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How hybrid CFOs are boosting resilience and growth in manufacturing


Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) in the highly competitive Australian manufacturing sector have had to overcome some challenging macro-economic shocks in recent years and some have fared better than others. 

With ongoing supply chain disruptions, economic uncertainty and severe labour shortages affecting the Australasian manufacturing sector, CFOs in this industry have shifted their focus to improving operational agility, diversifying to new markets and investing in new product lines.

The emergence of the Hybrid CFO

The unforeseen challenges of the past few years, including the global pandemic, have heightened the importance of these necessary approaches. For the manufacturing sector, these challenges have been particularly acute. According to our recent Global CFO Manufacturing Survey, severe skilled labour shortages have plagued 86 per cent of Australasian companies we spoke to and this has had a major impact on them.

In addition, disruptions in supply chains, fluctuating material costs, inflation and environmental pressures have tested the limits of operational efficiencies. Amidst this turbulent environment, a new type of financial leadership is emerging in manufacturing enterprises due to their recognition that many of the shocks were out of their control: the hybrid CFO.

The transformation of the CFO role from a purely financial guardian to a hybrid figure is a response to the complex, interconnected challenges of the modern business world. This new breed of CFOs combines strategic business acumen with traditional financial expertise, bridging the gap between financial management and operational agility. The evolution is not merely a change in title or responsibilities but a strategic realignment to ensure manufacturers can navigate what the present economic environment throws at them with resilience and foresight.

Operationalising digital transformation

Our research highlights a significant shift in the expectations placed upon CFOs. A notable 52 per cent of survey respondents indicated that CFOs are increasingly expected to operationalise digital transformation. This statistic underscores the critical role that technology and digital tools play in enhancing operational efficiencies and resilience. The hybrid CFO is at the forefront of this transformation, leveraging digital innovations to streamline processes, improve decision-making and ultimately, mitigate the impacts of any future economic shocks.

Adaptability is a key strategic advantage

Our research has shown that strategic business knowledge is essential for CFOs in the manufacturing sector. 80 per cent of respondents emphasised the importance of this competency for maintaining competitive advantage through adaptability. This reflects a broader trend of CFOs stepping beyond the traditional confines of financial management to become strategic partners in the operational side of the business. 

By understanding and influencing all aspects of the business, hybrid CFOs can drive efficiency, innovation and are shepherding in a new era of responsible growth. The hybrid CFO plays a crucial role in this balancing act, integrating enhanced risk management strategies with business objectives. 

Data visibility and performance management

A key aspect of the hybrid CFO’s role is the emphasis on data visibility into performance and operations. In an era where data is king, the ability to harness and analyse vast amounts of information is a competitive advantage. Visibility into operations and performance was cited as one of the top five risks by survey respondents overall.

For manufacturing CFOs, this means having real-time insights into every facet of the business, from supply chain dynamics to customer demand trends with between 57 per cent and 67 per cent of those surveyed in APAC having invested in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Business Intelligence (BI), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and related digital technologies in the past year.

The visibility the ERP, BI and CRM platforms provides enables more informed decision-making, better risk assessment and a proactive approach to Quality Management (QM) challenges. It appears that fiscal conservatism is alive and well in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, as shown by the focus on QM and CRM, both of which can help grow revenue.

QM is a strategic imperative as it is a critical driver of competitive advantage. By embedding QM principles into the operational fabric of the organisation, hybrid CFOs can ensure that the products their company manufactures meet the highest standards, thereby enhancing brand reputation and customer loyalty.

The role of the CFO in the manufacturing sector is undergoing a profound transformation and it reflects a broader shift towards operational agility and adaptability in the face of complex, multifaceted challenges. 

By blending strategic business insight with financial expertise, hybrid CFOs are steering their organisations towards a future marked by resilience, innovation and responsible growth. As the business environment continues to evolve and throw challenges their way, the ability of the hybrid manufacturing CFO to adapt and lead with agility will be crucial in navigating the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. In this new paradigm, the hybrid CFO is not just a financial steward but a strategic architect of business success.

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