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CFO Interview November/December – Ten Questions with Darren Mann, CFO of Australian Unity

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Darren Mann 02
Darren Mann 02

In the last 2019 issue of the “Group Scoop,” we are continuing our series of CFO interviews titled “Ten Questions”. This month we talked with Darren Mann, CFO of Australian Unity.

Mr Mann joined Australian Unity in April 2012 and is currently the Chief Financial Officer, previously having been Group Treasurer and undertaken a range of other finance and reporting roles across the group. Mr Mann has oversight of the group’s statutory, management and tax reporting along with treasury and capital management.

Before joining Australian Unity, Mr Mann worked in the United Kingdom for 10 years on large scale migration projects for Lloyds TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland and Merrill Lynch Investment Managers. The main programs of work included the implementation of Sarbanes Oxley and the integration of the Oracle HBOS general ledger to the SAP Lloyds general ledger. His key role was the finance implementation delivery for the integration of over 35,000,000 bank accounts from HBOS to Lloyds, which were successfully transferred in 2011.

Mr Mann commenced his professional career becoming a Chartered Accountant while working at KPMG Melbourne and Foster’s Group Limited.

CFO Interview November/December –
Ten Questions with Darren Mann, CFO of Australian Unity

1 – What attracted you to working in finance?
Throughout school, I always found numbers easy to navigate with Maths being my strongest subject. As a result, I gravitated towards finance type subjects and with my Father being a financial planner, was always encouraged at home to focus on finance. This led me to completing a Commerce degree at Melbourne University and after 6 months of being enrolled in the degree, I was fortunate enough to be offered a Summer School program with a big 6 (back in the day) accounting firm. I undertook this program each year while at university and initially learnt about Private Business and ultimately moved in to an audit function. I knew after 3 years that auditing wasn’t going to be for me forever so I found an industry that I was passionate about and a role that enabled me to use my existing skill sets. I’ve stayed in finance ever since.
2 – What do you enjoy most about the job?
Being CFO of Australia’s oldest mutual organisation (founded 179 years ago), I enjoy the sheer breadth of the role the most. No one day is ever the same. The one absolute daily constant, however, is the need and desire to motivate and encourage colleagues – whether that be peers, direct reports or the broader finance team. Dealing daily with all sorts of skilled people has to be the most enjoyable component of the job.
Being a relatively new CFO (2.5 years in the current position), you don’t appreciate the broadness of the role until you are performing it. I think being in the CFO role in an organisation that is multi-faceted (Australian Unity has 13 different types of businesses), means you learn so much about so many industries.
3 – What should people know about CFO’s and don’t?
For legacy reasons, CFO’s may be perceived to be numbers only types, focusing on financial control and accounting. For the modern CFO, this is only a small (and indeed fundamental) part of the role. CFO’s knowledge and ability to help influence and shape the strategic direction of a business far outweighs being known only as of the numbers person. A CFO has to think broadly across all aspects of the business and industry and be forward-focused.
4 – What should a CFO do?
A CFO should lead, motivate, inform and challenge the business. A CFO should also be seen to be reliable, informative and ensure the finance function is maintained to a high ethical standard. Timely, accurate and informed reporting should be a given.
The functions under the CFO’s remit should be in high demand from all parts of the business continuously. That could cover understanding current numbers, competitor analysis, tax considerations and business partnering.
 The CFO is in a highly unique position where they get to see so many different parts and functions of the business and therefore are well placed and qualified to provide strategic insight.
5 – What was the most incredible deal you were ever part of?
I spent 10 years working in London in various finance and business analyst roles, with the last three years being involved in significant integration pieces of work between large banks. I worked on the integration of RBS and ABN AMRO, however, the most incredible deal I was part of, was work undertaken to integrate Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) with the Halifax Banking of Scotland (HBOS). I spent 15 months of the integration undertaking the transfer of 32 million HBOS customer accounts over to the LBG accounting systems. It was the largest integration in European history.
From a local deal perspective, before I was CFO of Australian Unity, I was the Group Treasurer. In FY16, we issued Australia’s first Simple Corporate Bond – a bond that won Local Bond of the Year from Finance Asia. This bond issuance was particularly important given the ability for mutual organisations to raise debt/capital are severely restricted. The deal enabled the acquisition of an NSW Home Care business that has 4,500 staff and 50,000 customers; so fundamentally it changed the operations of the company.

6 – What is your funniest finance story?
I find the funniest stories frequently come from the delirious hours when you’re working to close out a deal/strategic plan/any other crucial item. Accordingly, it’s unfair to name people specifically. One of my favourite “deal” memories is of a colleague at 3 am running laps of the office, eating chocolate every two laps, to getting the energy to put in the all-nighter required to ensure the deal was market-ready by 8:00 am.

7 – If you could change anything about your role as a Senior Financial Executive, what would that be?
It’s a tough question as my focus would be less time on looking at the past and more looking at the future. The nature of the job though means a lot of the time is spent backward-looking with half-year and year-end reporting being quite time consuming when the real value you can add to companies and customers is through a forward-looking lens.

8 – How do you deal with stress?
I’m still working on the best way to deal with stress. The CFO role is significant and comes with a lot of challenges that increase pressure. At the end of the day, it’s a job, and it’s important to understand there’s more to life than just work, so balance is essential.
What I am trying to do more of is exercise daily, stop thinking of work when I get home from the office at night and on weekends and when I do work at home, try to time lock it. When I wake up at 3:00 am stressed about the latest “issue”, I try to remind myself that I’ve got time to think it through properly when at the gym in the morning or commuting to work, along with a team of highly competent people to help work through each challenge together.
9 – What are your passions?
Professionally, I’m passionate about working with people, motivating and encouraging them to own their careers, to challenge themselves and the work they undertake continually. Having had a professional background where change and continuous improvement has been the constant for over 20 years, I’m passionate about sharing ways of how to keep pushing yourself as I believe an individual is the best person to own their destiny.
Outside of work, I’m passionate about travel, Aussie Rules football, and playing my guitars. For travel, I’m driven by a desire to experience different cultures, food and view the world from a different perspective. For football, I’m a keen Carlton supporter (life was easier 20 years ago), and for music, I own several guitars that I love to play to relax.
10 – If you could have lunch with three people (alive or dead), who would they be?
Michael Phelps – Growing up as a National level swimmer, I’ve always been in awe of the greatest Olympian in history.
Rod McGeoch – I’m fascinated by how he led the 2000 Sydney Olympic bid and the story he tells of how he got there.
Richie Sambora – I spent much of my childhood trying to play the guitar like Richie but to no avail. I was fortunate to be on stage with the band (Bon Jovi) when they played Croke Park in Dublin, and I gave Richie a high five at least. I’m sure he’d recall that one over lunch! Perhaps Richie and I would be two of the four looking to make it a 1980’s style long lunch.

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