Success Series: Interview with Lisa Fraser, Head of Finance at Macquarie
Lisa Fraser shares her career advice and insights:
What's the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
One example of valuable advice I have been given was when I was responsible for a large global team but also managing and balancing a family with four young children. The COO I was working with at the time said to me; “We will have as much of your time as you can give us, but you decide what that amount is and then structure the team around you to make sure it works.” He made sure I was focused on developing a strong team around me to leverage and develop so that I could focus on the strategy of the team and address the things that mattered most as they came up.
Unless you have the right people around you, you often get caught up in the day to day as opposed to the things that make a difference. A strong team will also continue to develop and grow together and achieve much more over time. His advice not only helped me balance my work and personal life but actually made me a much more effective leader and gave me the space to drive change.
What do you believe will be the most important skills within finance over the next 5 years and why?
It’s obviously important to have sound financial skills but I think the skills that will make the difference are the ability to collaborate and connect dots across both the organisation and externally as well as the ability to adapt to change. Finance is no longer just about getting the numbers right, it’s about understanding what they mean and what actions need to be taken as a result of the numbers. It’s about how you can use technology, leverage data better, consider the impact of regulation and the rapidly changing world around us as well as the impact of all those things on the organisation.
Collaboration allows you to leverage a finance function across an organisation to work with others, foresee changes required and adapt. The ability to collaborate is so important as there are so many dots to be connected. One person can’t have all the answers. You need to connect, listen and help bring it all together.
What's the most challenging situation you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
I had a really challenging situation when I wanted to make a change to the way my global team was structured but not everyone had bought into the rationale. It meant that while most of the leadership team agreed and were supportive of the change, there were a few people who continued to challenge and made it difficult to move forward.
In the end I realised that I had to move ahead while addressing as many of their concerns as I could without impacting what we were trying to achieve by the change overall. It wasn’t easy as they were team members that I had worked with for a long time. It made me realise that not everyone will agree with change however its important to continue to move forward and that change is not set in stone - it’s an evolution and can continue to be developed and tweaked as you go.
What are the key habits that you feel make you successful?
I really try to make sure that I have work life balance, for example, I don’t work Fridays. It gives me the ability to spend time outside of work on things that I like to do personally, catch up with friends, spend time with my children, and I think that arrangement makes me happier and more effective. It still surprises me how time outside of the office will give me a different perspective or new idea on how to deal with key decisions and issues inside work.
In terms of habits, I also exercise regularly; I train twice a week and I also run which keeps up my energy levels and helps me maintain a positive outlook when I’m at work. I also always make sure that I prioritise time to mentor and coach my team which creates a constructive work environment; it’s easy for this to slip away if you don’t prioritise it.
What's the most rewarding part of being a Head of Finance?
It’s very exciting as a team to develop a plan for strategic change and then execute that plan. I love seeing the benefits of this for my team and the organisation, but the most rewarding part is seeing the team around me develop, learn and grow as a result of that. It’s challenging and fun at the same time but extremely rewarding.
How do you see the Head of Finance role evolving over the next 5 years?
I see the role being much more aligned with technology and data to drive automation and improved information across the Finance function and the organisation, leaving our teams to focus on the high end of their skillset. I also see it being even more aware of changes in the global external environment to consider in adapting the strategy.
From a people perspective these roles will require more EQ - those who can collaborate and be part of a team to approach issues and address them will be more successful.