For Emma Martin, regional finance director for Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific and a member of AFP’s FP&A Advisory Council, finance is most successful when it’s working cross-functionally with other departments. And she should know. In addition to her finance role, she also works in human resources and talent management.
Martin began her career as a chartered accountant for Arthur Andersen, leading the audit for Ogilvy in London before being offered the role of financial accountant. But from the very beginning, her responsibilities extended far beyond traditional debits and credits. She started with forecasting and matching to actuals on the P&L, but quickly picked up project work, like implementing financial systems, improving management information and working with business units to figure out why they were not performing well. “These first three years were a great opportunity to learn and of great variety; it was a great place to have permission to ask questions and learn about the business,” she said.
This theme of working hand-in-hand with the commercial side of the business resonates throughout Martin’s 15 year career at one of the world’s largest marketing and communication firms. From the UK, she went to Sydney, where she spent nine years in Ogilvy’s PR business. Initially, the operation did not have a mature finance team; it was a mishmash of acquisition and organic growth with finance staff dispersed in what used to be independent companies.
“My role was to bring that function together and lift our delivery from accounting to a business partner,” Martin said. At the same time, she worked with the CEO and the separate business units to help bring them closer and be able to go to market as a unified team, putting together the financial pieces behind this to encourage collaboration and bridge the separate P&Ls. During the last part of her stay in Sydney, she also oversaw HR and talent management.
In 2012, Martin took over the CFO role at the firm’s Singapore office, where she oversaw not just PR but also digital, advertising, production and all the other Ogilvy business lines. “It was a much more complicated business,” Martin said. Again, her role was very strategic. “My biggest focus was on lifting the perception of the finance department, from bean counters to playing a more active and knowledgeable role in forecasting and management and going up the value chain to help the business price and deal with clients,” she said. “There were silos that needed to broken down. We had to partner closely with the business to understand their needs and how best to position ourselves to help drive growth.”
In mid-2016 she transferred to Ogilvy’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong. Given her broad experience, her regional role extends beyond pure finance. Half of her time is spent on HR and talent management and the rest includes more finance-related activities. On the HR side, Martin focuses on bridging the gap between the talent function and the finance team, “to make sure that we are making the right decisions on investment for our greatest resource—our people,” she said. The rest is spent handling the finance needs of the regional PR and social media businesses, as well as handling the global coordination efforts for two very large clients, Nestle and Phillips, and driving IT transformational efforts.
“My favorite part of the job is the people and the corporate culture that takes finance very seriously. You get an immediate seat at the table,” she said. “You’re expected to have an opinion and share it.”
The leadership and management challenges Martin faces are twofold.
First, she must learn how to steer the business through the tremendous change the communications and advertising industry is currently experiencing. “We need to make sure we support our teams to hire the right talent and have the right balance between transformational hires and meeting existing client needs,” she said. “I have to be cognizant of our changing industry and our annual budget commitments.”
Second, her role today is very different from her previous role where she led a large team of finance, HR and IT personnel. She doesn’t have a team any longer. As a result, she said, “I need to evolve my leadership style to lead remotely and help influence our market teams to drive positive results by engendering a community around the things I need to achieve.” She’s fortunate to already have close relationships with the people she needs to work with, yet cognizant that they all have full daily jobs. “It’s about getting that balance right,” she said.
An evolving role
While Martin has always viewed business partnership as a part of the finance executive’s role, she’s definitely seen that role evolve over time. In fact, “every time I shifted positions I needed to push in that direction and to lift finance to create this necessary connectivity,” she said. According to Martin, it’s about helping finance managers understand they need to, and can, be seen as true business partners, and change others’ perceptions of them as sitting behind piles of spreadsheets.