Strategic focus: finance meets operations

Dennis Grech FCPA, COO & CFO of Geofabrics Australiasia

Geosynthetics are materials that stabilise terrain and hold big engineering projects together. Dennis Grech FCPA performs much the same function at an Australian company that’s playing in the big league.

Fact File

With Geofabrics Australasia since 2013
Formerly: CFO Futuris Automotive; CEO and CFO Carrick Institute of Education; CFO Manheim Fowles; CFO and head of distribution, Ticketmaster
Education: Bachelor of Commerce, University of Melbourne; MBA, Australian Graduate School of Management Geofabrics Australasia has 230 employees and operations in every Australian state and New Zealand, with manufacturing plants in New South Wales and Queensland
CFO’s team: 12
Annual sales: A$130 million
Exports: Products sold to more than 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific, Europe and Middle East

1. My role: "I've been lucky"

My job is a mix of two roles. There’s the traditional CFO position – finance, tax, IT and legal – we keep our team pretty lean. In addition, two-and-a-half years ago I picked up responsibility for the operational side of the business, which includes manufacturing, supply chain and heading up new product development and innovation. 

I have to ensure our factories continue to be commercially viable, stay lean and competitive, and that new product development is aligned with our manufacturing and sales capability. 

As a CFO, I’ve been lucky to have the chance to work outside the strict boundaries of finance and play a much broader strategic role in implementing a vision for the business. 

2. The challenge: "After the mining boom"

The business in 2013 was stable, but needed to be repositioned because of declining commodity prices and lack of investment from the mining sector. To come straight into a role that required immediate recalibration of the cost base of the business was somewhat confronting. 

The first 18 months were really all about cost management within the company, rethinking how the business was resourced. I worked with our managing director to design a 2020 strategy for the business, which included three pillars of activity. The first pillar, “profit and productivity”, focused on reducing waste and removing costs. I put together a cross-functional team – representation from finance, factories and supply chain – to work through a laundry list of ideas to sharpen our commercial focus.

Professional Development: Thinking like a CFO value pack: take your career to the next level and begin to adopt the skills of an aspiring CFO.

The “business process” pillar looked at how we did business internally and introduced initiatives such as a CRM (customer relationship management) system to develop a stronger connection with our customers. The third pillar, “product development”, looked for growth opportunities, innovation and potential new revenue streams. It is very satisfying to be the architect of the 2020 strategy and to see how that has evolved in the business today.

3. Game-changers: "Fly by the seat of your pants"

The watershed moment was joining Ticketmaster in Victoria in 2000. Until then, I had been in increasingly senior finance roles. With Ticketmaster I not only ran the finance community within the company, but also looked after ticket distribution through box office, internet and call centres. 

It was my first real opportunity to work in a broader operational context. One minute I was bringing Bruce Springsteen to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, the next I was setting up a call centre in Sydney to bring The Lion King to the Capitol Theatre, then working on the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. 

I had a strong finance background and was very commercially aware, but this was my introduction to a role that wasn’t strictly finance. I was thinking on my feet and dealing with some of the old-school rock promoters – very much fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff.

4. The passion: "Fired up"

I love manufacturing and innovation. It’s unique to work in a volume manufacturing business that competes exclusively with product sourced from Asia and Europe. 

To remain commercially viable as a manufacturer, innovation in product development and process design is critical. We have tremendous talent in this country. We’ve got the infrastructure and ability to compete globally, and I’m really excited by the narrative around innovation, advanced manufacturing, collaboration with universities and the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), and companies introducing new technology into mainstream manufacturing. 

It’s exciting working in a space to benefit future generations. Being in a company ahead of the disruptive curve gets me fired up. 

Lessons learned and best advice

Respect
Whether you’re engaging with the chairman of the company or a team member on the factory floor, treat people with respect, acknowledge that everyone has a contribution to make and that no idea is a silly idea. Over time, the business will be better for it because people will be more motivated. Treat people well, reward and recognise good performance, and the business culture will be positive. 

Stay hungry
Retain the hunger for professional and personal development. Really manage your career all the way through. Look for mentors: people who can help you on your journey and people you can trust to give good advice. But at the end of the day, your career is your responsibility.

Learn from mistakes

My experience working in a declining industry (the automotive sector) enables me to engage people with a narrative to motivate them to change. It’s not so much presenting a pessimistic scenario, but sharing real-life situations where historically stable and profitable business models can, over time, become not only unstable but actually go out of business. 

Keep ahead of the curve

Not everyone needs to do an MBA to develop professionally, but seek opportunities for further education, whether formal or informal. It’s a journey that should evolve over time. Don’t ever consider you have reached a stage where you can stop learning, because constant change will leave you in its wake.


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September 2018
September 2018

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