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Episode 10, Chris Berner, Head of Finance, Temple & Webster

  • Posted 26 Mar 2021
  • Richard Holmes
  • Podcast

Chris Berner is Head of Finance at Temple & Webster, a leading eCommerce business in the homewares and furniture space. 

He is a commercially minded and a proactive finance professional with over 15 years of experience in retail construction, FMCG manufacturing and the natural resources sectors. 

Chris has considerable ASX and multinational private companies experience complemented with a Big 4 background.

Transcript Please note that this has been transcribed by AI/Bots so there may be typos and the occasional strange things happening. Richard Holmes 0:01 Welcome to the numbers people podcast in partnership with HPR consulting a leading Sydney executive finance recruitment firm. I'm your host Richard Holmes. Richard Holmes 0:15 in Episode 10, we welcome Chris Berner. Chris is head of finance at Temple & Webster, a leading eCommerce business. He is commercially minded and a proactive finance professional. With over 15 years of experience in retail construction, FMCG manufacturing and the natural resources sectors. Chris has considerable ASX and multinational private companies experience complemented with a Big 4 background. Richard Holmes 0:40 Chris, how are you? Good. See you again. Hi, Richard. I am very well how are you? Yeah, very well, very well can't complain at all. I've known Chris for a number of years now from his big four days in Deloitte. He was actually mine we were helping him with opportunities back then. And since then, he moved to a big listed mining company and then into temple and Webster, where he's progressed through to his current role of head of Finance. Chris, do you want to tell us more about your story? Yeah, definitely. So thanks for having me, I think it's a great opportunity for me to to share a bit about myself and also to talk about Chris Berner 1:17 my experience, and I hope it will be useful to you guys. So I came to Sydney 10 years ago, and I started at Deloitte. It was a very interesting time. And I stayed there for four, five years. And since then, I moved to commerce, and I ended up in Temple & Webster. Temple & Webster are an online retailer and the homewares and furniture space as a market leader, a great place to be. And in return, we were so mean, we've known each other for a number of years, you've enjoyed it, you've really enjoyed working with our business and seeing the progression you've gone through. It's what made you join that company when so as you mentioned, I was in a mining business before and it was my first step outside for CB Chris Berner 2:04 probably not the best choice I made in my life. And Mike, my career, and it was a corporate world. And I decided to move to a much smaller business, I enjoyed it much more, I believe you can learn more in a smaller business, and especially after a big fall. So before is also a great place to be but you learn a lot about different businesses. I wanted to join one business when I can where I can really add value, and I can be part of the team. So tempo Webster, when I joined was just after the IPO and they looked for someone with expertise with listed businesses and reporting for listed businesses. And there was a lot of things to do, like literally setting up the finance function almost from scratch. And it was a great challenge. Yeah, Richard Holmes 2:51 I can imagine the attraction to it. And I guess perceptually y is the element of risk that moving from a big listed company to a smaller retailer, but it's paid dividends for you, isn't it? It's, Chris Berner 3:04 I think what you're saying about risk is also super important, right? I as I said, I made a mistake, probably not one many in my career, but it's also okay to take a risk. And when you take a risk, you should treat it as a lesson, right? You can learn so much from mistakes, so much more than from not making mistakes. So I think, and temple Webster was a great example. So I joined the mining business, I decided it wasn't for me. And at the same time, one door closes, another opens. And this was the opportunity maybe which I couldn't have had if I didn't go to the main business. So I think taking a risk is very important. And there's nothing bad in making mistakes. Richard Holmes 3:50 It's true, isn't it? We hear that quite frequently. You kind of learn from your mistakes, but you've got to make the mistake to learn from it, don't you? Chris Berner 3:57 Yeah, there's, there's a bit frightening when you think about your career, right? Because you go to the business, which you don't know, you really want to ensure it is the right business for you. You don't want to change your job every five months, right? So it is a very important step. But there are only certain things we can do before we make the move. So do your research, but take a risk and see how we go. That's good. Richard Holmes 4:22 And what advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career like yours? Chris Berner 4:27 I think if I go back to even my days before I came to Australia, I decided to do auditing because I know that this is something that is very transferable in terms of the skillset and I wanted to go overseas so I came to Sydney I joined before the Lord and I think it was a great move. So when you come from overseas, you don't know many people if you're lucky, you would have some friends but I didn't have many I had one person literally