As CFO of the City of Melbourne, Michael Tenace FCPA is in charge of the purse strings

Michael Tenace FCPA, City of Melbourne CFO, is passionate about building and leading high-performance teams. Photo: Damien Pleming.

Formerly with Australia Post, Michael Tenace FCPA joined City of Melbourne as CFO in October 2018.

At a glance

  • Joined City of Melbourne as CFO in October 2018.
  • Formerly with Australia Post, leaving as general manager – procurement and environment (CPO).
  • Prior to that, CFO of global finance at BTR Laminates Group.
  • Consolidated City of Melbourne income: about A$705 million.
  • CFO’s current team: 52.

My role: long-term focus

The City of Melbourne is a key stakeholder in an extraordinary agenda of infrastructure projects, including the A$11 billion Metro Tunnel public transport project, the renewal of our iconic Queen Victoria Market and the ongoing investment in local precincts and community facilities. It is Australia’s fastest-growing city, and by 2051 the greater Melbourne area will be home to eight million people.

As CFO, I have to play my role in the city’s rollout of community, social and commercial projects that meet the needs of a fast growing, sustainable metropolis. That means aligning short-term initiatives and long-term strategies with the financial resources at hand.

I enjoy working in a diverse organisation where finance is challenged by business operations, the design and capital works teams, plus advisers and advocates of everyday Melburnians, to hear their ideas and recommendations. My team, through broad collaboration, has to devise a commercially viable plan that delivers for everybody.

When you’re serving the community and broader Victoria, it’s not just about considering the financials, but rather all of the other values and benefits around such projects. It requires a balanced-scorecard perspective with an overlay of environmental, community and key stakeholders.

The CFO has a key financial and commercial role in today’s business world and must be a strategic adviser to the CEO and the executive leadership team. Most modern businesses are facing an enormous demand for change from their customers – in City of Melbourne’s case that means the community and ratepayers, and local and overseas visitors who are looking for better services, better facilities and better experiences. Getting the financing and funding balance right and ensuring that we are efficient requires constant attention and vigilance.

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Part of my role – and one I am passionate about – is building and leading high performance teams. When you come into an organisation like ours, and you complement its vast organisational knowledge with your own ideas and capabilities, there are many opportunities.

When you combine that with leveraging the skills of graduates and experienced managers or the sharp young professionals that we have here, you can really enhance outcomes and introduce new methods of measuring the business and its operations. That means you can really deliver for the community and the 900,000 people who enter the city and walk the streets every day.

Game changers: culture counts

Having a global CFO role relatively early in my career at BTR Laminates Group has been a real advantage for me.

One of my early finance managers and mentors at the time encouraged me to step beyond my daily management accounting role to understand the challenges facing the sales, production and operations teams. It exposed me to industrial engineers and other operations that were focused on ensuring the highest-quality product was delivered to the customer.

I’ve always valued that experience because it taught me that business should not just be seen through a financial or efficiency lens; you need to understand the barriers to overcome, how systems are working, how operations and logistics are integrating and how products and services are delivered to customers.

Working in a business with operations across four continents also showed me that culture comes in all shapes and sizes, as does diversity. We’ve got that dynamic. It’s a melting pot of so many different cultures, and we are tapping into that and delivering the best possible outcomes through engaging, collaborating and better-practice teams and projects.

Two decades of experience at Australia Post was also a game changer for me. During that time there was an emphasis on new challenges, change and transformation, and the importance of setting your own nonnegotiable values and commitments to your team and colleagues. Those lessons serve me well in my City of Melbourne role.

My challenges: driving value

We are involved in a number of large, generational investment programs. You don’t spend A$250 million on the Queen Victoria Market upgrade every 10 or 20 years - these investments must stand the test of time.

We face some real challenges in that regard. I have come to understand that value comes in many different ways; it’s not just a rate of return. Smart portfolio asset management is crucial to deliver new and enhanced services across the community. We need to ensure that our planning, design and place making are spot on so we maintain an ongoing experience and feel for the city.

Lessons learned and advice

1. Be commercial and take on challenges
“Accept new roles and get out of your comfort zone. If you believe in your ability, you’ll get the confidence to step out of finance alone and drive some of the key commercial activities that are transferable across many functions in the organisation.”

2. Ask questions
“For younger CPAs coming through the ranks, don’t be afraid to ask many, many questions because you can tap into the experience of colleagues, managers and leaders right across the organisation and leverage their knowledge.”

3. Prioritise the customer
“There are times as finance executives that we can be distracted by internal matters and the ongoing challenges of efficiency improvements, but whatever the lens is that’s driving an investment, make sure that you run it through a customer-first perspective.”

4. Recruit intelligently
“Continually look to develop your internal team, but if you do need immediate additional capabilities and skills, recruit wisely [and select candidates] with strong commendations.”


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July 2019
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