The Real Value of Clear Data to Top CFOs

Finance leaders at companies large and small are seeing the strategic management of information as a way to boost collaboration and innovation. 

Ruth Porat is well aware she has occasionally been called “Ruth Vader” behind her back.

In fact, the CFO of Google laughed off the rumors during a recent appearance at a technology industry conference. After all, keeping costs under control is one of the things those in her role have always been expected to do — being a little ruthless about it could be considered a sign she’s particularly good at her job. On the other hand, that’s not why CNBC recently said Porat was “the perfect fit at Google.”

The most valuable thing you can have as a leader is clear data,” Porat said, later adding that, while cost management is always important, “We’re not just focused on expenses, but on what makes us great, [which is] innovation.

Easy for her to say, right? Google is obviously one of the most innovative and data-driven companies in Silicon Valley, where pouring money into high-risk but potentially breakthrough projects is the norm. What if Porat were working in a less dynamic kind of organization — a firm on Wall Street, for example?

The truth is that Porat came to Google from Morgan Stanley. She’s not an anomaly among her peers but a shining example of how highly experienced financial leaders are seeing new opportunities in the data at their disposal, and new ways to provide value as CFO.

Note that Porat doesn’t suggest she is directly doing the innovating at Google. Instead, she’s creating the conditions in which innovation is possible. That sounds a lot like the approach of George Kapitelli, executive director for finance and logistics at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and North-Western Mental Health.

In an article about the evolution of CFOs on a publication called In The Black, Kapitelli echoed Porat in talking about the value of clear data, but went on to describe what it meant in fostering a more collaborative culture:

“My main priority has always been making sure you have a sustainable, successful organization from a finance perspective – and that can be very different from the sales director, the engineering director or the head of research, for example, because their priorities are different . . . What’s really important is transparency and trust – giving people accurate financial insights into where the business is heading – then you’re relying on the emotional intelligence of the group to be able to take that information and use it appropriately.”

It’s funny how some of the best CFOs seem to say the same things: Clear data lets you bring costs in line. But it also lets you create better relationships with the team, which in turn leads to innovation.