and before was a great time for me in terms of building the network. Meeting mentors, some of the people I met at Deloitte are still my best friends, mentors, I tap into the knowledge in terms of technical skills in terms of how to progress in my career. And I think this was a great move. But at the same time, I know that I just said, take a risk, but also think about who you work with wisely and have even recruiters as yourself. It's so important that great recruiters, but some of them are not that great. And it's also important not to, I think, just follow someone's advice. It's very important to trust your gut feeling and when you make a decision, it's okay to take some time to make a decision, especially when it comes to your career. Yeah, Richard Holmes 5:46 that's a that is good advice, isn't it? It's Yeah, you touch on the networking side of things as well. I mean, coming over you are a new person Australia, it's quite daunting for a lot of people but to keep on building on that network, so he was not just in Australia, but he was influential the most in your career is you mentioned these, the some of your best friends now from Deloitte here in Australia. But Chris Berner 6:11 yeah, I think it's a very interesting question. Because it's not only about your career, I think it's also who you are as a person. So for me, and I go, I will go to the very early stage of my life, when I was a very small kid, I have a brother who is one year older than I am, he was always faster, stronger, smarter than I was. And I was always trying to beat him, right. So if you find someone who really motivates you, if you're in your career, of course, you might be a brother, but it doesn't have to be someone who is better than you are. You don't even need to meet this person. It can be someone famous, it doesn't need to be. But find someone who really motivates you. And my brother had a big impact on who I am at the moment. If I need to think about someone more career-wise, or in my current or more, more recent life, I met a great lot of great people during my career, I was very fortunate. But one of my friends, we met at Deloitte and he was my constant manager. And really, I know that I can really trust him. And I know that I can count on him in terms of very often advice or what you would think. So it's very important, I think, to have someone outside your organization, and he definitely had a lot of impact on my career, right, and how I move and change my job. And sometimes he pushes me to certain decisions if I hesitate for too long. So yeah, definitely. Definitely him. Yeah, that's, Richard Holmes 7:45 it's interesting. As Chris, like, you mentioned, your brother and your family. The family got such a big impact on how we are later in life in the career. Chris Berner 7:53 Yeah, definitely. And it's my brother, I have two brothers sister, and my mom is a great inspiration for me how she always I think helped first other people than herself. And I think it really depends. What you want to achieve. And everyone is different. So for me, it is family and I get a lot of energy for my family. On the other hand, I have now two small kids, so they take a lot of energy for me. But uh, yeah, whoever helps and motivates you? Is someone good to stay in touch. Richard Holmes 8:27 That's, that's great. And it took me a couple of times. But is there one thing you wish you'd known at the start of your career? In hindsight, a great thing like we touched on before? What's the one thing you would have wished you'd have known at the start? Chris Berner 8:43 Yeah, I touched on having a real mentor in your career. It's such an important step. And I'm a mentor for me, someone who is almost like a mirror of yourself, someone who will tell you things which you don't want to hear, and someone who will really challenge you. And when you are at a very early stage of your career, you might think I don't need one because I would just progress through certain steps in your career. But I think it is very important to have this person from the early career and also to, to come up with a plan. What you want to do, and probably most of us, were asked this question during the interview, what do you want to do in five years? And it sounds a bit like a cliche, but I think it is a very important question to ask yourself, like, have a plan. Ideally, talk to someone about this plan, break it down into small steps and doesn't mean that you need to follow this plan all the time through but it really helps to achieve what you want. Be flexible at the same time. Yeah, Richard Holmes 9:43 it's, it's interesting you touch on that Chris, I mean, the way you want to be in five years of sports, some people have never had a career plan. And there is an argument that that can work as well. But I when I meet candidates, I think even when I met you originally Chris when it's always Good to think Well, what do you really aspire to? Like? If you want to be CFO of coca-cola? How do we get there? You want to align yourself to, to get in there. But it's interesting. I think having having having goals and a plan of attack is only a good thing, isn't it? Chris Berner 10:14 I think in our profession, like, again, it depends what person you are, for me it works doesn't mean need to work for you. But at the same time, we need to build up our knowledge. It's about technical skills, but also soft skills. And you really need to give yourself exposure to certain things and challenge yourself if you want to develop. Richard