An Interview with the CFO of BMW Group UK – Talita Ferreira
In the first of our special CFO insights interviews in 2016, Finance Monthly spoke to Talita Ferreira, Chief Financial Officer of BMW Group UK Limited – the sales and distribution organisation for BMW and MINI brands in the UK. She leads the competencies of Finance, Risk, Purchasing, Human Resources, Strategy, Employee engagement and Cultural Change, and spoke to us about her role and predictions for business in 2016
What is your professional background?
I am a Chartered Accountant with both The Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW) and The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. I have been a member of the IoD since 2006 and was elected as a Chartered Director in 2013 and as a Fellow of the IoD in 2015.
You could call my journey one of a portfolio career not dissimilar to the career paths that are now being chosen by some of my Generation Y colleagues! I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in South Africa and also have a Business Law degree. I completed my articles with KPMG in South Africa and then moved on to Government consulting for KPMG. I left KPMG to join Investec Bank in South Africa and spent some time in the regulatory reporting area before moving to a smaller bank to pursue a deal-making career in Corporate Finance.
Unfortunately the bank didn’t list so I moved to BMW Group and took on a more traditional and very broad finance role with a view to becoming a Finance Director. I have held a number of roles within the BMW Group in a number of different countries, including working in the headquarters in Munich in the Financial Services division as General Manager for Reporting and Data Management, and Financial Controller for the Group’s Mexican and Australian operations.
I was promoted to CFO of BMW Financial Services in the UK where I sat on the board of directors. This was a turning point in my career as it was the first role where I managed Human Resources and this is where my passion for organisational development and its human capital really started. For the first time I was not just controlling the purse strings but also looking at enabling the business generally and focussing my leadership on strategic future topics and innovation through people development.
My current role is building on that experience and I am leading a change and leadership journey which involves co-locating three organisations together not just physically on one office campus but also preparing them for the future.
What were some of you major achievements in this area in 2015?
- Relocating our business at the end of 2014 and the Financial Services business in 2015 to a new modern working environment, supported by flexible working and a new culture.
- Launching an internal brand/personality called ‘What moves you’ that connects 3 companies across two industries (Automotive and Financial Services). These 3 companies will all be located on the Summit ONE campus by mid-2016.
- Launching and driving activities that support the new shared values underpinning the internal brand for the 3 companies. These values are: Being me – Authenticity
Being part of the BMW Family – Collaboration, Being part of the Future of BMW – Inspiration.
- Renaming all the back-office functions to Business Development and Enabling and ensuring an identity, common goals and activities to ensure the correct behaviours in line with the set goals.
- Defining the basis for a People Strategy that will enable the company to be fit for the future from a talent and organisational perspective.
BMW Group UK recently moved into new offices – how was this taken advantage of to engage with employees and change working culture?
Moving three distinct companies – sales and distribution, financial services and fleet leasing – to one location gave BMW Group UK a unique opportunity to build a new culture in a new environment – one full of ideas, energy and collaboration to drive us for the customer of the future.
Our leaders wanted a business that was empowered to innovate, where people could be authentic and bring diversity of thought to decisions, and where real collaboration could inspire engagement across generations. This would make us ‘fit’ for the future. To do this, we created an internal Employee Brand, What Moves You’ – three simple words grounded in essential truths from our people, and one big idea that drove the whole cultural shift programme. Our goal: to create a fluid networked community where encounters and conversations would spark ideas and collaboration across the business.
The Change programme included: flexible working practices, desk and meeting environments, HR policies and process, Leadership Culture, and a change in the meetings and communication culture of the businesses.
To engage our employees, we launched What Moves You in an exciting, intriguing way, with movement at the heart of everything. Five ‘disruptive interventions’ shook things up and made collaboration and connections happen. It started with asking employees ‘What Moves You?’ We captured their intrigue and answers in a film full of warmth, individuality and humour, with answers ranging from the emotional to the pragmatic. Subsequent activities included office blackboards inviting people to contribute ideas for moving the business forward. We also created a collaborative Scalextric track-build and race rally, bringing diverse groups of personalities together in an entertaining way. This culminated in an all-employee film premiere to relive the journey and show how everything we’d done was connected, and how each intervention left something tangible to ‘live’ in the business.
A number of cultural shifts have also been identified within the programme and leaders are supported to change and develop the ideal behaviours to support these shifts.
Are high-end companies like BMW Group shielded or more exposed during a financial crisis? Do you think that we are finally leaving the recession?
As a global business, the BMW Group operates in over 140 countries around the world and our sales are well balanced globally, with growth in all major world regions at the end of the third quarter this year. In Europe, our deliveries were up by more than 10%. In Asia, sales rose by over 4% year-on-year. Growth in China stood at close to 2%. In the Americas – as well as in the U.S. – the share of customers who decided to buy a BMW, MINI or Rolls-Royce went up 7%. With growth in all major world regions. However, the slowdown in growth momentum in China presents certain risks for the development of the global economy.
Looking into 2016, what do you anticipate for your role?
My focus will be helping individuals to grow and develop beyond their own expectations but also creating a business environment which will allow managers to become inspirational leaders and drive the success of the organisation and its people. In other words, I will work on changing the traditional mindset on how we lead and look to create a true learning organisation with a highly engaged and motivated workforce, which has a more cohesive networked and collaborative approach to solving problems.
To deliver the above I will focus on the move of the last company to Summit ONE, further integration of the cultural and leadership aspects and a further development on the overall strategy of the company.
How important is being a member of institutions such as the IoD for your career?
I think it’s really important to be a member of institutions such as the IoD.
The Chartered Director qualification has made me acutely aware of what a board director’s responsibilities really are. It has shown me that the most important qualities of a director are, inspirational leadership, emotional intelligence, strategic vision, self-belief / confidence, empathy, perspective, adaptability especially in times of adversity, and the need to be fleet of foot especially given the pace of change in the business landscape.
I found networking with other directors at either IoD events or specific development courses an excellent opportunity to share insights and to hear how other directors were facing similar challenges.
I always bring back elements to the business and find these days out a time of inspiration, self-reflection and ideas generation. Other directors are also very willing to share best practise and engage in new ways of looking at their ongoing challenges.
Workforce demographics are changing rapidly and all Executive Directors need to understand how to manage and lead their organisations through this particular challenge. Development courses through either the IoD or ICAEW are very beneficial in this regard. Recently the ICAEW launched a focussed drive regarding the engagement and motivation of Millennials.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
What I have enjoyed most about driving the change project above:
- The ability to make a difference within the corporate environment.
- Driving change to ensure an organisation that is fit for the future from a customer perspective and the challenge that the leaders of the future, i.e. the Millennials, will bring.
- Challenging internal mindsets to recognise the fast pace of change externally and the call to action to teams in the HR and Strategy functions specifically.