I’m certain that CFOs across the world burned the midnight oil, paced the halls and did a lot of handwringing over the last 18 months. And I’d imagine that facing this once-in-a-lifetime period of stress, volatility and uncertainty was very isolating for many of them.
This is a big reason why I’m so glad we continued the CFO of the Future Summit with Accenture and Harvard faculty as a virtual event. It’s a unique opportunity for finance leaders to learn together, share perspectives, and draw strength from each other.
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As the Vice President and CFO for Principal International, Joel Pitz has a truly global perspective on a truly global crisis. I caught up with him recently to learn about his biggest takeaways from the Summit.
You’ve attended the Summit both virtually and on campus at Harvard. What aspects of the recent virtual Summit series resonated the most for you?
It was helpful to hear about the leadership challenges, and opportunities, that transcend any specific industry. I valued hearing other leaders talk about the challenges they face, and the purposeful communication needed to advance the business. This really resonated with me. There is great value in hearing strategies employed by others to ensure they can serve their stakeholders during such volatile and uncertain times.
Knowing that you aren’t alone as a leader is valuable, and I think the cross-industry participation added another dimension to this shared experience.
It's easy to get consumed by the challenges and opportunities that exist within your given Industry or market. This Summit served as a great reminder that the business challenges facing the financial services industry were much different than other sectors of the economy, such as the travel industry. That being said, there was much that we could share and learn from each other in areas such as leadership and innovation.
Was there a particular session that stood out for you this time? Why?
The session with Nelson Chai, the CFO of Uber, really resonated with me. Among his many messages, he noted that "experience matters." Sometimes, as leaders, we take these experiences for granted.
He told the audience that you can read all the books you want to about parenthood, but you’ll never know what it’s really all about until you experience it yourself. As leaders, it's important that others can learn and benefit from our past experiences.
I also appreciated Nelson’s discussion about time allocation. He advised people to be purposeful about how they spend their time. As leaders, we all face work-life balance struggles, and we need to make conscious and intentional decisions about our time.
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Nelson also discussed the value of “paying it forward.” Nelson benefitted from many mentors throughout his career, and today he makes a point of supporting others on their journeys. It was an excellent reminder that you can’t spend too much time on developing talent.
Of all the hot-button topics that we touched across all the sessions, which ones do you think got the most interest and engagement from the Summit participants?
Leadership and communication, without a doubt. We have to make sure that we’re leading our teams through this period of disruption and dislocation. More than ever, a big part of that is being purposeful and targeted in our communications. That’s been a priority for us at Principal®, and it's rewarding to see the benefits of proactive and transparent communication within our organization.
Let’s talk more about Principal. You’re a CFO there. What do you see your CEO doing that brings some of these lessons learned to life?
Our CEO has been accessible, visible and present throughout the entire pandemic. His message is consistent—to take care of ourselves so that we can best take care of our customers. The company mission and strategy remains intact, and we have focused our energy on finding the optimal way to execute. In certain situations, we're doing things differently than we would have if the crisis had never happened, but the outcomes haven’t been compromised.
Our leaders are making themselves accessible in various forums, such as employee townhalls. During the pandemic, the leaders didn't have all the answers. That's okay. The key is that our leadership was accessible and transparent. These interactions were very valuable, and I’m very proud of the manner in which Principal has led its employees during this period of anxiety and uncertainty.
I’m curious given the global focus of your role, are you seeing any of these leadership approaches play out differently in the different locations?
We have a great culture at Principal, and realize there is no greater asset than our talent. This culture has been important “glue” for us during this time. The pandemic experience has been so different—and continues to be so different—region by region. We think globally, but we have the grace and flexibility to do what we need to do by location to meet the needs of our customers and employees.
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When you think about finance as a function, what has been the biggest change in ways of working because of the pandemic?
We didn’t skip a beat. But we did have a heightened focus on the “needle-moving” priorities during this time. We were purposeful in our efforts to ensure we were spending our time and energy on what mattered the most and we continued to be intentional in all our decisions through the pandemic.
Our world was changing around us, and there were efforts we accelerated to support our customers and our business. We also made it a point to think strategically and continually step back and reassess our priorities along the way, ensuring we were appropriately balancing the financial and strategic priorities of the business throughout this time.
I think many CFOs share your view, and they’re working to strike that same balance. In fact, I think it’s one of the biggest challenges they face—pandemic or no pandemic.
Thanks to those finance leaders who shared their Summit perspectives with me. It’s been so insightful that I’ll be connecting with more leaders over the coming months. It’s all in the spirit of tapping into that “strength in numbers” power that finance leaders need right now.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about the CFO of the Future Summit. You can see more finance insights here.
Accenture, Harvard, Uber and its employees are not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group®.
Principal International is a member of the Principal Financial Group®.
See more finance insights here.