INTHEBLACK July 2020 - Page 56



GET SMART
MEET THE CFO
AT A
GLANCE

Joined Hallmark Cards
as CFO in October 2018.


Formerly CFO at fashion
brand KOOKAÏ and Arnott’s
Snack Foods.
CFO’s team: more than 250
across finance, IT, supply
chain and merchandising.
MULTI-FACETED ROLE
AJITH ABEYNAIKE CPA, CFO OF HALLMARK CARDS, BELIEVES THE EXTENDED REMIT OF HIS ROLE IS
IMPORTANT IN DELIVERING CRITICAL INITIATIVES AND HELPING TO FUTURE-PROOF THE ORGANISATION.
AS TOLD TO LACHLAN COLQUHOUN PHOTOGRAPHY JARROD BARNES
MY ROLE:
GAME CHANGERS:
G E T T I N G C L OS E TO T H E BUSIN ESS
FINDIN G N EW REV EN U E ST REA MS
My role at Hallmark is wider than being CFO.
It is more of a chief operations officer,
because in addition to the finance team,
I also manage the IT, supply chain, demand
planning and field merchandising functions,
which encompass more than 250 people
across the organisation in Australia and
New Zealand.
I also lead a number of key strategic
projects designed to produce a significant
transformation of Hallmark’s operating
model in Australia and New Zealand. These
are business-critical initiatives that we believe
will future-proof our business in what will be
extremely challenging trading conditions over
the next few years.
As a CFO, having an expanded remit has
been vital in being able to produce a synergistic
approach to financial and strategic controls over
the bigger expenditure items in the business,
such as IT, supply chain and, in the case of
Hallmark, our field merchandise workforce.
Aside from being able to embed consistent
financial and business planning disciplines
across the business, we are achieving
significant value through authentic business
partnering practices, which not only produce
important commercial benefits, but are just as
vital in helping create tremendous cultural
harmony between the business functions.
There is no doubt that technology is
changing the finance function and helping
CFOs perform a broader role. Being able to
configure our systems and automate business
controls is allowing CFOs to create new value
as business partners and advisers.
I had some of the best learning experiences
in my career during my five years at Kellogg’s
as the director of finance and IT.
I always had the ambition of being a finance
director of a Fortune 500 company here in
Australia, and I was able to achieve that in
this role.
This was my first executive leadership role,
and it was a real challenge. At that time we
were in a category with declining revenue,
and our US parent was demanding annual
EBIT [earnings before interest and tax]
growth well above industry standards.
I quickly learned that there was no one
simple answer to this challenge. We designed
a solution that incorporated developing new
sources of revenue through product innovation,
we improved our cost structures, we became
more closely aligned and engaged with
consumer needs, and invested in acquisitions.
These were invaluable experiences for me,
and I was very fortunate to have had the
opportunity to transfer these learnings into
my next key role as group financial controller
at Bunnings. During the nine years that I was
with Bunnings, the leadership team worked
tirelessly to enhance the company’s vision and
strengthen its businesses foundations, while
creating a culture of highly successful internal
business partnering.
At the core of Bunnings’ DNA are category
diversification, product innovation,
60 ITB July 2020
CPA
LIBRARY
acquisitions, channel and store growth, internal
business partnering, systems improvements,
digital commerce and, most importantly, new
ways of customer engagement.
MY CHALLENGES:
RE-EN G I N EERI N G T HE BU S IN ES S
Hallmark operates in a complex product
category with minimal growth, and this
presents us with a number of challenges
and opportunities.
We distribute about 4500 different SKUs
[stock keeping units] to 3000 retail outlets and
provide in-store merchandise services, so that
is a major supply chain operation across both
national retailers and independent stores.
Our challenge now is to work on initiatives
that will give us the most cost-effective and
efficient model, which will result in a best-inclass supply chain for our category.
We import most of our products from
China, and we operate a dual distribution
model; that is, our everyday products are
distributed from Australia, and our seasonal
products go to stores directly from China.
This chain of activities has many areas that
could be improved and made more efficient,
which is what I will be focusing on over the
coming months.
We currently operate a wholesale model
that sells to the customer, who in turn retails
to the consumer. We want to ensure that every
part of this interaction is seamless, which will
create value throughout the supply chain.
To read the ebook Guide to CFO Success: Leadership Strategies for
Corporate Financial Professionals by Samuel Dergel, visit: cpaaustralia.
com.au/library
LESSONS
LEARNED AND
BEST ADVICE
Very early on, I learned that
to become a successful
business partner, you need
to understand how the entire
business operation works
and why it is critical to
proactively build effective
relationships across the
business. Understand the
detail. You can’t take short
cuts on technical accounting
knowledge if you want to
help your business grow.
Don’t compromise on getting
the basics right, because
they will serve you well.
Acquiring new
experiences in quality
organisations with different
operating environments will
be invaluable. This will equip
you with the skills and
knowledge you need to lead
best practice. As a leader of
best practice, you will always
get a seat and, more
importantly, a say at the
executive table.
Successful careers often
require massive personal
investments and the
occasional sacrifice. It is easy
for ambitious professionals
to allow work to consume
their lives, but it is important
to try to maintain
perspective. While work is a
big part of your life, it is not
the only part. Remember
that it is up to you to own
your work–life balance.
A key requirement of
being a strong leader of
high-performing teams
is maintaining a good
understanding of your
team and being genuinely
interested in their
welfare and development,
as any challenges they
face outside of work will
affect how they perform.
intheblack.com July 2020 61

CPA Australia

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