How a finance team can improve community health

Brandon Howard CPA.

Brandon Howard CPA is passionate about driving a customer focus in the health sector. As executive general manager corporate at genU, he sees first-hand how a finance team can improve community health.

When Brandon Howard CPA took a job as a financial controller in the health sector, he soon saw how a finance team could contribute to improving community health.

Today, he is executive general manager corporate at genU, a national organisation with an annual A$300 million turnover that provides disability, employment, aged and training services. 

“Being part of an organisation that empowers individuals to gain independence and reach their full potential is what drives me,” Howard says. 

Growing up in Geelong, south­west of Melbourne, the son of a wool classer, he fell into accountancy by default. 

“I was studying accounting in year 11 and a trainee accountant role came up at a local law firm,” he recalls. 

Eloquent and humorous, he wasn’t certain he was suited to a position some might consider “bookish”, but accepted the opportunity. 

Combining work and study, Howard completed year 11, then an associate diploma of business at Gordon Institute and, later, a commerce degree and master of business administration (MBA) at Deakin University. 

He gained full CPA status in 2000, something he says gave him the foundational skills and recognition he needed to progress his career. 

Since then, he’s carved out an impressive professional path, kicking off in 1997 with a steep learning curve as CFO at Bargain Tiles (now National Tiles). 

“In my first commercial role I became very streetwise, having to manage a broad range of corporate services including cash flow, debtors, human resources and the introduction of an IT platform,” he says.

After a short return to public accounting, during the introduction of the GST, Howard became CFO at Geelong-based G-Force Recruitment. 

It set him up for his eventual move into health care as financial controller at Barwon Health, Victoria’s largest regional healthcare provider, where Howard recalls that the various abbreviations and acronyms nearly caused him to throw in the towel. 

However, he quickly saw that the role was an opportunity for him to make an important contribution to community health. 

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Howard continued to study and maintains that combining education and work gave him an edge in a very competitive employment environment. 

During the next nine years, from 2005, he held a variety of senior health roles in addition to Barwon Health, gathering operational experience as he went. These included general manager finance and procurement at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne and business operations manager at Epworth HealthCare, Victoria’s largest not-for-profit private healthcare group.

His overriding focus has been redirecting finance staff to become more customer-focused, which he says required significant cultural change. 

“The role of finance professionals is not just about balancing the books anymore,” Howard insists. “We all [need to] continue to go beyond the numbers to strategise, embrace the future and move to visionary, results-oriented leadership

“We need to be prepared to take risks, think beyond the norm and to question the status quo. As Albert Einstein said: ‘If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got’.” 

Finance professionals need to build a strong culture based on values, accountability, rewarding outcomes, open communication and having some fun, Howard believes. 

With the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Howard moved to genU Karingal St Laurence in 2014. Although his role has slowly changed, it has supported his career aspiration to move into an operational capacity.

“A continued challenge is managing expectations and the various stakeholders within our organisation,” he says. “Working for a community-based, not-for-profit organisation means there is an ongoing tension between the heart of the organisation and financial viability.” 

In his career to date, he cites leading the acquisition and integration of a A$140 million national employment organisation into genU as the greatest highlight. 

Another of Howard’s key passions is developing and empowering others as president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), the national peak body for finance professionals in the healthcare sector. He is in no doubt that the association plays a vital role in ensuring a sustainable healthcare system.

One piece of advice

“Find a passion in life that contributes to your community and make sure you focus on the things that really matter. This will ensure a level of perspective when you are having one of those challenging days.”

Read next: Check up: what skills do accountants working in healthcare need?

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October 2018
October 2018

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