The impact of the coronavirus has left no business untouched, with boards, CEOs and CFOs forced to make unparalleled decisions about the future of their businesses.
During a crisis, the CFO - CEO partnership is incredibly important for an organisation, and the strong foundations of these partnerships are fundamental to seeing businesses through times of change or uncertainty.
Executive Search Practice Lead Molly Green talks to Kelly Sperl, Chief Financial Officer of Care Park about her response to the changes brought about by COVID-19 and what matters most during these times. Care Park is an organisation that operates and manages car parks across 5 countries, employing over 1,000 people. Kelly Sperl is also a non-executive director on two boards – Emperor Champagne and Pinarc Disability Support.
As a CFO, where does your immediate focus go in times like these?
First and foremost, my focus goes to our people. It’s my biggest concern and it is the ELT’s biggest concern.
Secondly, my attention goes to business preservation. I thought I was agile before Coronavirus, but we are having to be more agile now than ever before. As a CFO, I’ve never been busier. The learning and the discoveries we’re making are remarkable - there’s no MBA or education that could ever have prepared us for this. But I’m certain we’re going to come out better after this.
Our resilience as a society is being tested. As a senior leader, how do you help instil a sense of resilience and calm among the Senior Leadership Team and beyond?
When Coronavirus hit, our Managing Director was overseas. The wave of questions and challenges that it presented meant that we immediately went into communication mode. I initiated global calls at the beginning and end of every day. Ultimately, people in the organisation were (and still are) seeking leadership and guidance on how we are going to get through this.
CFO’s have a deep understanding commercially and financially and people are seeking to understand how the business will make it to the other side of this pandemic. Importantly, we have a tremendous depth of knowledge across the ELT and it has been a team effort that’s for sure. There are things that I didn’t know and questions that I did not have the answers to, but everyone has been resourceful in coming together with the knowledge to make decisions.
I think an important aspect is to instil a sense of calm and resilience for people and just be ‘human’ through all of this. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it has brought out the ‘mum’ in me – the maternal instincts of looking after others and trying to keep positivity and confidence up.
If there’s one lesson you’ve learned so far, what is it?
People are incredible when faced with things that seem insurmountable. The resilience of people and the resilience of the company have been wonderful aspects. There are so many people who just want to pitch in and do everything they can to help the company - people have really stepped up.
I’ve also learned that there is no insurance policy for situations like this. You think that disaster recovery is all about your computer systems, data and connectivity but this has taught us new things about the important of a business continuity plan that extends beyond the norm. It’s taught me to have a degree of scepticism and see risk differently. Ultimately, I think the way we do business will change and we have yet to see what that will look like. But I think the changes will be for the better.
What are your personal coping strategies for this kind of stress?
Always, coming home to family. Family matters the most; that’s what is really important. I’ve never been busier so that has helped in terms of keeping my mind occupied. I try and run every day; I stay optimistic and I always keep my sense of humour. You have to laugh at some things – did it really take a pandemic to get certain things to happen so quickly!?