David J. Rodgers, SVP & CFO, Briggs & Stratton Corp
Focus on Understanding Facts for Better Decision Making
We coach our finance team to be focused on two things.
1) Get the actual financial reporting right and
2) Be a trusted business advisor to the business in order to help grow the company and improve financial performance.
In today’s increasing compliance environment, if you don’t get number one right, you don’t have a shot at providing sound business advice. In the past few years, we have changed our organization in order to put more emphasis on partnering with the business. In the past, our business unit controllers and all of their staff would be accountable for both financial reporting and financial planning and analysis. While the controllers are still responsible for both activities, the finance staff below has been either focused on keeping the books and financial reporting or financial planning and analysis. This has significantly increased our focus and clarity on scenario planning, resource planning and understanding the facts in order to make business decisions.
"Having solid financial and operational expectations supporting our investments makes it easy to review the success or shortcomings of projects later on"
Alloting Staff Time for Analysis-Thanks to Cognos
While we use SAP as our global ERM solution, about 5 years ago, we installed Cognos for planning and forecasting. We also use Cognos for business unit reporting. Since that time, we have been able to shift a significant portion of our accountants time from assembling financial reports, to more value added activities such as financial analysis to identify improvement opportunities for the business. In other cases, we can more quickly identify what is going well in order to make decisions on placing even more resources into successful projects.
The Ability to Take Risks While Making Solid Plans
The job of our finance people is to present the facts, as well as scenario planning, to enable our business people to make informed decisions quickly that can have a positive impact on creating shareholder value. While allocating resources needs to be vetted with a financial plan, we are careful not to say “no” to valid projects or be perceived as slowing the process down. I often tell our people to spend company resources as judiciously as they would their own. Having solid financial and operational expectations supporting our investments makes it easy to review the success or shortcomings of projects later on. People frequently don’t want to overpromise and under deliver to their boss or the CFO. I try to get them comfortable with the fact that we need to have solid plans, but that no companies hit a home run on 100 percent of their product ideas or other investments they make. We just want to focus on consistently improving our batting average.
Contingency Plans Depending on the Result of Project
At the outset of any large scale project, I like to ask the question “what if some of the assumptions are wrong and the results are different from plan?” Our best managers will think about contingency plans in the event that the project is more or less successful than originally planned.