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How Milk & More's CFO built a strong future-proof finance team

Building a finance team fit for the future is no mean feat. But Milk & More's CFO Billie O'Connor says diversity of thought and background, as well as accountability, are essential

How Milk & More’s CFO built a strong future-proof finance team

When Billie O’Connor took the helm as the CFO of Milk & More nearly two years ago, she knew she had her work cut out for her.

As a company specialising in sustainable doorstep delivery of milk and other essential household items, Milk & More needed a finance team to help them navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape.

With 350,000 customers in the UK and a turnover of £160 million, the business is substantial, and O’Connor has worked hard to put together a strong finance team comprising a diverse group of individuals, each bringing their unique skills and experience to the table.

Milk & More’s financial controller is and head of FP&A are quite different in background, experience and culturally. The head of FP&A and data and insights is reflective, calm and analytical, whilst the financial controller is energetic, nurturing of the team and driven by controls and process.

“They complement each other and have developed into well-rounded business individuals, ” she tells The CFO, explaining that building the team took hard work and understanding what the business needed.

“What I like about my team is the variety – they love their jobs but they also have families, or other commitments whatever they may be, but they work as a team to achieve deliverables” says O’Connor.

One of the biggest challenges in building a strong finance team is finding and retaining the right talent. The UK finance industry is highly competitive, and skilled professionals are in high demand.

For Milk & More, there was the added challenge of competing with larger, more established companies with bigger budgets and more resources. These bigger companies are also more likely to have more mature business processes – they key to keeping ‘experts’ engaged.

“A company could go out and get the most amazing data expert in the world and pay top dollar for them, but if the business is on a journey in this space and needs development in tech, they will be frustrated,” O’Connor says. “So it’s important to hire the right people for now and the future journey at the right times”.

“You must evolve your team over time. You can either upskill the people you have at pace or more gently go through a change. It’s not a quick process, but I really like interviewing and meeting people,” she says, adding she would rather see ten great candidates than the final two.

Why finance teams need accountability to thrive

Prior to joining Milk & More in 2021, O’Connor was the digital finance director for Selfridges’ Digital Business where she was responsible for driving top-line and profitable growth.

She notes that going into “crisis mode” at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic taught her that there sometimes you can only control certain things – but accountable leadership was crucial to navigating a crisis.

“When everything’s going well, people can be polite and pleasant, but when things get tough, you see people’s true colours. You need people on your team who are accountable for their actions and will work collaboratively.”

O’Connor says she really values those team members who admit when they have made an error and want fix things so it’s not repeated; those who are adaptable and can realise when a change of approach is needed to a situation, and can articulately explain what a situation means for the business.

“The ideal team comprises people willing to deal with the problem and move on. They don’t dwell on the mistake or try to cover it up,” she says. Together, a CFO and their team should be able to find a solution to any given problem if this environment is created.

Building a successful finance team is no small feat, but it is critical to any organisation’s success. As O’Connor states, the key to assembling a solid finance team is to focus on finding and retaining the right talent, alongside developing a team culture that values accountability and collaboration.

For O’Connor, following the strategy can build teams that are equipped to handle any challenge that comes their way and position their organisations for long-term success.

The CFO: the CEO’s right hand

Throughout her 20 years in the finance function, O’Connor believes the CFO’s role has become like “a miniature CEO.”

“The CEO is concerned not only with numbers but also with ensuring that the right person is leading each area, that we are making the right decisions for now and the future, that we are aware of consumer sentiment, that we have the right team, partners, suppliers and customer vision” she explains.

“As CFOs, we must be prepared to have these conversations, even if they are not on the agenda yet. The best relationship is one where the CEO is a great leader and open to proactively discussing challenges and opportunities,” says O’Connor.

She notes that the challenge for future CFOs, and perhaps those who are new to the role, is to not only know the numbers but also to be able to “tell a story”. Having a team that is engaged in all areas of the business and understands both the financial and non-financial issues, is crucial to this, she adds.

“If you can do all that, you’re doing an excellent job,” says O’Connor.

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