Meet the CFO: Race Strauss CPA

As CFO at high-flying Jetstar, Strauss has taken the road less travelled into aviation.

Updated 26 August 2016

The role

I lead the finance and IT group, in charge of property and financial shared services. We have Jetstar businesses in Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, and I sit on some of the boards. We have a team of about 100, but there’s also a large outsource component, especially in IT.

Budget-wise, we’re talking A$100 million [for the first half of the 2014 financial year, Jetstar Group had revenues of A$1.67 billion]. We also do a lot with treasury and leases – obviously a lot of capital is tied up in aircraft.

Getting hired

Most of my working life has been in consumer products, but whether you’re dealing with planes or deodorant, many finance concepts are the same.

I spent 20 years with Unilever, working in Australia, throughout Asia and in London, covering all gambits of the finance function.

In Vietnam I was even running marketing at one point – in charge of the Sunlight dishwashing brand and Vim floor cleaner. So I had a chuckle when I was asked via a headhunter to work for Jetstar. But it’s a fantastic brand, a growing company, aligned to my values and a good cultural fit.

Career path

Race Strauss CPAI grew up on the Gold Coast and was food and beverage manager at the Gold Coast Turf Club. I was able to get a job with Unilever in Sydney – in tax – did a couple of years there and was given opportunities that led to financial controlling, management accounting and treasury.

I went to Hong Kong, China, then Singapore in a junior general management position. I also spent time in IT and supply chain. I received a lot of career development across a broad spectrum. I was CFO in Vietnam then went to London doing global mergers and acquisitions focusing on Africa and Asia.

I was then sent back to Australia to be CFO of the company that had originally employed me, which I found particularly rewarding.

Then it was back to Singapore, taking a regional role looking after Australia and 10 countries across the South-East Asia region.

Strengths

My strength is people. The CFO role has a lot of greyness in it, some boring stuff and a lot of hard work. My job is to get the most out of my team and the Jetstar team. It’s something I enjoy.

There is a big difference between being a manager versus a leader. To lead people, you’ve got to take time to understand them, engage with them, help them. That doesn’t come just by adding up the numbers.

Career boost #1

Unilever gave me a chance in China in the early 1990s, setting up an ice-cream business in Shanghai, then a giant construction site. I was to be the junior guy on a new management team.

But the finance guy never arrived, and instead of replacing him, they told me to give it my best shot. It threw me into a swimming pool that I couldn’t see the bottom of, but I didn’t drown.

Career boost #2

When I was the CFO in Unilever Australasia, that business was in all sorts of pain and various options were being considered, including disposal. But we turned it around and got more growth and profitability than they’d seen before – and we did it in three years. That was another big leg-up, in terms of experience and allowing me to be promoted to the next level.

This article is from the July 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.


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