Glass half full? Turning challenges into opportunities

From growth to tax, politics to profitability, we explored the factors impacting and driving sentiment across the corporate terrain. We sat down with Tanya Rybarczyk, Chief Financial Officer at Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy & Fertilisers and put optimism under the spotlight.

How have movements in the US, European and Chinese economies impacted your organisation’s optimism?

Earlier this year we saw commodity prices increasing as a result of global economic conditions and that gave us a sense of optimism. Unfortunately we have since seen some of those gains reverse which I think tells us that perhaps we’ve reached the bottom of the commodity price cycle but that sustained growth is still some way away.

On the flip side we have seen a lot of political change, in particular in the US and Europe but also in parts of Asia. That has created some uncertainty – what might be the impact of shifts that may be forthcoming on some big policy issues such as trade, for example?

Until the dust settles, there might be some uncertainty. From a macro perspective and where we are today, I think we can look at the outlook more optimistically than we did a few years ago. From my perspective, I am seeing things more through a glass half full lens!

What issues are impacting levels of optimism the most?

The political uncertainty area is critical to understand and reflect upon – around, for example, the areas of policy making, taxation, energy security and emissions. If these areas are not resolved or are not progressed through ongoing dialogue, we see that it can impact optimism. If we look globally there is a shift in mindset and culture across the political landscape. That has been largely led by voter sentiment and has resulted in some significant policy upheavals.

A lot of countries these days have turned to protectionism and what that means for trade will need to be assessed. The outcome is that there is an impact on uncertainty and organisations are grappling with what it all means from a business perspective.

What other global factors impact your company and how are you tackling these?

Low levels of global growth generally and the volatility of global commodity markets are big factors. In a lot of the sectors in which we operate, we are finding ourselves in markets which are over supplied or where we are facing additional competition. Tackling these issues is critical and it’s something we have seen and managed in the past. We need to stay connected to our customers and try to find win-win solutions or other ways to add customer value in order to maintain growth.

Being well informed is critical across all work areas. Nowadays, leveraging technology and data is key to provide powerful insights on how to tackle certain challenges.

How does an organisation stay up-beat despite fluctuations around uncertainty?

From our perspective, the businesses within Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy and Fertilisers has been around for decades and we have experienced numerous business cycles. From experience comes growth and insights. It’s important that an organisation stays true to its goals, initiatives and overall strategy. You have to keep asking: are you delivering what customers want and need now and through the cycle? If you have a medium and long-term view, then you can navigate obstacles and challenges that might arise.

What are key challenges facing CFOs today?

The role of the CFO continues to change. It has become more diverse – so many more things are coming under the remit of the CFO than in the past. Three key challenges we are currently facing are: embracing technology, how we drive improvements around diversity and inclusion, and how do we go about helping the organisation grow.

With technology, it’s about how do we harness technology so that we can be more efficient and effective.

Diversity and inclusion is a key focus, to attract the best talent from all parts of society. As an organisation we think this is really important because it enables our businesses to perform better through that varied thinking and approach.

As CFOs we are in a unique position in that we get a bird’s eye view of our businesses in order to see the opportunities and insights. We can then actively participate in strategic discussions to drive growth.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

So many to choose from! One does recur time and time again. I’ve been at Wesfarmers for over 16 years in many different roles and that has come about by taking the advice of my peers and managers in the past who have said: seize opportunities that present themselves. A colleague recently put to me that it’s about the power of “yes”.

We can all sometimes be unsure of making changes so it’s important to ask yourself, “If I say yes, what would be the worst that could happen” and then ask, “So what”? You keep repeating the loop and you eventually realise that saying “yes” can lead to a great opportunity if you give it a go and that perhaps the downside you thought existed, really isn’t that big a deal.

Favourite quote?

It would have to be the wonderful words of Geoff Roberts, Seek Ltd’s CFO and Former Managing Partner at Deloitte who presented at a recent Deloitte CFO Vantage session: Be patient on performance but impatient on values.

For more CFO Insights, please click here to view our most recent edition of CFO Sentiment – Positive global outlook drives optimism.

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