Meet the CFO: Nicole Peck CPA

Nicole Peck CPA

Public health is keen for a more "business" way of thinking as it moves to consumer-directed care, and one CFO's love of innovation is just the ticket to getting there.

The role

I have about 60 to 70 people in the team, with six direct reports. I oversee commercial finance, financial control, building services, procurement, strategy and customer billing teams. Our objective is to create financial and infrastructure capacity for the organisation.

In addition, we oversee controls and governance for Barwon Health, a A$600 million organisation. Most of our spend is labour, around A$100 million is non-labour, and our asset base is about A$550 million. We’ve just built our next five-year strategic plan and are awaiting ministerial approval [from the Victorian Government] before launching it outside our organisation.

Knowing the numbers

I always liked maths and accounting at school. I had an affinity for numbers. In the workplace I began to use numbers to interpret situations. They don’t give you the whole story, but they help in understanding the financial dynamics. Are the numbers aligned to what I think is going on, or am I seeing a different pattern emerge?

It’s about putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The finances guide you to the place where you can raise concerns or find opportunity.

Getting there

I’ve been in the job for just under two years. I made a conscious choice to move industries because I’d been in retail [at Target] for so long, more than 20 years. I was at that stage in my career where I was either staying in retail forever or making a change.

I honestly didn’t think I’d get the Barwon Health CFO position. I thought the board and CEO would be after someone with health experience, but they wanted to bring more commercial thinking into the organisation, to treat it more like a business.

Challenges ahead

Across health services there’s a similar trend towards commercial expertise in response to the continued headwinds we face in health, with further changes to federal government funding expected in the near future. Every year we have to find efficiency gains as the funding we get is always inadequate for the cost increases and volumes we’re trying to put through and the targets we have to meet.

We need to go to another level, so it’s about building a capability and a culture to continually move forward. There are a lot of challenges on the horizon, but I also see a lot of opportunities – it’s just about unleashing them.

Why I love my job

It’s an innovative culture. The attitude is to take charge of our destiny. Internally, the challenge is to generate funds to reinvest in strategic initiatives for Barwon Health, maintaining positive momentum instead of cutting back and falling into a negative spiral of not being able to do anything.

My challenge is to harness that – if anything, I need to accelerate it. I’ve been surprised at how innovative public health is. Business could learn something from its discipline.

Biggest lesson

Skills are transferable. People were astounded when I moved from retail to health. What was I thinking? The learning curve is massive. There’s a seven-page document just for the acronyms! But the fundamental financial acumen you need is the same.

You must still grow your revenue, achieve throughput at the lowest possible cost, and remove non-value-add costs. You use the same investment decision-making process as in retail. Risk assessment is the same.

The lesson is be bold. Have the courage to change industries because skills are transferable. You’ll learn about a whole new world.

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