Phil is no stranger to becoming the first CFO at some of Australia’s fastest-growing scale-ups. In fact, he’s done it three times for the likes of TRIBE, the Global Corporate Challenge, and most recently, Who Gives A Crap.
Taking the reins as their first CFO in November 2021, Phil openly admits he’s “carving myself out a bit of a niche as someone who goes in as the first time CFO and takes the finance workload away from the CEO”.
In this episode of The Good Money, Phil shares his career journey into start-ups, why giving people the systems and scope to move beyond transactional work is key to building entrepreneurial teams, and how he’s helping Who Gives A Crap reach their big, ambitious goal of ensuring everyone has access to a toilet by 2050.
The transition from start-up to scale-up means bringing extra hands on deck, especially at an executive level. While CEOs and founders usually wear all of the hats in the beginning, bringing in a dedicated CFO is what will accelerate your businesses’ growth.
For Phil, his journey to CFO at Who Gives A Crap involved a three-month interview process (including meeting the founders, the entire executive team and a homework task or two) to ensure they were making the right pick.
Off the back of Who Gives A Crap’s exponential growth during the pandemic, Phil stepped in to bring a fresh perspective on where their finance team should be focusing their time and energy.
“The team’s internal finance resources have been working very hard for very long, in a ‘do everything’ way. It can happen when you grow so fast through a pandemic, no one could have ever predicted what it would be like. Now, I’m helping them get their hands on the work that finance teams want to be doing and set up processes and systems around them to support sustainable growth.”
Working in start-ups and scale-ups is often synonymous with operating at breakneck speed. There’s no shortage of ideas, just a shortage of hours in the day to make it happen.
One of Phil’s biggest learnings since stepping into CFO roles in scale-ups is this: you can’t do it all, so focus on what’s really going to make an impact.
For him, his sights are currently set on three things: people, systems, and processes. To do that, he’s committed to growing an entrepreneurial finance team that goes beyond reconciling transactions and paying bills and can see the bigger ‘why’ behind what they’re doing.
“There's no one system fits all anymore. You need to consider what's gonna work best for you in your business, given your culture, your values and your ways of working,” explains Phil.
“The thing that we need to come back to is this: how can finance, partner within the business to make better decisions and be more entrepreneurial, and see opportunities and capitalise on them or see risks and minimise them as early as you possibly can.”
Phil points to a few key things that helped him foster this entrepreneurial mindset in his teams:
• Give your capable, smart people the opportunity to add value and go beyond transactional tasks.
• Show people the tangible, real-world impact of their efforts to make the ‘grunt work’ worthwhile.
• Automate as much as you can early on to give your team scope to make strategic decisions.
Phil shares he was immediately drawn to join the Who Gives A Crap team thanks to the company’s strong value-driven mission.
His role looks beyond the bottom line but ensures the business can continue to meet its commitments as a B Corp and continue giving back to its impact partners.
“It's nice to wake up in the morning to work knowing that all your efforts and everything you've learned over time and your skills are being put to a good purpose and the impact and sustainability of what we do are at the forefront of everyone's thinking on a daily basis.”
In today’s tight talent market, having a clearly articulated purpose and mission is also a powerful tool for recruitment and retention, too. “Working in businesses that have a purpose, where you know that every good job you do is changing lives, it actually becomes quite easy from a motivational and engagement point of view.”