The Changing Face of Finance: Insights From a Progressive CFO

At the heart of any successful business lies a team that works efficiently and collaboratively to keep the cogs turning for everyone: the finance team. Robert Hanlon, Chief Financial Officer Department of the Environment and Energy

At the heart of any successful business lies a team that works efficiently and collaboratively to keep the cogs turning for everyone: the finance team.

Whether it be financial accounting, budgeting, travel, procurement, grants or a myriad of other financial functions – these skillful professionals are dedicated to the complex tasks that keep organisations moving forward.

And while words like “collaboration”, “innovation” and “forward-thinking” may not be typically used to describe a role in finance, progressive industry leaders are proving why they can (and should) be.

HorizonOne sat down with one of the industry’s most progressive leaders, Chief Financial Officer at the Department of the Environment and Energy, Rob Hanlon, to hear his thoughts on the future of finance and what it takes to create an innovative finance team.



Welcome Rob! You’ve been CFO at the Department of the Environment and Energy for 6 months now – why did you take the role?

Simon called and asked if I knew someone who may be interested in taking a CFO role with the department and from the moment I heard about it, I was intrigued.

When I looked at what the department does, what the portfolio covers, and what people say about working for the department, I felt inspired to come on board.

We are a department of the future – at the forefront of where this country will be, dealing with matters from threatened species to science, energy, international treaties, the Antarctic division, national parks, the Great Barrier Reef, and much more. It’s exciting to be part of that.

What have been some of the pleasant surprises in working at the department?

It’s exactly what I thought it would be; the work we do and the people we do it with are great.

Everyone is very collaborative across all realms. They really want to work together, and not necessarily from a hierarchical point of view.

Anyone who I have said this to that is contemplating coming on board ends up saying to me “Thank you, you said it would be like this and it really is.” It’s so nice to walk down a corridor and have people smile and say hello, and when issues pop up, workshop a solution together.

Do you think everyone who works for the department should be passionate about the environment too?

With a diverse workforce, people here are very engaged and passionate about what they do. A substantial interest in what we do is not necessary, but it is welcome.

What’s your vision for the finance function? 

I started here in October last year and immediately commenced a change program.

My vision is that the finance team partners on a deeper level with the organisation to become a trusted advisor and true business partner: seeking improvements to the status quo rather than just accepting the way things have always been done.

We want to enhance how we work so that we add more value to our corporate colleagues and deliver solutions to the business. For example, we are currently trialling robotics tech to automate reconciliation processes, which benefits ours and other areas that do similar work.

It’s about taking a proactive and continual improvement approach, so I want to work with people who speak up, offer suggestions, and think outside the box.

The beauty in that is our team feel supported and empowered to create change. We seek out problem solvers and those willing to step out of their comfort zone. If we believe an idea is worth pursuing, we roll up our sleeves and do it!

What are some of the opportunities that would stretch experienced accountants in their role?

The finance function is future-focused, and we need to support a diverse organisation with interesting and technical challenges that not all organisations face.

There are situations where a typical course of action or standard is not applicable, so we have to get innovative. The environment and energy world is constantly changing and we have grants, special accounts and taxation issues that even the most experienced finance professionals may not have experienced before.

There is also a valuable opportunity to step out of the traditionally linear mindset of a finance role and diversify expertise. I don’t ask “What level are you at?” but rather “What can you do?” No one here stops anyone from learning and developing, so if someone puts their hand up to try something new, I’m excited to facilitate it wherever possible.

What is a positive and a challenge when working with you? 

My team feel empowered to give new things a go because they’re congratulated for trying, even if it doesn’t work out.

I strive to constantly improve and change the way we work for the better, and the pace at which I do that can be challenging for some. I like to make quick decisions to get the ball rolling!

It’s such a fascinating area of work, and this is one organisation that really wants dynamic finance professionals to be part of it.

At the heart of any successful business lies a team that works efficiently and collaboratively to keep the cogs turning for everyone: the finance team. Robert Hanlon, Chief Financial Officer Department of the Environment and Energy

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