Not many children want to become CFO’s when they grow up. This was certainly the case for Phil Halbish, CFO of Who Gives a Crap, who dreamed of being an international cricket star, or Indiana Jones.
From an early age, Halbish was a keen sportsman and showed a talent for cricket; walking the streets of Melbourne, he was always seen with a ball or bat in hand.
Though his cricket career did not reach the heights he envisioned due to injury, the experience left a lasting impact on Halbish’s leadership style.
Today, he puts those skills to work building out the finance function at the forest-conscious brand – famous for its toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels – that was founded in 2012.
The business has not only successfully made toilet paper, along with toilet jokes, trendy but has also discovered a means to ‘uncrap the world’ by contributing 50% of their profits to support toilet construction and enhance sanitation in developing nations.
Halbish joined the Who Gives A Crap team in November 2021. Speaking to The CFO, Halbish says he was first drawn to the business because it’s of sustainability, and making a positive impact aligned with his own. The opportunity to contribute to a greater cause has been a significant motivating factor throughout his career.
“The things I’ve been doing over the last decade have been about achieving as a collective and building for something bigger, and that ties into profit for a purpose, especially where the environment is concerned,” he says.
Earlier on in his career, Halbish worked as CFO for the international division of Richard Branson’s Virgin Pulse. Both businesses have afforded him the opportunity to place corporate responsibility at the heart of his agenda.
“In terms of trying to change something in the world that you believe in and knowing that regardless of whether you are having a good day or a bad day, you’ve got something to attach your efforts to that is for the greater good and is for a positive outcome, and I think that that helps fuel the resilience,” Halbish says.
A sporting start
Halbish was raised in a family of academics, which provided him with an upbringing that instilled in him the value of education and studying. However, it was the fusion of his academics, and cricket, that shaped his early career path.
His father’s role as CFO and then chief executive for Cricket Australia served as a perfect blend of these two worlds.
Halbish pursued his CPA qualifications before joining KPMG as an assistant manager, thereafter, moving to the newspaper industry as the finance director of the local paper, the Geelong Advertiser. He later worked for News Corp in FP&A at a time when the media industry was undergoing a massive transformation.
Halbish fell short of his dream to become a professional athlete after a serious back injury when he was an auxiliary member of the Victorian Squad. His injury meant months of rehabilitation where he gained profound insights into his capabilities and the impact of limitations.
The experience instilled a newfound resilience in him, enabling him to navigate adversity throughout his future career. “I would have loved to have been a professional sportsperson but didn’t quite make it,” he says, adding his injury taught him a lot of “hard lessons.”
He explains that his involvement in sport also taught him a great deal about approaching problems with a positive mindset and instilled in him the mantra of ‘failing forward’.
“As I sit here as a CFO today, I think it helps me and my team, but also my ability to know what I can and can’t achieve,” he says. “Being aware of that teaches you to focus on the right things, have goals, and accept that sometimes you’re not going to get to your goals in the way you thought you would.”
Charting new territories
In 2013, Halbish left the newspaper world to join Virgin Pulse, Virgin’s health, and wellbeing technology arm. During his five-year stint at the company, first as CFO of the International Division and then as general manager of APAC, Halbish oversaw significant growth and global expansion.
The business went from 70 employees to well over 1,600 in almost six years.
Halbish left Virgin Pulse for start-up TRIBE in 2019 – the start-up allows marketers to unlock instant branded content from influential creators. It was during his two years there that Halbish truly gained insights into the potential of digital businesses.
These insights he has since harnessed at WGAC for its digital transformation project, including implementing a global payroll platform and rolling out an ERP system.
From start-up to scale-up
In the early stages of a start-up, the immediate focus is often on revenue generation and ensuring day-to-day operations. However, as the business progresses from start-up to scale-up, the role of finance becomes increasingly critical.
Who Gives A Crap is no exception, as the business begins to take an even deeper dive into ‘beefing’ up the finance team.
“I think that as you grow from startup to scale-up, finance can sometimes be the last thing that you think about,” Halbish says. “What’s really on your mind is paying the bills and the wages. But sometimes the value that competent finance experts can bring to a business is lost a little bit while you’re building it out.”
Halbish says he is also in the process of bringing in individuals who have a genuine desire to grow with the business and recognise the opportunities that come with staying committed.
“At the moment, we are focusing on building our financial and management reporting capabilities and strengthening our FP&A skills,” Halbish explains.
“However, the biggest opportunity I see within the business from a financial perspective is bringing in great people into finance who are passionate about making the business better. By doing so, the value of finance starts to permeate throughout the organisation in a meaningful way.”
Leading with vulnerability
Halbish is arguably a little different to the traditional CFO in that he has chosen to wear his heart and emotions on his sleeve.
Traditionally, C-Suite leaders have been expected to display strength, confidence, and invincibility. Today, however, many successful leaders recognise the power of vulnerability and its impact on building trust, fostering authentic connections, and promoting growth within their teams.
“I made a conscious decision a little while ago that I’ll be more effective in my role, and my teams will be more effective, and the people whom I interact with will be more effective, if I’m genuine about who I am and the things that mean a lot to me,” says Halbish.
He explains that he speaks candidly about what a good day looks like for him and what a bad day looks like.
“I think that we can get lost in the importance of our work a lot of times, but I believe vulnerability in a lot of ways helps other people understand who you are and therefore you can help them be a part of the collective to achieve bigger goals,” he says.
“I will not pretend for a moment that it’s always comfortable,” Halbish adds, noting that his leadership approach has also given people the confidence, comfort, and safety that they too can be themselves.
“I believe that through this we can all be individuals as part of a collective that is working together for something great.”
Was this article helpful?