiming to bring out the best in your people. Active listening is also critical if you wish to absorb and understand the board’s sometimes subtle messages.
As a CFO, there is a time to ask and a time to tell. Being able to know when the business or your people are not responding to requests is important. Sometimes a firmer hand is required, and it is critical to know when to make that call. Patience is important, but sometimes timetable imperatives override the path and process you had commenced.
Recognise when the strategy is actually flawed. I have been involved with a successful implementation of the wrong strategy more than once in my career – that is to say, muscling it through because that is your job, and because the MD or board has spoken. These moments can provide a CFO with the greatest personal stress and greatest risk to the business, but also, strangely, the most personal satisfaction once that “impossible” job is accomplished.