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The skills modern Australian manufacturing CFOs need

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Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are increasingly stepping beyond the traditional confines of their roles.

Today, we are witnessing a significant shift towards a Hybrid CFO, especially within the manufacturing sector. This transformation is not just a fleeting trend but a strategic realignment towards enhancing operational efficiency and building resilience against unforeseen challenges.

Hybrid CFOs in the manufacturing sector now have to combine financial oversight with operational innovation and feel equally comfortable navigating the factory floor as they do strategising in the boardroom. They were traditionally custodians of financial health, focusing on reporting, compliance, risk management and capital structure. However, the digital revolution, the pandemic and the pressures of globalisation have expanded the CFO’s remit. 

How CFOs are driving competitiveness

Our Annual Manufacturing CFO Survey Report from 2020 and 2021 revealed a strong consensus across various regions about the essential skills and competencies needed for a modern manufacturing CFO. 80 per cent of respondents emphasised the necessity of strategic business acumen for maintaining competitive edge. 

This year’s Manufacturing CFO Survey highlights the evolving role of the Hybrid CFO, emphasising not just strategic foresight but also a comprehensive understanding of the continuous planning, monitoring, assessing, and analysing required across all business functions to achieve overarching goals. This includes a keen insight into operational dynamics, emphasising the need for today’s manufacturing CFOs to be thoroughly versed in the operational challenges and opportunities their companies face.

Leading digitalisation efforts

The value of strategic business knowledge is nearly paralleled by the ability to grasp financing options and innovative business solutions, as indicated by 77 per cent of survey participants. Furthermore, 72 per cent of respondents underlined the critical need for precise risk management and the exploration of digitalisation opportunities, achievable through an integrated knowledge of financial, technical, operational and market factors.

The emerging picture is one where the Hybrid CFO is indispensable for gaining actionable insights into manufacturing operations, beyond their traditional finance and risk management roles. The expectation for CFOs to lead digital transformation efforts in their operations, noted by 52 per cent of respondents, highlights the shift towards a more operational engagement.

Driving operational efficiency

Manufacturing CFOs are uniquely positioned to drive operational efficiencies. With a comprehensive view of the company’s financial health, they can identify areas where operational improvements can lead to cost savings and enhanced productivity. By adopting an advanced Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, CFOs can leverage real-time data to make informed decisions that streamline operations, reduce waste and improve supply chain management.

In the context of the Australian manufacturing sector, which is characterised by its need to compete on a global scale while managing local challenges such as high labour costs and geographic isolation, the role of the CFO becomes even more critical. The Hybrid CFO can spearhead initiatives to adopt lean manufacturing principles, invest in automation and optimise inventory levels, thereby reducing costs and improving operational agility.

Enhancing resilience

The disruptions of the past few years have highlighted the importance of building resilience in manufacturing operations. CFOs had to navigate unprecedented financial and operational challenges, from disruptions in supply chains to shifts in consumer demand. This experience has highlighted the need for CFOs to be actively involved in developing strategies to enhance resilience. By understanding the operational intricacies of the manufacturing process and the financial implications of various scenarios, CFOs can lead the charge in building more robust systems.

This involves diversifying supply chains, investing in digital technologies to enable remote work and real-time monitoring, and developing flexible financial models that can withstand shocks. The Hybrid CFO is at the forefront of these initiatives, leveraging their financial acumen and operational insight to ensure that manufacturing firms are not just surviving but thriving in the face of market disruptions.

Leveraging technology for strategic advantage

The adoption of advanced technologies, such as ERP systems tailored for the manufacturing sector, are emerging as a key enabler of the Hybrid CFO role. These systems provide a unified view of the enterprise, integrating financial data with operational metrics. For Australian manufacturing CFOs, this means the ability to track and analyse everything from production efficiency and inventory levels to customer demand patterns and supplier performance.

This integrated approach allows CFOs to move from reactive financial management to a more proactive, strategic role. They can identify opportunities for cost savings, efficiency improvements and revenue growth, backed by data. Furthermore, the insights gleaned from ERP systems can inform strategic decisions about investments in innovation, market expansion and sustainability initiatives.

Conclusion

For manufacturing CFOs, the journey towards adopting a Hybrid CFO role is both challenging and rewarding. It requires a shift in mindset, from seeing the finance function as a separate silo to viewing it as an integral part of the operational fabric of the company. It also necessitates a commitment to continuous learning, staying abreast of technological advancements and developing a deeper understanding of the manufacturing process.

The benefits, however, are clear. By embracing this hybrid role, CFOs can drive their organisations towards greater efficiency, resilience and competitiveness. They can ensure that financial strategies are fully aligned with operational realities, leading to more informed decision-making and ultimately, sustainable growth.

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