CFOs from Block, Meta, Workday, Nordstrom and Estée Lauder explain how their roles are evolving

How is the role of CFOs changing?

That was a topic of discussion during the “The New CFO” panel at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California, on Monday. I had the opportunity to speak with CFOs from Block, Nordstrom, Workday, The Estée Lauder Companies, and Meta’s incoming CFO about what they’re experiencing.

“I really see the CFO role as an increasingly strategic one that helps our company balance aspiration and discipline,” said Amrita Ahuja, CFO of Block, a financial services firm. Aspirations are the big business opportunities that Block wants to address, and discipline measures the effectiveness of Block’s investments, Ahuja said. “The CFO role is well placed because we have real-time data across our business.”

Being strategic is an important element of the role, but CFOs have also become “the adviser, the influencer, the truth teller,” said Nordstrom CFO Anne Bramman. “But it’s also being a leader,” Bramman said. “It’s not just about the financial part or the strategic part, but how you’re leading across the organization. Because a lot of times, we’re the highest-ranking women in the room.”

CFOs are tasked with “driving operational change, guiding business strategy and creating value beyond the bottom line,” said Workday CFO Barbara Larson. Companies are also looking to CFOs to focus on “how you can harness technology and think about data in new ways,” Larson said. “And how do you reinvent the way you think about talent as well?”

“Soon I will be a new CFO,” said Susan Li, Meta’s vice president of finance, who will take up her new role on Nov. 1. a tight finance ship,” Li said. But today, CFOs wear many more hats, such as “the efficient trader hat,” Li said. “The CFO is really a partner in driving the business direction and product vision for the company.”

Today’s CFOs have “a co-pilot role,” said Tracey Travis, executive vice president and chief financial officer of The Estée Lauder Companies. “A lot of companies don’t have COOs or are thinking about eliminating the position,” Travis explained. “So the role of the CFO has become much broader in recent years.”

technology and financial alignment

Leaders highlighted the importance of collaboration between finance and IT teams.

“Technology planning and business planning go hand in hand,” Li said. “We have parts of our finance team dedicated to deconstructing technology problems and figuring out how to design and implement the digital transformation process.”

“Thirty percent of our business is digital…and 75% of our investments are in technology,” Bramman said. “It’s a huge piece of our infrastructure and a huge piece of what we’re spending our money on,” he said.

At Block, “the business technology team and the finance team partner to create automated tools, systems, and dashboards so product teams can access real-time data,” Ahuja said.

“I think it’s critical for IT to have a seat at the table,” Larson said. The first step for CFOs is finding new ways to work with CIOs, she says. “We have a vision at Workday to get to zero-day closure and simplify our process,” Larson explained. “We can’t do that alone. We have to be on the same page with our IT partners.”

At Estée Lauder, IT reports to Travis. “Strategic IT plays a very important role,” he said.

In the current macro environment, leaders noted that their companies are making decisions with a long-term strategy in mind. “As we navigate growing financial uncertainty and volatility, I believe that, like many people in this room, we are putting together our financial plans and budgets for the coming year,” Li said. Meta is looking at operating expenses, capital expenses and headcount, she said. “We expect that we are going to slow down the headcount growth steadily over the next year,” Li said.

“I think everyone is looking at how to reprioritize investment decisions that align with company growth models,” Travis said. “And it’s one of the most important roles a CFO can play. Where do you invest? And where is it disinvested? Decisions about divestment can be tough but necessary choices, Travis said.


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
[email protected]

what a thing

About four in 10 Americans (41%) say that none of their purchases in a typical week are paid for in cash, up from 29% in 2018, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. The percentage of Americans who say that all or almost all of their purchases are paid for in cash in a typical week has decreased from 18% in 2018 to 14% today.

Courtesy of Pew

going deeper

“What Machines Can’t Do (Yet) in Real Work Environments,” a report in the MIT Sloan Management Review, finds that there have been more cases of augmentation of human labor by intelligent machines than of full automation. “AI systems may work well in research lab or highly controlled application settings, but they still need human help in the kinds of real-world work environments we investigated for a new book,” according to the report.

leaderboard

mike noonan was named senior vice president and chief financial officer of Tripadvisor, Inc. (Nasdaq: TRIP), effective October 31. Noonan will succeed Ernst Teunissen, who will step down as chief financial officer. Teunissen will help transition the CFO through the first quarter of 2023. Noonan has more than 30 years of experience. He will join the company from Noom, Inc., a digital health company, where he served as CFO since October 2020. Prior to Noom, Noonan served as Senior Vice President of Finance for Booking Holdings, Inc.

charles anderson was named CFO of XPO Logistics, Inc. (NYSE: XPO), a provider of freight forwarding services, effective November 8. Anderson will replace Ravi Tulsyan, who will be leaving the company after helping with the CFO transition. Anderson most recently served as CFO of Meritor, Inc., a global provider of OEM and aftermarket automotive parts. He has a 25-year career in transportation. Anderson’s previous roles at Meritor include group vice president, finance; treasurer; and director, international capital markets, market risk management and corporate insurance.

overheard

“Public market currency has never been stronger. The number of conversations we have with the companies in our portfolio continues apace. Companies still want to go public.”

—Lynn Martin, director of the New York Stock Exchange, said in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday.

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