Stephan Prosi, APAC Head of Finance and Control at Nokia Siemens Networks, spoke to CFO Innovation’s Angie Mak on the secrets for smooth collaboration between the finance and sales teams, and how being on the winning team can keep staff motivated.
What is the finance team’s relationship with sales and procurement at Nokia Siemens Networks?
I see a development in the finance team. [During the downturn], their core functions, like ensuring data quality control, shoring up working capital, improving operational efficiency, have gained a much stronger focus — especially operational efficiency and working capital. Not only in our company but across the industry, the finance team has become more important.
But what we also see very strongly in Nokia Siemens Networks is that the finance team is part of the business decision-making process. We are not only on the controlling side — which we certainly are — but we are part of decision making and strategy setting. We provide input, we provide facts, opinions. I like to say we provide reason — I guess from a finance perspective, that’s what you would say. So we are part of the strategy, business-planning, but also business decisions, like deal making.
In that sense, the sales and finance teams collaborate early on in a deal?
Yes, basically throughout the cycle. [The finance team is] part of the long-range planning, and we are part of business decisions — which in our industry, are usually two- or three-year binding commitments. We are also part of short-range target setting.
We also have a very strong involvement in implementation. That’s part of finance. We have to ensure accuracy and accountability. We are very much involved throughout the whole process, which is part of what makes it interesting.
Do you have a very specific culture or way of nurturing the two teams to work together more smoothly?
I believe we have a culture of the finance team being part of the account teams — on the customer-facing side, but also part of the management teams. We have a solid-line reporting structure to the CFO. However, we also have a dotted-line reporting function to the business owner, like a customer team head or a business unit head. So we are very much part of the individual leadership teams, and therefore also part of decision-making and future-setting.
And from my perspective, I believe it is working very well. It is important to have the facts and figures, properly analysed, properly interpreted in decision-making.
What’s the best part of their collaboration? Is there a team dynamic going on that’s different from other companies?
I think it’s a very close relationship of working together. There is a joint goal, joint targets. Targets are often represented in financial numbers, but there might be also other important technology targets.
It is a joint team that is pragmatic, that is hard-working. It is a very close link.
It’s interesting because in some companies, if you don’t have check-and-balance, the sales team sometimes makes rash promises to customers.
Controlling is always a part of finance. It is a core competency, core task that we have. This is why, like in other companies, we have a fixed line reporting to the CFO, which gives [us] — as a finance person — some independence from the business. But this independence should not lead to being a policeman, because the policeman only comes in once something wrong has happened.
So [we] work together to find the right solution for the customer, to make possible [our success] with a certain business deal, a certain technology. Having a financial analysis or the finance function in the deal early on does not ensure a deal will be 100% successful, but it does make it much more likely that the end result will be as expected.
In other words, prevention is better than a cure.
Prevention sounds like something already went wrong! But bringing reason, bringing fact into the decision or discussion at the start will give you a much better chance that the end result will be as expected. It doesn’t guarantee it, but it gives you a much better chance.
What do you feel is most lacking or most needed in finance teams today?
I think a finance team needs good global processes and tools, such as centralised cash management. You gain a lot by having centralised tools as we have; otherwise you cannot even [begin to] think of centralised cash management.
And then you need an intelligent team of finance professionals. To work — not just blindly with the tools, but as a team that is able to shape decisions, able to understand the business and be an integral part of it. So what you need are intelligent people, business-minded people who have the technical skills.
I also agree that it is hard at the moment in Asia-Pacific to find many of these hardworking intelligent people that have the technical skills.
The younger generation of fresh graduates, Generation Y, is causing a lot of headache for leaders in management. What’s your way of keeping them?
Finance people are probably slightly less likely to jump from one opportunity to the next. Finance people, if they have an interesting, valued position in the company, actually do enjoy [their work]. They will show a lot of engagement and interest in the company where they are. If you are able to provide interesting challenges to your people, I believe you’ll have a good chance of keeping them.
I also believe — and this applies not only to finance people — that people like to be in a team or a company that is successful. That’s important. Everyone likes to be on the side of the winner.
If you want to get good people, you have to have some success and the right strategy for success. If I look at Nokia Siemens Networks and our recent development, I believe we are winning where it matters and people see that.
We win LTE deals, we have now ten LTE [long-term evolution, the most advanced third-generation wireless technology] customers, we are winning large managed services deals, and these deals really matter. You do not win market share, in our industry, within two weeks. Cycles [in the telecom industry] have become shorter, but still longer than you would have in consumer goods.
How do you keep finance professionals with you in tough times? When the whole industry is having a difficult time, it can’t be helped that every company is losing money.
You have to have — not only for your people, but also for the market — a strategy that shows that you’re heading in the right direction. Last year the whole economy was in a very tough time — so you have to show to the market, the analysts, but also your own people, that you are heading in the right direction. That you understand what needs to be done to get out of the problem.
You have to be believable, so that people say, “Yes, this is the right place to be because we’re heading in the right direction.” Otherwise, you are only left with people who are too worried or too concerned to move. You want people to be engaged and motivated.
Finance teams are tired. They work long hours, especially at the end of the month. Do you find that just hiring more people is a solution?
From my experience, no. The finance function is certainly driven by a reporting calendar. The monthly closing, the quarter closing, annual closing — that requires a lot of work. That is just part of the job. What is important is that these efforts are recognised, and should never be taken as normal. The effort has to be recognised.
But what is also important is that flexibility is given when there is a chance for it, such as working from home, and finding a balance. To give time for recuperation, rest —- otherwise you will certainly burn out your organisation and you will experience a lot of churn. Prevention is important because the cure will be very expensive and difficult.