Holmes 10:35 It's true. So we talked about learning from our mistakes. I mean, what's, what's the biggest hurdle you've personally faced? Like? what's the biggest failure? And what’s, how did you correct that? what did you learn from it? Yeah, Chris Berner 10:51 I think, career-wise, and in terms of job selection, my previous move wasn't the greatest. But at the same time, I started looking for new opportunities very quickly. And again, this is what where my dad helped me. So I had an honest conversation with him and he said, yeah, if you don't like it, just do something with that. There's no point to wait, right. And he's not an accountant. He doesn't have much understanding of accounting, but he runs his own business. And I think it is important too, to be able to make decisions quickly. One other thing I have other people who is very inspirational for me is my current CEO. And in terms of quick decisions, like you can see how experienced people, they make decisions so quickly. And it doesn't mean that they didn't think about it, but they know when to make an important decision, and sometimes a hard decision quickly. So I, I think, yeah, like making a mistake, but then I was able to make a decision quickly to change it. And just don't wait for too long. If you know that it's not the right place for you. You need to move on on this quickly, otherwise, you won't be happy. Richard Holmes 12:06 Did you know what Chris, I think that's great advice? I mean, the nature of my role working in recruitment, we see, we have that initial conversation where people are deeply unhappy where they are a year and a half later, they're still in exactly the same spot. And the friends are telling, telling, telling them you got to leave, you got to make a move. But it's interesting, isn't it? And so to work in any commercial business, where you currently are what's, what's the biggest challenge that you have with your specific role right now? And how are you going to overcome that? Chris Berner 12:36 Is, I think it is a super fast-moving environment. Like we went for a great journey, but there's always something new waiting for you, you don't know. And last 10 months with COVID. It was even harder, right? This situation is changing every day. First, you think, okay, what's going to happen is, will we have the full lockdown how the impacts are a business, you really need to move quickly, in the current environment. And probably one of the biggest restraints is time, right? You always have more things to do than time and it is okay. Right? I think I learned from my career and Deloitte was probably a great place to learn it that you can't stress about everything that you need to do, because you will need to keep working 24 seven today, and it is not possible. And you need to keep prioritizing, you need to take a step back and, and have a bit of a thinking time. What do you want to do? And is it the right thing to do? So I wish we had more time, but I have a feeling that even if I had more time, it wouldn't change a lot. I think I will still have more things to do than time. So it's so important to take a step back, think what you want to do planet execute and revise the plan again very shortly. So if you do it on a weekly basis or half and you do it, it's important to have a bit of thinking time to understand what is important to you. Yeah, Richard Holmes 14:09 that's, that's good. It related to your role and your career as well. What are you most curious about? And why? Yeah, I Chris Berner 14:18 think technology is something that I really like in terms of impact on our profession. We don't we and we are not expected to look on the into the past and report on the past anymore. And technology really changes is there a lot. There's a lot of data we need to analyze these days. And of course, without technology, we won't be able to do it. At the same time. technology helps us to improve a lot and simplify it out automate a lot. As an example, we have accounts payable team and we process probably 60,000 invoices a month and two years ago, we introduced some automation with robotics is a simple software, but still helps to automate a lot and really improve the efficiency of the team and the team can then focus on other important things, right. So it's a lot of things technology can do for us. And I am not even talking about artificial intelligence, which I think will be even next step. I like to think about accountants as digital accountants trying to embrace technology and translate it. Not that much technology, but also data and translate it for the business and help the business to make the right decisions. So I think it is very exciting that we can really do it. And it's not that we just need to record numbers, it's more to be able to analyze different scenarios put different recommendations to other people in the business. Richard Holmes 15:50 Yeah. And that's talking about the future of finance stages. And that's where it's all going in terms of robotics, automation. And in the communication of that. Chris Berner 16:00 Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is where we will all go. And the question is, how much it will be automated and how much we will be needed? Right? It could be that we will really only interpret data, or we'll even get recommendations from the technology in terms of what we should do. And then we'll just make a decision, right? I think from the career point of view, it's really important also to understand what you