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Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Fueling Digital-age Success with an Integrated Approach to Finance Talent

Guest Author

Guest Post by Ivgen Guner, Senior Vice President, Global Business Finance, Oracle

When it comes to the performance of the finance function, there is a stunning disconnect between what CEOs need from their CFOs and what they’re getting.  According to a recent global survey of 563 CEOs conducted by KPMG, 97 percent said that attracting and retaining finance talent is the most important contributing factor to improving the finance function.  Yet only 33 percent of those same CEOs gave their CFOs a passing grade in talent management.

At Oracle, there is no such disconnect. Oracle CEO Safra Catz uses the analogy of finance’s role as a co-pilot of the business, using our business partnering skills and data-driven insights to make sure that we are influencing the right business outcomes as we pivot to the cloud. We have invested heavily in the development of the finance talent we need as a company, to navigate through digital disruption.

Yet finding and hiring finance top guns can be an incredibly expensive proposition, especially in an economy where data is the new capital. A better strategy is to look holistically at the needs of the business with management, then tightly partner with your human resources (HR) business partners to create an integrated approach to finance talent that is based on a common language, approach, and methodology to evaluating skills, hiring and training, and nurturing talent.

Finance professionals should be true business partners

At Oracle, the process of building a world-class finance team is based on a four-step approach:

  • Identify the skills required to lead in a quickly evolving business climate.
  • Acquire and develop talent that possesses (or can quickly learn) those skills.
  • Build flexibility into our organization and culture, using technology to automate routine processes so that finance can focus on influencing outcomes.
  • Carefully cultivate, educate and mentor such talent, shaping their career paths to put them in the best position to succeed.

Three Critical Skill Sets

Assembling a finance team in this day and age begins by sitting back and looking at what the business requires.  What type of skill sets are needed? What are the process requirements? What are the competencies that are required?

Since Oracle operates in a very intensive, competitive industry, we needed to hire those with the skill sets needed to thrive in such a culture. To do that, I worked very closely with my HR partners to target the top skills we identified as critical for Oracle:

  • Technical Expertise:  Obviously you need a rock-solid foundation in finance and economics, but what I really look for are people with a highly strategic side, people with a focus on looking at future needs rather than looking at historical trends.
  • Business Acumen: It is critical that business partners understand the strategy of the business. What elements of the matrix are most important? How do you advise based on this knowledge?  Our business leaders are looking to finance to tell them the two or three most important things to focus on in a sea of data and numbers, and we need to be able to provide that business insight to them.
  • Interpersonal and Behavioral Skills: These are the hardest to find in candidates and also the hardest to develop once they’re hired. An effective business partner is one who can communicate clearly, build strong partnerships, influence and advocate and provide change leadership.

Hiring Top Finance Talent

We have a very, very focused college recruiting program and internship program that helps us identify people with fresh perspectives, coming out of diverse educational and demographic backgrounds.

When looking to fill roles for experienced professionals, the recruiting team occasionally must look for exceptional outside talent, but we also look internally whenever possible to identify those individuals who are ready for a new experience or a new challenge and have the capability to take off in a higher position.

Working closely with HR, we hold regular talent reviews to identify individuals who really have a high potential for accelerated growth.  My HR and Organization Development Consulting partners are always present in all of my staff meetings so they have a strong grasp of the issues we are dealing with and how new team members could contribute.

As a result of having a robust talent review process, any time a non-entry level position is open, I don’t have to wait weeks to uncover potential candidates; we can look to our talent pool to identify 4-5 candidates highly qualified to fill the role.

Building Flexibility into our Organization and Culture

Every CFO is trying to accomplish what I feel like are opposite goals: provide management with better information and insight, yet do it with fewer resources.  That’s where technology and automation can help.  At Oracle, we’ve followed four simple principles to support the company’s continuous transformation, both in finance and across the business: simplification, standardization, centralization, and automation.  

The more you can simplify and standardize business processes, and make as many transactions as touchless as possible, the more  time and capacity you free up, to concentrate on strategic decision support and on grooming top talent.  Having that capacity and scalability is what is really allowing us to be flexible as an organization, and allocate people and analytical capabilities to new growth opportunities for Oracle.

Educating and Mentoring Talent

A true co-pilot must be versed in virtually every aspect of the business. We identify our top talent and then give them the kinds of experiences that allow them to be true business partners.  These up-and-coming leaders are provided with exposure to multiple geographies, lines of business, and executive partnering opportunities.

We also expose our talent to ongoing training, to constantly hone skills and add new ones as business requirements change.  Last fiscal year we launched the Oracle Global Business Finance Academy to provide a common framework, language, and methodology to our training efforts for three audiences:  Business Partners, Business Partner Support, and Center of Excellence.

The courses are designed to strengthen both the analytical and soft skills required for business partnering, and all have practical applications in the workplace. They range from pure finance like Financial Data Analysis and Decision Making to Presenting Your Ideas at the Executive Level, and the curriculum changes as our business needs evolve.  All courses are delivered virtually through the cloud, are modular, and taught by experts and university professors. 

A pleasant surprise has been how many employees are banging our doors down to get into these classes. They fill up almost as soon as we post them, and the response has gone well beyond our expectations. Seventy-seven percent of employees have participated in the program, with 92 percent saying they’d recommend courses to others.  But the best validation is the compliments I’ve received from the line of business executives my team supports.  We’re not done—I don’t think we can ever be done—but it’s clear to me that we’ve reached a pivot point in the strategic role that finance is being asked to play as a true business partner.

The Global Business Finance Academy program is an initiative that I am incredibly proud of.  I’m also very proud of the role that my finance team has played in helping to shape the strategy and execution behind Oracle’s pivot to the cloud and transition to a subscription-based revenue model.  I’ll share more details on that in my next post!

For further reading, we encourage you to read the WSJ Custom Studios report, Winning the War for Finance Talent.

 

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