CFOs at Block, Meta, Workday, Nordstrom, and Estée Lauder explain how their roles are evolving
How is the role of CFOs changing?
That was a topic of discussion during “The New CFO” panel at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California, on Monday. I had the opportunity to talk with finance chiefs at Block, Nordstrom, Workday, The Estée Lauder Companies, and the incoming CFO at Meta about what they’re experiencing.
“I really see the CFO role as being an increasingly strategic one that helps our company balance aspiration and discipline,” said Amrita Ahuja, CFO at Block, a financial services company. Aspirations are the big business opportunities Block wants to address, and discipline is measuring the effectiveness of Block’s investments, Ahuja said. “The CFO role is well placed because we have real-time data across our entire business.”
Being strategic is an important element of the role, but CFOs have also become “the counselor, the influencer, the truth-teller,” Nordstrom CFO Anne Bramman said. “But it’s also being a leader,” Bramman said. “It’s not just the financial piece or the strategic piece, it’s how are you leading across the organization? Because many times, we’re the most senior women in the room.”
CFOs are tasked to “drive operation change, guide business strategy, and create value beyond just the financial statement,” Workday CFO Barbara Larson said. Businesses are also looking to CFOs to focus on “how you can leverage technology and think about data in new ways,” Larson said. “And how do you reinvent the way you think of talent as well?”
“I will soon be a brand new CFO,” said Susan Li, the VP of finance at Meta, who will begin her new position on Nov. 1. “Traditionally, people have thought of CFOs as a steward” and that includes “running a tight finance ship,” Li said. But today, CFOs wear so many more hats, like “the efficient operator hat,” Li said. “The CFO is really a partner in steering the business direction and product vision for the company.”
CFOs today have “a co-pilot role,” Tracey Travis, EVP, and CFO at The Estée Lauder Companies, said. “Many companies don’t have COOs, or are thinking of doing away with the role,” Travis explained. “So the CFO role has become much broader in recent years.”
Tech and finance alignment
The leaders noted the importance of collaboration between finance and IT teams.
“Tech planning and business planning go hand in hand,” Li said. “We have parts of our finance team dedicated to deconstructing tech problems and figuring out how to design and implement the digital transformation process.”
“Prior to the pandemic, about 33% of our business was digital, and we’re vastly approaching 50% of our business being digital, so it’s an enormous investment for us as a company,” Bramman said.
At Block, “the business technology team and finance team partner to build automated tools, systems, and dashboards so product teams can get real-time access to data,” Ahuja said.
“I think it’s critical for IT to have a seat at the table,” Larson said. The first step for CFOs is finding new ways to work with CIOs, she says. “We have a vision at Workday to get to a zero-day close, and just streamline our process,” Larson explained. “We can’t do that by ourselves. We have to be in lockstep with our IT partners.”
At Estée Lauder, IT reports to Travis. “Strategic IT plays a very important role,” she said.
In the current macro environment, the leaders noted that their companies are making decisions with a long-term strategy in mind. “As we are navigating the increasing financial uncertainty and volatility, I think like many people in this room, we are building out our financial plans and budgets for next year,” Li said. Meta is looking at operating expenses, capital expenditures, and headcount, she said. “We expect that we are going to be slowing headcount growth steadily throughout the next year,” Li said.
“I think everyone is looking at how to reprioritize investment decisions aligned with the growth models of the company,” Travis said. “And it’s one of the most important roles that a CFO can play. Where do you invest? And where do you disinvest?” The decisions on disinvesting can be tough but necessary choices, Travis said.
See you tomorrow.
About four in 10 Americans (41%) say none of their purchases in a typical week are paid for using cash, up from 29% in 2018, according to a new Pew Research Center study.The percentage of Americans who say that all or almost all of their purchases are paid for using cash in a typical week has decreased from 18% in 2018 to 14% today.
Courtesy of Pew
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“The public market currency has never been stronger. The amount of conversations we have with companies in our pipeline continues apace. Companies still want to go public.”
—Lynn Martin, head of the New York Stock Exchange, said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday.
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