As CFO for Transfield Services, it’s important to be able to think on your feet.
Transfield Services provides services in areas from energy and construction to defence across 10 countries. Given this kind of diversity, it’s important to be able to think on your feet, says CFO Vincent Nicoletti.
I originally studied business, but later switched to science.
In the late 1980s I joined WMC (Western Mining). I worked in audit for a while, and then became head of finance for a portfolio of WMC’s nickel and gold operations in Leinster, 400km north of Kalgoorlie.
In 1997, I took a job with Canadian gold junior First Dynasty Mines in a joint venture in the former Soviet Union. For two years we lived and worked in Armenia.
The working language wasn’t English, the legal system and accounting standards were different, and the rule of law was sometimes opaque.
Like most CFO roles in service companies, it’s a mix of the normal business partnering, governance, compliance, evaluating, intervening and setting direction across a wide range of activities. You need to get the balance right.
The commercial focus and involvement at tactical and strategic levels makes it interesting and rewarding. In terms of direct reports, my immediate team numbers more than 100; indirectly, across the various functions out in divisional and site offices across Australia, New Zealand and the Americas, it is in the hundreds of people.
Company turnover is about A$4 billion a year and the operating budgets of the functions I’m responsible for are in the millions.
I was asked to join Transfield by its CEO, Graeme Hunt. I was his CFO in a previous life with BHP Billiton’s aluminium business in London.
We worked well together then and we work very well together now. Transfield is a company in transition in an incredibly tough sector and I was enthused by the challenge.
The move also worked for me on a personal and family level. It was an easy decision.
Lessons from Armenia
Working in Armenia, you had to be nimble, flexible and deal with lots of challenges.
Not only was the business challenged (gold prices were tanking and the operation was still under development), but it was a different culture, and the joint-venture partner had different priorities – all in an unclear legal and regulatory environment.
Until you’ve lived through that, you don’t know whether you’ll be able to step up. I learned that flexibility is important. Without that experience, I don’t think I’d be in this role now.
Armenia was the start of a series of international postings. It’s been the backbone of the rest of my career.
The game changer was going international; working in three countries over 15 years.
Going to Armenia was risky, but I ended up working for First Dynasty, Billiton PLC in London, and later for BHP Billiton.
These weren’t mainstream finance roles, more a mix of finance and business development.
The services sector is tough. The challenges are to develop more process discipline and a laser-like focus on balance-sheet management.
Put simply, live within your means. Being able to think on your feet is important, too. In the words of Douglas Adams: “Don’t panic.”
CFOs are always at the centre of challenging, seemingly intractable issues. You’ve got to keep your head and steady the ship.
This article is from the October 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.