Meet the CFO: Graham Kerr FCPA

Kerr has been in the CFO seat at BHP Billiton since November 2011 and the job is not getting stale.

The essence of a business isn’t transactions and dollars, Kerr says, but its people and productive relationships.

In the begining

I first joined BHP Billiton as a graduate in January 1994 and have been lucky to work in a number of roles ranging from operations to finance across the group. This has allowed me to work in diverse locations in Australia, South Africa, South America, the UK and Canada.

While at university, I managed to get on the CPA Australia work experience program in a biscuit factory and when I started looking at future employers, that combination of theory and practical experience made a big difference. The flexibility of the CPA Program was critical in allowing me to join BHP Billiton as a graduate and complete my studies.

The role

As group CFO, I’m responsible for our value management, strategy, acquisition and divestments, tax, investor relations and supply. I’m a member of the group management committee and I chair the investment committee and financial risk management committee.

An important part of my role is active engagement with our investors who are spread around the globe. We spend A$36 billion per annum on operating costs and last year we spent around A$22 billion on capital expenditure.

This is a placeholder imageInfluences

Part of the challenge in working out what kind of leader you want to be is formulating your own authentic style. I’ve been lucky to work with some incredibly talented people at BHP Billiton and have tried to capture the best of their influence, particularly our CEO Andrew Mackenzie – who has a very engaging leadership style – and [former CEO] Marius Kloppers, who has the ability to think outside the box and get things done.

Career boosts #1

Throughout my career there have been numerous times when I was stretched. However, I learned from these experiences and as a consequence I developed my own leadership skills. Early in my career I was part of the construction of the Cannington project – a lead, silver and zinc mine in North Queensland – and the first couple of years of operations.

It was a great experience to help establish a business from scratch, building the culture, and then helping with the transition to operations.

Career boosts #2

At an early stage in my career I was willing and fortunate to move into the VP of finance job in our diamonds business in northern Canada. It was a challenging location because of the remoteness, it snowed for 10 months of the year and had long periods of darkness. It was a fantastic opportunity at an early age as I had a broad range of responsibilities and I managed to see how resource companies can have a positive impact in the communities where we operate, and even today it is one of my proudest experiences.

Important lessons

In a world where information flows freely, it’s not only about transactions, facts, dollars. It’s about relationships you build with local stakeholders – from people working in your business to communities you impact, local or national NGOs, and various levels of government. That’s something I’ve become more attuned to.

This article is from the April 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

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