The Evolving Role of Senior Finance Executives: Interview with Yue Cao

The Evolving Role of Senior Finance Executives: Interview with Yue Cao

While operational roles have been a key focus during the past couple of months, finance executives have been just as busy adapting to constant change and forecasting during the unknown. Our Talent Associate, Christine Colverson, sat down with our Controller, Yue Cao, to ask her some burning questions about how senior finance roles have changed during the pandemic.

Q: You joined Keynote shortly before Ottawa went into lockdown, how did you handle virtual onboarding?

A: I found daily check ins and frequent zoom meetings were extremely helpful in guiding me through this challenging time. It was extremely important for me to speak up regarding any challenges and questions that I had encountered.

Q: How would you say your role has changed over the past 4 months?

A: This pandemic has created much uncertainty with regards to the future. At the beginning, It was critical for me to be flexible in my forecasting to account for variables out of our control. I had created a rolling forecast which was updated weekly to reflect our current situation and cash position. This information is used by our management team to make informed decisions that have helped us get through this difficult time.

It also became very important to ensure we paid close attention to the government support programs available to businesses in Canada. It was critical to ensure that we had a full understanding of the qualifying criteria and how to navigate the application process for the various programs. I have been finding that there are still a number of companies and leaders that don’t have a firm grasp on these programs and are missing out on potential support measures.

As time passed during this pandemic, my focus has shifted. While it is still important to maintain the forecasting, it was more important to look towards our future and plan for recovery. It is not enough to just survive this pandemic, we want to improve and come out stronger. To this end, we have been open minded to all possible opportunities such as new team members, mergers and acquisitions, and other investments. In addition to looking for outside opportunities, we have also been examining our internal processes for efficiencies.

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of working with our clients to ensure mutual success. While some companies thrived, others are finding it difficult to pay bills and make ends meet. I have found it extremely important to work with our clients and offer creative payment solutions that work for everyone. For example, accepting EFT instead of only cheques, and offering payment plans on outstanding balances.

Q: We are seeing our clients put more of an emphasis on hiring financial executives, what do you think are the key skills or traits to keep an eye out for when sourcing candidates?

A: Financial knowledge and experience are the obvious things to consider when hiring a finance executive but another important consideration is their ability to effectively communicate at the Board level. This means the ability to not only be strategic in their approach but to also have the ability to translate it in a way that resonates with the leadership team. There are a number of business-critical decisions that are being made based on the recommendations of senior finance leaders so it is crucial that the leadership team involved in making those decisions fully comprehends the information and its implications.

Q: Financial experts are known for their planning skills. What unexpected skill have you been leaning on more recently that has helped you lead the finance department during the pandemic?

A: The major take away for me is the importance of communication and teamwork. It is through communicating with the team that I am able to put together an accurate forecast. It is by speaking and listening to others that I’ve gathered information regarding government policies. I could not have done my job without the support of each and everyone on the team. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you!

Q: It is pretty obvious that a large part of your role has revolved around understanding new government regulations, programs etc. How did you adapt and get up to speed in such a novel situation?

A: Government programs play a big part in helping companies survive this pandemic. I found the following resources helped me keep up and understand the various government subsidies.

  • Webinars hosted by our banking and accounting partners (RBC, BDO, BDC). These webinars went through the government programs in detail and answered many of the questions I had.
  • Watching the daily address by the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers helped keep up with the latest programs and changes.
  • CRA's website and hotline for more granular details on the various programs.
  • Speaking with other finance leaders and professionals
  • Numbercrunch has a great blog with timely information on how to navigate the financial support programs for COVID-19.

Q: Do you have any advice for companies who are looking to hire financial leaders?

A: I would recommend that employers look beyond the resume and certifications. I have found that some candidates look great on paper, but are not the best fit for the position and/or company. I also recommend engaging an executive search firm. That has extensive experience and resources that understand finance leaders. A firm that offers post-placement support and executive coaching can also ensure that candidates can successfully integrate into the company and understand what will help them be successful in their new role.

Q: It has been a stressful time for everyone, what have you been doing during your downtime to relax?

A: I find it helpful and relaxing to go for walks and do puzzles.

It is clear that as businesses start to think about how to move forward, having a knowledgeable and innovative finance leader on your team is crucial to their success. It is important to balance skillset and fit as Yue suggests. Good communication and a calm-head are key attributes that helped her navigate unknown territory. We would welcome hearing your experiences and lessons learned. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about hiring senior finance leaders.

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