Meet the CFO: Wayne Stokes FCPA, Carnival Australia.
I handle finance, IT, supply chain, market analytics, strategic investments and our negotiated travel with airlines as part of the procurement process. There are about 60 in the team covering those parameters, mostly in Australia with one in New Zealand. Carnival Australia accounts for about 10 per cent of global passengers. This equates to about A$2 billion in total revenue across the region. Last year, we carried about eight million cruise passenger days. Carnival has had 20 per cent annual growth over the past seven years.
I was very good at music, but as soon as my voice broke I fell back on the numbers. I was always good at mathematics and that led into the finance side and accounting. I often say to my team that you have to have a bit of colour – it’s not just about content, but selling the numbers with a bit of panache. Stakeholders need context as well as content; they need to know the story.
I was European CFO for the Toga Group of companies when we were building the Medina brand in Scandinavia and Germany, so hospitality/tourism is something I’ve had experience in. But I’d never been on a ship until I started with Carnival. The opportunity came up through good connections in recruitment; I chatted to [Carnival CEO] Ann Sherry and it all fell into place. Going abroad was the game changer for me, first with Morgan Stanley, then Lend Lease took me way out of my comfort zone. Working in financial services with a big-name company, I learnt a lot. With Lend Lease, I also lived in Atlanta, Georgia. It gave me that broad international experience.
Mentors who mattered
The first one was the CFO at National Mutual [part of the Lend Lease group], who said to me in a review: “You’re at that point where you need to decide how you’re going to get to the next level – and you need to stay focused or you’ll just remain one of the pack.” I’ve never forgotten those words. Then there’s Ann [Sherry]. She is a powerhouse and a major reason I’ve continued to grow in this role. She pushes, prods and challenges, but with genuine support and care. You have to earn your stripes, but if you do, she is amazingly supportive.
I’ve learned not to worry about the scale of the job I’m doing; to focus on the end goal. I have a motto – “You’ve got to live to ride, but ride to live” – meaning you have to be motivated, passionate and persistent to get where you want to go. Once you’re there, you have to be patient, focused and engaged with stakeholders. If you don’t do both, you might get there, but you’ll fall over pretty quickly. And when you’re about to send an email, don’t. Save it in your drafts for a day and then decide.
I’ve had a lot of professional highs but, professionally, finishing my MBA was the greatest. It took me out of my comfort zone and finance orientation. My time at Lend Lease was excellent – a lot of disciplines were formed early on, such as project management. I loved living in London and the US; they were great opportunities. But you also make your own opportunities.