Head of HR, Sue Kent, and CFO, Cameron Small, talk about collaboration during rapid growth and a public listing at financial services company, Pepper.
Group Chief Financial Officer
“Sue is very solution oriented and she can see that there’s more than one way of dealing with a situation. This is especially helpful when we’re buying other businesses.”
I’d been working in London for more than a decade before joining Pepper in 2011. I met Sue on my first day. She’s got a good sense of humour and we’ve always gotten along. There needs to be a high degree of trust and collaboration between finance and HR because you’re handling people’s personal information.
While running the finance teams throughout Europe for Credit Suisse First Boston, I also had the title of ‘senior control officer’. It’s a pretty horrible job title [but] it came with the responsibility of managing HR, which I think was a valuable experience for me. A big part of my job over the years has been to tell people the financial truths, which they may not always want to hear, and to egg them on to a better place in terms of revenue or cost. Having HR reporting to me in the past has been helpful because I’m now much more willing to listen to HR when they say ‘you’re being too black and white’.
There are grey areas, especially when you’re growing fast. When I joined Pepper it was a company of 80 people and now there are more than 1800. That rapid growth has created challenges – 60 per cent of our cost is people. We also became a public company almost two years ago and I need to talk to the markets constantly and manage expectations. The fact is that costs do go up when you’re growing fast. I keep reminding managers that the majority of our cost base is people, so we’ve got to get that right.
Sue is very collaborative. She’s very solution oriented and she can see that there’s more than one way of dealing with a situation. This is especially helpful when we’re buying other businesses. They are usually in run-down mode or they’re unloved, but we can see their value. You’ve got to work out very quickly with HR who are the keepers – the critical people – and who are those that, in all honesty, we won’t keep because it’s not part of our business plan. You’ve got to do it all within the deal timetable and get the financial side right. If you get redundancies wrong or fail to motivate people, the deal can go very sour, very quickly.
Sue is adept at identifying the character of people and if they’ll fit with Pepper and our culture. She’s also very mindful of the cost consequences. She’s pragmatic and I think you have to be when you’re in a firm that’s growing very quickly and you value your culture.
Sue doesn’t get fazed. I don’t ever see her coming to work looking like she’s overwhelmed.
Head of Human Resources
“HR and finance need to understand the impact of growth on each other’s areas, and make sure we find common ground.”
When I joined Pepper in 2009 we just had one office. We’re now in five different countries and have sites across Australia. It’s been such an amazing journey from an HR point of view.
We have HR teams in each of our countries and I have group oversight. The entire employee experience is managed by us in Australia – whatever fits into the HR bucket, we deal with it. I also represent HR on our Australian and global executive committees.
Cameron joined Pepper two years after me. I’d worked with CFOs in the past and we hadn’t seen eye to eye, but Cameron had managed the HR function in one of his past roles and I think that worked in my favour. He understands both sides of the fence.
When we first met, Pepper was about to take on the mortgage portfolios from GE, along with about 65 staff. There were no other people in the HR team and the finance team was much smaller, so we worked very closely from the beginning.
We hit it off quickly. Cameron has a great sense of humour and he’s very calm. I think we’re just very relaxed in each other’s company. I feel I can challenge him on things and he challenges me, but it’s always in a very respectful way.
As an executive team, we meet every Monday morning but, because our worlds combine so often, Cameron and I generally find ourselves in other meetings together.
Sometimes I book appointments if I know it’s a busy week for him, but often I’ll just rock up at his desk.
People are such a massive percentage of our cost base and we need to make sure we’re helping finance do their role, whether that’s managing headcount, recruitment or training costs.
HR and finance need to understand the impact of growth on each other’s areas, and make sure we can find some common ground. To be honest, it’s very rare for Cameron and I to disagree.
Pepper runs on a rolling forecast basis, which gives us the [financial] position for the rest of the year and the following year. Being a publicly-listed company [since 2015], there’s a lot more onus on Cameron to ensure that the numbers are right and we’re doing the right thing by shareholders.
Recently, it looked like we were going to fall short on where we expected to land, which then puts pressure on Cameron and our CEOs. We needed to scrutinise headcount and recruitment and it became an exercise in how HR can help and for a period, Cameron and I were in almost daily meetings.
Workforce Analytics Course
Learn how to measure human capital, analyse trends and report on metrics to maintain a high performing workforce, in this AHRI in-house training course. Book by 30 June and save $200* with AHRI’s EOFY offer. *Conditions apply.