Meet the CFO: Kristian Mertens CPA

Copthall Avenue in London, a NDY Group project

The CFO of Norman Disney & Young shows what it really takes to make it to the top.

The role

There are the typical CFO duties – treasury functions, reporting, budgeting. I’m also heavily involved with strategic planning and obviously funding. Then there’s the board role. I sit on two official boards – the NDY Holdings board and the charitable trust board – however, I’m a director of a number of companies within the group. I don’t have too many spare moments, unfortunately!

The team

There are around 20 in the accounting team and approximately half report directly to me across NZ, Australia and the UK. We have a licence in Singapore and Malaysia, but we still operate from here [in Sydney]. I’m managing cash flow of around A$100 million annually. We don’t have a specific finance budget where I’ll say, “OK, I’ve got A$3 million to manage.”

Extracting cash out of those millions, and profitability, and using analytics to inform decision making is really what I’m about now. I am responsible for continuous improvement across a number of key areas in the business.

Kristian Mertens CPA, CFO Norman Disney & Young (NDY Group)

Charity initiative

The charitable trust board is important to me. We established it four years ago. There were so many different initiatives going on – 10 or 12 offices and everyone doing something different – and it was a great opportunity to align our focus, actually set up a trust and market it as such. NDY and staff donate money every year and we run events, raffles, fun runs. We support a number of organisations – anything from building huts to accessing clean water to helping disadvantaged children and orphans.

We’ve streamlined the process. Trying to get everyone on board was a challenge, but three or four years down the track it’s working well.

Career boost

I started at NDY in 2000. My biggest boost was when I was financial controller [2004–07] and there was discussion around whether to go external or internal to fill the CFO role. I’d been working closely with the board and executive to streamline reporting, and brought it back to a week at the end of the month, [and] changed the way we looked at the business. My attitude was anyone can read profit and loss, but to see what it’s actually telling you, how much cash is being generated, we needed to set up health checks in a dashboard format. The story behind the numbers and predictive analysis is the key thing.

Biggest challenge

I have just implemented a new Enterprise Resource Planning system and Travel & Expense system which was challenging but well worth the investment. It’s the biggest project I’ve ever taken on. I was project director and chaired the steering committee all the way through, from March 2013 when we went out to tender, to going live in July 2014. There are still a few issues, however we can access complex data and analytics “on the fly” now.

It was a massive task trying to coordinate management, deal with the committee and staff, the accountants, and the expectations of directors. It was a lot of stakeholders to keep happy!

Key lessons

Don’t assume you know everything. There’s always a better way to do something or to improve on what’s there, be creative, be innovative. In doing so, you improve on yourself and your team. Listen and absorb. Relationships are key in a people business. We want people who are accountable and who respect each other.

This article is from the February 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

February 2015
February 2015

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