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An Exclusive Interview with Helene Bouteleau from PSA Group – the Parent Company of Peugeot, Citroën and DS Automobiles

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Helene Bouteleau began her career in 1997 and has since then held a number of Management positions. In August 2000, she joined the PSA Group and its three world-renowned brands – Peugeot, Citroën and DS. Her first role was in the finance department in Portugal but she then moved to Paris to become a Key Account Manager and expand her business experience and knowledge. In the following years, Helene held a number of Senior Management positions with the PSA Group around Europe, including Director of Finance for Peugeot Croatia and then Peugeot Portugal, Head of B2B coordination and Used Vehicle Sales for Peugeot and Citroën in Iberia and finally, Peugeot Brand Director in Portugal.

Since February 2016, she’s been Director of Finance for the PSA Group in the UK’s Headquarters in Coventry. Here Helene spoke to Finance Monthly about her career, the impact she’s had on PSA Group’s performance and tells us how CFOs can create value through their Finance strategy.

 

Could you tell us a bit about your career path prior to becoming the CFO of PSA Group? What brought you to your current position?

Before becoming CFO of PSA Group in the UK, I had held several finance positions and I had already had CFO experience within the group (in Croatia and Portugal). Having this previous experience gave me the capacity to adapt and deal with difficult situations. To reinforce and develop further my experience, I had also held positions within other areas of sales, such as Key Account Manager for a B2B in Paris, which allowed me to have direct contact with customers, Operations Director in Portugal, which allowed me to experience all the other back office areas like Network Development, Programming and Logistics, Aftersales and Quality, B2B and Used Cars Activity. Before joining the UK office, as a Brand Director of the Peugeot Brand, I had a wider vision of the business. The fact that it was in a smaller market provided me with an excellent overview of the business and how as an organization, we constantly have to adapt to changes and be flexible. Evolving and growing the business further come with constant challenges for all of us in PSA Group.

 

PSA Group’s sales and revenue in 2016 reached €54 billion. How would you say has your role impacted the company’s performance last year?

All of my roles as a CFO have always been paired with working in difficult and challenging situations and the latest one is no exception – we were faced with Brexit a few months after my arrival. With the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the company faced some issues and dealt with a new context of uncertainty, as well as the foreign exchange impact. All the business decisions had to involve the Finance department, as the goal was to find the right balance for volume and profitability. The Partnership with the Business Areas had to be continuous last year and still carries on in 2017. The closer we are to the Business and the Field areas, the better we can react.

 

What motivates you about your role? Has being a CFO of a multinational company always been your ultimate goal?

What motivates me about my role is the fact that I am an added value for the company and the business. The whole organization must be focused in creating value. With my previous experiences, I managed to have an overview of the business – something that is very important in the decision-making process and gives me a different approach towards the Businesses areas. I really enjoy working within this business and being a CFO represents a key position and above all in a market with the maturity that exists in UK. I take this challenge as an important step in my career but not ultimate.

 

What lies ahead of you and PSA Group? What are your aspirations for the future?

 Although I’ve been with the PSA Group for 17 years, the organization has allowed me to experience a lot – I’ve worked in 5 countries in 9 different roles. This flexibility and constant change mean that we are constantly evolving and moving forward. I hope my time with the PSA Group continues to be that exciting in the future.

 

You spoke at the CFO Agenda conference in London on 1st of June. Could you give us a brief synopsis of your talk?

This session explored the key strategic drivers for strategic thinking and planning within an organization, as well as ways of creating value through your Finance strategy. In fact, this is fully in line with my business vision and how I manage my team. Naturally, the Finance Department has a cost controlling function, but what I find to be more important is to be part of the team, in order to drive the business and increase the volume and profitability. Thus, I believe that all Finance Departments must work as a partner with the rest of the teams. The Finance function must understand that it is our job to satisfy our customers – internal customers – and we must work in a proactive way. Once we manage to achieve this, the credibility and the confidence allow us to develop a global team focus on the business and the important growth factors. Of course, in the meantime, the Finance Department must remain objective and act in the best interests of the company.

 

How could CFOs create value through their Finance strategy?

 It is my belief that the CFO is in the best position within an organization to foresee the potential issues that can arise in the future. Therefore, the CFO is the one who must drive the strategy changes, along with the business areas and the rest of the Management Board. Once the business areas have the right understanding, they will be able to design actions, adapt the business strategy to the context and then tackle the possible difficulties. This will then result in an innovative and proactive company – a leader instead of a follower.

 

What is the best advice you would share with fledging CFOs and Finance Directors?

The best advice that I can give to a CFO is to be genuinely interested and passionate about the business, while sharing this passion with the whole team. A CFO must really understand the story behind the figures and this is fully achievable only when you’re close to the field teams. This background knowledge will then enable you to add real value for the company.

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