Love your job and others lessons from a CFO

Marcell Judkins FCPA, CFO Victoria International Container Terminal. Photo by Benny Capp.

Marcell Judkins FCPA has found her CFO role at the Port of Melbourne’s brand new, fully automated container terminal is as much ambassadorial as it is financial.

Fact File

Joined: November 2015 
Based: Melbourne, Australia
Qualifications: CPA; Bachelor of Business (Finance and Accounting) and MBA from Deakin University; GAICD
Other roles: Non-executive director Scope Victoria
Formerly: Group finance manager IT at Telstra; CFO/company secretary at Lifebroker of TAL Life; group financial controller/acting CFO for REA Group; project leader (Six Sigma Black Belt role) for risk team, GE Money (now Latitude Finance); financial controller, GE Capital (now Custom Fleet)
Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT):  The operator of Melbourne’s largest container terminal, VICT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Filipino company ICTSI, which runs 30 terminals around the world. It opened for commercial operations in April 2017 
Team: Three people with Shared Services in Manila
Annual revenue: Too early to quantify 

1. The role: "It's like a start-up"

One of the key things that attracted me to this job in the first place is that it is essentially a start-up. However, being an infrastructure start-up, the numbers have a lot more zeroes. I’m dealing with traditional stakeholder management, international lenders, government and both sides of politics. 

The International Container Terminal (VICT) is a key part of the privatisation process in Victoria; much of the A$9.7 billion [50-year lease fee] for the Port of Melbourne was raised on the projected income stream from the terminal, and the Future Fund [Australia’s sovereign wealth fund] was part of the successful tender process.

A part of my role is promoting the fully automated terminal, explaining what it means for Australian imports and exports in terms of sea trade.

I’m across financial affairs such as compliance and reporting, but also legal matters and IT planning. IT is a significant cost to our business, so understanding that is crucial.

As part of the executive team, I’m also involved in marketing, and across our employment processes, such as the challenges of working with a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).

I also work with the CEO to anticipate future capacity. To get the numbers ready, projecting capacity, projecting our ability to meet that capacity, is a very long-term play.

2. Game changers: "Lemons into lemonade"

When I was working in risk at GE Money, I was assigned a project setting up the operational risk structure. I had no background in this; it was all about processes and determining operational risk. It wasn’t “sexy”, no-one was interested in it and I’d drawn the short straw. I wasn’t too happy, but I realised if I didn’t work out a way to engage, it wouldn’t be good for my career, especially at a company where you’re only as good as your last project.

I reframed the project in my own mind and shifted the dialogue. I talked with consulting agencies, my counterparts and leader at GE, and ended up developing benchmark processes. The US office said I was doing such a fantastic job it wanted me to share it with our other international businesses at several conferences.

This set the bar for GE and even the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority wanted to find out how we integrated it and got it working properly.

The operational risk lessons I learned on that project I now use as a director and a CFO in how I engage, get people’s attention about risk and measure it. Sometimes with lemons, you have to make lemonade.

When I joined REA Group, a large real estate advertising company, it had annual growth of 25 to 30 per cent. It was a 24/7 business with international operations, so it was about prioritising. You might be working for a year on a project and then something would happen and it would be history, despite all your effort. Learning to prioritise, be agile and move quickly have all been invaluable in my career ever since.

3. Challenge: "Negotiating a minefield"

After ICTSI won the tender for the new Port of Melbourne terminal in May 2014, funding became a massive challenge. Seven international banks were involved –  Standard Charter, Taiwan’s Cathay United Bank, Bank of China, DBS, KfW IPEX-Bank Investec and Citi as the lead banker. Australian banks deemed it too risky. We were looking for long-term financing, five to 15-plus years, but Australian banks were only interested in the short term.

Our terminal is state-of-the-art automation; the best in the world at the moment. The Finnish-built, specialist robotic equipment represented a significant amount of the A$600 million investment. We also inherited certain requirements under our tenancy deed that conflicted with what the banks wanted. Lenders were also unsure who would be the ultimate concession authority because the privatisation process wasn’t finalised.

Professional Development: CPA Q&A. Access a handpicked selection of resources each month and complete a short monthly assessment to earn CPD hours. Exclusively available to CPA Australia members.

We secured a very involved guarantee with Finland’s export credit agency, Finnvera. The process was incredibly complicated; the absence of long-term services agreements meant risks had to be addressed through some pretty innovative structuring. That’s one of the reasons we won the FinanceAsia Best Project Finance Deal award in 2016 – for negotiating our way through that minefield.

Implementing the workplace culture was another major challenge: setting up our culture and financial processes, and being mindful how those impacted culture. We’re trying to establish a modern workplace, to lose the negative aspects of the traditional waterfront culture.

We have an EBA with the Maritime Officers Union [rather than the Maritime Union of Australia] because all those 60-metre cranes on the foreshore at Port Melbourne are being driven by desk-based operators 1.5km away; not quite at the tech standard of military drones, but a bit like an arcade game.

Lessons learned and best advice

Love your job
Someone told me many years ago at GE: “You’ve got to love the seat you’re in.” I’ve added: “And not the job you were promised.” I use this a lot with millennials. People accept roles with the promise of eventual promotion or change, but the reality is, if you’re not happy in a job, you won’t give it your best. Be clear about the role you’re taking, make sure you love it or have the ability to love it because only then will you do the best job you can and earn promotion opportunities.

Get the blood pumping 
My high-school economics teacher said you’ve got to get your blood pumping – get engaged, get emotionally involved and you’ll produce your best work.

I like to do the due diligence, do the risk assessment and take the chances when they come along. I make the most of every opportunity.

Be reliable
You’re influencing people in everything that you do, so think about being consistent and reliable. Early on in your career, when you’re not making big decisions, people come to you because they want something done. You can establish your brand by being reliable in your output.

Don’t get lost in translation
When you’re adding value, don’t get too caught up on the detail; think about the process. Translate the numbers, but don’t tell people what happened, tell them about the trends, what the impact of those trends is and how they can be used to grow the business or manage risk.

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March 2018
March 2018

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