"Very few, if any, companies can be consistently profitable and grow without careful financial planning and cash flow management. The job of managing a corporation’s cash flow typically falls to its FP&A team and its Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Read more about the role of the CFO." Corporate Finance Institute
According to the Association of Finance Professionals, many of the skills that make FP&A a strategic partner to the business lead well into the skills that make the CFO a trusted advisor.
Deloitte noted that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities of traditional FP&A processes and inputs and brought new challenges. As a result, many prior assumptions and forecasting models—and the data on which they were based—have been rendered moot.
FP&A professionals are unique in the finance organisation. The role necessitates building relationships with business leaders across the company that translates to a deep understanding of business operations.
FutureCFO spoke to Nobuaki Hojo, a veteran finance professional and head of APJ specialised regional controlling for SAP, for his perspective on the dynamics influencing the FP&A role, and its repercussions to leadership and the company.
What are the three most challenging aspects of being a finance leader in 2022?
Nobuaki Hojo: One aspect of the challenge is building strategy, which requires high-level assumptions and visions that need to be planned together with the business executives.
The second aspect is business partnering, where you need to ensure that the financial model is planned to set the business up for success when there could be dependencies and constraints that limit what you can financially support the business.
Lastly, you need to ensure finance also drives the strategy to execution and be the co-pilot to the strategic initiatives.
What one lesson can you draw from your experiences in 2022 that you believe impacted you the most?
Nobuaki Hojo: The key lesson in 2022 was that good communication is essential in engaging people to execution. In the times of COVID, many people had to work remotely for the last few years, which also seemed to make some people remote to the strategic initiatives as well.
This impacted me and made me have more frequent touchpoints with the team members, using multiple communication platforms to align on the strategic initiatives. Working under the new norm has impacted how we drive transformation and required us to be more flexible and agile.
Who has contributed most to your success today? Please elaborate.
Nobuaki Hojo: The key person who has contributed to my success today would be my Regional CFO, Gina McNamara. Despite the challenge of not being able to work face to face during the times of COVID, she was a role model for me and has led by example how you can engage, empower, and delegate some of the most complicated tasks to your team.
This has helped me become successful in managing our teams in 2022, and my previous year's outcome would not have been the same without her leadership.
What do you anticipate will be the three biggest challenges in 2023 (and beyond)?
Nobuaki Hojo: Strategic planning does not end when the planning is completed, and the first challenge is to drive the plan to a successful execution.
At the same time, organisational excellence would be a second challenge as the strategy planning and execution involved numerous stakeholders, and we need to ensure that we have a hands-on deck to execute on strategy that brings customer to the centre of what we do.
Finally, as the third challenge, the aspirational targets need to be sustainable in many ways to support long-term business continuity across the organisation.
Name three qualities a finance leader should have to be successful in 2023.
Nobuaki Hojo: The three qualities for success are agility, integrity and having the enthusiasm to execute. We need to continue to be flexible and be empowered to work across flat organisations in a more agile way.
At the same time, integrity is a key to building a trusting relationship that endures even in the toughest times of transformation.
Finally, to fully carry out on the transformation, we need enthusiastic finance leaders showing the will to execute. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to achieve the future we aspire for.
What is your one piece of advice for finance professionals aspiring to become financial leaders?
Nobuaki Hojo: I would recommend that young finance professionals not be afraid of failing early and often. Traditionally finance people were educated to be correct and accurate, so failure was best avoided.
Today, clerical work which requires accuracy is being automated through digital transformation. The business models are also going through digital transformation.
In such a world where change is the norm, finance people are expected to demonstrate their expertise with more flexibility and agility that machines alone cannot perform, and this requires learning from early and frequent failures that are managed as controlled risks.
* Editor’s note: Nokuaki Hojo is the winner of the FutureCFO Excellence Awards 2023 in the category of FP&A Lead of the Year.
* Editor's note: FutureCFO is inviting submissions to the annual FutureCFO 2024 Excellence Awards. Click here for more information.