Duncan Webster: Creating value beyond numbers

Duncan Webster, CFO Mars Wrigley Australia. Photo: Jarrod Barnes.

Duncan Webster enjoys the technical aspects of his role, but devotes most of his energy to the leadership component and being a "value creation architect".

At a glance

  • Duncan Webster has held various senior roles at Mars, Incorporated – the global parent company of Mars Wrigley – since 2003. He started his most recent role as CFO of Mars Wrigley Australia in August 2020.
  • Most recently, Webster spent three years in Chicago as the global chocolate business unit finance director of Mars Wrigley. Prior to this, Webster was the chief financial officer for Mars Chocolate Australia (now Mars Wrigley Australia) from 2012 to 2017.
  • Revenue and profit: Private company

My role: the whole picture

My key responsibility is to empower my finance team to ensure we are well positioned within the business to influence value creation plans for Mars Wrigley’s iconic brands, both today and into the future.

While the majority of my work as a finance professional is relatively technical, I tend to focus more of my energy, where I can, on the leadership aspect of my role.

My priority is ensuring that every team member understands the area of the business they are supporting and how the business operates at every level, from the factory floor through to the market.

I encourage my team members to spend some time both in sales roles and onsite at our factories. I find this is the best way to learn the ins and outs of our business, and it enables our associates to have more meaningful and credible conversations with our customers and stakeholders.

By focusing on more than just the financial aspect of the business, our team – at all levels – can extend to add strategic value to the business planning process.

Another integral part of my role is to be a strategic business adviser to our general manager and broader leadership team. I’m constantly partnering with different functional leaders to help identify areas of the business that can be optimised to unlock further improvements, efficiencies and growth.

Game changers: impactful communication

One of my earlier roles at Mars, Incorporated was as strategy manager for the Asia-Pacific region of Mars Petcare, where I worked with a diverse range of stakeholders who came from various cultural backgrounds.

Early on in my career, I quickly learned that I needed to adapt my communication approach to suit the different cultural nuances involved in managing our stakeholders.

It became apparent to me that navigating stakeholders from each market required a tailored approach – for instance, what works in Australia would not necessarily apply to other markets such as Japan or India.

It is important to maintain my authenticity as a leader, but I am constantly adapting and learning from those around me to ensure my communications approach is as meaningful and impactful as possible.

As part of this learning journey, I’ve found visuals to be the most valuable, universal and actionable approach to financial communication. While pages of Excel and graphs are some of my favourite things to read, if you’re not presenting to a room full of accountants, you’re likely to lose your audience!

Instead, over the course of my career, I’ve learned that it is better to shift away from technical communication and speak to your audience by giving them the “so what” and the key, actionable focus areas for the period ahead.

My challenges: balancing cost and benefit

Continuing to grow our treats and snacks portfolio is critical to Mars Wrigley Australia’s long-term success. While Mars Wrigley’s “heartland” will remain treats and confectionery, we are constantly identifying new ways to shift our portfolio “north” and respond to consumer preferences.

As we expand into the snacking space, we’re seeking to give consumers more choice by tapping into new occasions and “better for me” alternatives.

In Australia, we’ve recently introduced KIND, a healthy snacking brand launching into the local market on the back of strong international success, particularly within the US and the UK.

More broadly, as we look to grow our business and our brands, my team partners with our marketing and sales teams throughout the strategic process to assess the business model and ensure we have the right balance of cost and benefit for the consumer, the retailer and our business in order for the growth to be sustainable in the long run.

CPA Library resource: The traits of today's CFO: a handbook for excelling in an evolving role. Read now.

Lessons learned and best advice

Position yourself as a “value creation architect”. Develop plans that are designed to maximise value by allocating resources in line with your long-term strategy growth.

To influence, you need to be collaborative. Learn the language of your internal stakeholders. Understand how you can develop and nurture key relationships in the supply chain and in the market to ensure you have a seat at the table and can influence core business strategy.

Remember, you are more than a “bean counter”. The finance partner of the future is a partner, an educator, a capability builder, a communicator and a leader. Embrace technology and new ways of working – both are an opportunity to free up valuable time for more strategic and integrated partnership across your organisation.

Be patient in your career progression. You will learn a lot from the different roles and experiences you have throughout your career. The diverse experiences and the lessons you gain along the way will make you a much better CFO once you get there, so embrace the learning journey and be open to new situations.


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June 2021
June 2021

Read the June 2021 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

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