Early in my career I was lucky enough to report directly to the CEO of GE Australia and New Zealand. It was during this time I got the best business tip.
I was on a 2 year graduate program specialising in Human Resources (HR). I had decided that my career goal was to become an HR Director at a big firm. My CEO knew this and was very supportive. When I discussed with him what my next 6 month rotation on the graduate program should be, I was expecting him to suggest I should do a generalist HR rotation or specialise in an HR area such as recruitment or compensation.
Instead, David told me to do a rotation in … Finance.
I must have had a shocked look on my face, as David went on to explain. He told me that around an executive table, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the HR Director, CIO or CEO. You need to understand how the business you’re working in makes money and what the levers are for increasing profitability and being a financially sustainable business. I’d never thought that an HR Director would need to know the numbers! I trusted David though (and have always loved maths) and so ended up overseas with GE for 4 years learning and working in Finance.
Fast forward 15 years. There’s hardly a week that goes by where I don’t feel grateful for having a finance background. David was right. It was the best business tip he could have given me. At senior levels, leaders discuss the Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow of a business. If you’re not sure what these terms mean, I’d suggest you find a way to learn them if you work in a corporate or run your own business.
How you can learn about Finance
- You don’t have to go as far as working in Finance overseas for 4 years like I did! Though if an offer ever comes up to do a secondment in Finance, I’d strongly suggest taking it
- Offer to help on a project involving financials. Working on a project team with people from other areas of the business broadens your knowledge in other areas too
- Find out if you have Finance Graduates in your business (or find anyone else in Finance who seems kind). Offer to buy them lunch or coffee in exchange for them teaching you Finance basics such as walking you through your company’s Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statements. This was one of my key ways to get up to speed on Finance fundamentals
- These days you can easily watch tutorials online. Start with the 3 concepts mentioned in the tip above when you search
You don’t need to love Finance – you just need the fundamentals to help shape your decision making the higher up you go in a company.
And did I end up in HR? No! But I’ll save that for another story …
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