Finance

The One Skill This VP of Finance Looks For Most When Hiring

The headquarters building of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. stands in Waltham, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, March, 1, 2010. Photographer: Michael Fein/Bloomberg

Over the past two decades the business environment has changed drastically. Globalization, advancements in technology and automation, developments in information systems and competition all play a role. As these dynamic shifts take place, the role of business, and in particular, the role of management accountants has changed. Once relied upon for number crunching, management accountants have evolved to become highly valued, strategic business partners — ones who can not only gather data, but leverage that data, along with technology and information, as a competitive advantage. For Mark Ibison, VP of Finance at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the evolution of management accounting is the very thing that drew him to the role. I spoke with Mark this month to learn more about his work with Thermo Fisher and gain insight into what he looks for in team members as the management accounting role continues to evolve.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jeff Thomson: You started your career in management accounting — what about management accounting did you find most appealing versus financial accounting including tax and attestation?

Mark Ibison: I would say that I was very much drawn to the business partnering element — what really appealed was the opportunity to engage with the business and help make better decisions. With more experience now though, I have a much better sense of the value that can be added by other parts of the function. I was a little naïve when I started out!

Thomson: Management accounting continues to evolve into a more highly strategic role. How has this changed your hiring process and what you look for in candidates for Thermo Fisher’s finance department? What skills do you feel are most necessary for a young management accountant to have?

Ibison: It’s definitely had an impact in terms of the skills I’m seeking out — I’m looking for people who have strong business acumen, the courage to challenge business partners (as well as support) and strong leadership skills . Sometimes that means that I end up hiring people with slightly different backgrounds with the focus on skills rather than just experience.

Thomson: You spent roughly three years as the VP of Finance at Thermo Fisher’s Microbiology Division and are now the VP of Finance for the Biosciences Division. In what ways has your role shifted between the two divisions? What did you learn from working in the Microbiology Division that has helped you be more effective in your current role?

Ibison: The fundamentals of the role are the same — that is to ensure strong financial controls (as the foundation) and to provide the insights and challenge to drive better decision making. That said, we are structured a little differently in this part of the business, with shared groups providing support for operations finance, commercial finance and accounting. That means my time is more dedicated to the business rather than managing the accounting elements.

Thomson: When scientific discoveries and breakthroughs happen in a matter of years rather than decades, thanks to the pace of technological advancements, how does Thermo Fisher ensure the company’s R&D has sufficient budgets, that they’re mitigating risk, all while sustaining an innovative environment?

Ibison: First, we apply our PPI Business System to R&D and new product introduction. This allows us to look at things that have gone well or not so well to see what we can learn to improve our innovation for next time. Secondly, we actively benchmark internally and externally to make sure that our spend relative to revenue makes sense (as a basic way of pressure testing our spend). Thirdly, we use our product portfolio review process to look at where we’re spending relative to where we see market growth in the next five years and then make sure that we are funding the right growth areas. Finally, in some businesses (like my current one) we have a stated ‘refresh cycle’ and we hold ourselves accountable for making sure we are refreshing our portfolio in a timely basis. Without this last one, it can be very easy to neglect the core portfolio (either to save money or to invest in the latest trend) which can lead to a stale product offering.

Thomson: How are technology and automation changing not only your internal finance department, but the work Thermo Fisher does for its clients?

Ibison: The most obvious thing from a finance perspective is around data — it’s become incredibly easy (and cheap) to produce and store large amounts of data. That has implications for the way we invest in systems, how we ensure data integrity, and how we train our team and business partners. We are only now starting to scratch at ‘big data’ and over time I think we are going to see that used to generate deep insights which will help us better serve our customers.

That theme also ties to our customers: they are demanding more connected scientific instruments, they want cloud services and they are talking to us far more about us offering them ‘digital’ services.

Automation continues to be something our customers demand — partly because it provides economic advantage, but also because of the opportunity to get more research done (and one thing you can say with certainty about scientists is that they are very passionate about making the world a better place!).

[“Source-forbes”]

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Loknath Das

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