Matthew Needham made the leap from corporate life to public service three years ago after moving from the UK to New Zealand. Change is easy, he says; it’s the embedding you need to get right.
Matthew Needham FCPA
New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (DIA)
What is the DIA?
The DIA provides myriad services, such as New Zealand passports, operating and curating the National Library, regulating casino gaming and operating the harbour master on Lake Taupo. We supply government ICT [information and communications technology] as well.
It’s one of the oldest government departments [created in 1840]. We basically support seven ministers and our annual expenditure is approximately NZ$550 million. There are about 2300 people in the DIA, including a finance team of 65 people who report to me.
The challenge for me over the past year has been embedding a new financial system and getting to a position where we could provide planning insight rather than simply reporting the numbers. When I came to the department, they were implementing a new financial system that would see us operate in a shared-services environment with the Inland Revenue Department to provide financial management services.
Get good people
What we’re trying to avoid is the public service merry-go-round where people are constantly recruited from other government departments. Where possible, we try to grow the talent pool, including using Kiwis who have returned from overseas with good skills and different perspectives.
One of my favourite phrases is: “We want doctors, not reporters.” We don’t want people telling us what we did yesterday, but rather using that information to develop
a prognosis of what might actually happen.
Corporate vs public
Being able to adapt to changing input is as important as staying on course. Coming into a government organisation was an eye-opener for me. I realised that a lot of skills I learned
in the corporate sector, such as value-adding and growing investor confidence, are just as relevant to the public service.
Just because government is outcome-orientated and corporate is profit-orientated doesn’t mean it requires a lesser skill set. If anything, you have to be more focused, more disciplined and more driven to achieve the desired outcomes.
Leadership essentials: Leading change - Online
I hadn’t worked in the public service until I came to New Zealand. I started my career as a graduate trainee with Rolls-Royce aerospace. After Rolls-Royce, for 11 years I was head of finance for corporate and technology at Experian, a global data and analytics business.
I held a number of senior finance roles for the likes of B.T. and DHL, and worked with several universities on cost management projects. I’ve always worked in areas of change – organisational, people or financial management change.
One thing that sticks out is the need to get your message across clearly. I once worked with an organisation heading for bankruptcy, but no-one knew it. They had parted company with their previous CFO on acrimonious terms.
When they told me the story, I was able to let them know their situation and give insight into how they could turn things around. Everyone talks about change, but I’ve discovered change itself is quite easy. It’s embedding that change that is difficult. People need to know why a change is being made and where they fit in to the plan.
This article is from the December issue of INTHEBLACK
Meet more CFOs