learn what tools you learn because technology changes so quickly. And it's not just Excel like Excel is not the best technology in the world. It helps us a lot. But there's so many other cloud-based software's and it's like, oh, what do I really want to learn what we're where I want to spend my time because it is, again, this finding a balance between what you can do and time you can spend on it. So definitely, technology is a big part of our roles. Richard Holmes 16:55 Yeah. And that leads nicely on to the next question, if you had the extra budget to spend on your team, how would you spend that? Chris Berner 17:04 I think I would spend it on I think probably increasing resources as well, right? Just have a bit of more hands and also to give a bit more room for my team to grow and to learn these new technologies. This is I think, important and for them to, to learn and train. It's also interesting that when you really focus on day-to-day, it's very hard to find time for improvements. So if you have a bit of more resources more time, then you can again, take a step back, think what you want to do you still need time to improve things and to implement them. It's not that it happens overnight. So yeah, definitely. I would rather spend it on people than technology, because then if people have time, they would be able to improve things and find the right technology for that. Yes, ultimately means that I will spend more on technology as well. Richard Holmes 17:59 Yeah, it's, that's a good answer. It's interesting as well, I arrived here and started work here in Sydney in 2006. And in finance background, Chris was very much the peaks and the troughs, the busy times. And then and then the times where you could focus on projects, and in the teams just push a lot into it. And then as the years have gone by the teams got leaner and less, less time of the teams to work on it. So yeah, it's interesting. You mentioned a couple of times, just if we have more time we're gonna choose it's an interesting dilemma, isn't it? It's like, what do you do just recruit more people and have more time or? or change it? It's, it's challenging, I think if we have the answer, it's gonna be good. And you touched on before Chris Deloitte, you're surrounded by some good people in there some of your best friends as of today What What does culture mean to you? Chris Berner 18:52 I think culture means a lot to me it's especially in the businesses like my current employer like when I think about it, like what assets to businesses have right and the task more traditional business will have a lot of physical assets and this is what drives the success of the business nowadays, it's about people, right? You have a lot of engineers you have different departments and there's a lot of knowledge and people and to I think to achieve the success you need to have motivated people and how you do it I think you do it for culture right for me it's a difference in terms of if I want to get up from bed on Monday and if I'm going to work with a smile my face or without and culture is created by people and it is so dependent on each other. So I think it is one of the biggest and most important factors in Richard Holmes 19:47 every company success these days. It's true, isn't it? If you get the people if you get our people bought right, usually the rest falls into place. It's Yeah, like like Chris Berner 19:57 we drive still a lot of demand. And technology and AI. But I think without people, we can't all the companies can achieve what they want. So culture will drive people and will ensure that people are happy in the workplace like my current workplace, the culture is great as a lot of the first diversity or open culture, cultural, we can take a risk and make mistakes is not that you'll be criticized for that. It's more to like very open-minded culture, you can talk to people, you know that if you go you can talk to the CEO, CFO if you want. So I think it is super important. And the same at Deloitte, right? You started this question with Deloitte is very supportive culture as well, like it's an environment when you work very hard, but without the right support and people and culture, you won't be able to do it. Richard Holmes 20:51 That's true, isn't it? Yeah. It's an intervention as well. Just that open to open and transparent culture. It's important, isn't it? Where it's amazing where you currently are with if I work there, you can go and have a chat with the CEO, which is, which is brilliant, isn't it? That's the way it should be. I think Long gone are these kind of hierarchical companies were in the ivory towers and things like that, which Chris Berner 21:14 I think you would feel straightaway on when you go to the company, right? Sometimes you see the executive team sitting in the offices and it creates, it's not only a physical barrier, but it's creative, like the mental barrier, right? If our exec team sits in the open space, and it really shows Okay, we are here for you. If you want to ask any questions, you can come to us and talk. So I think it is yes, very important. Richard Holmes 21:41 That's great. And you're obviously a passionate guy, Chris, you enjoy what you do. What's, what's been the favourite thing? Chris Berner 21:52 I think what I can say is what is a favourite thing about the profession and being an accountant. And it's interesting, when you sometimes ask people, what do you do? I'm an accountant. There's no passion for it. Oh, even if they're passionate, a bit too humble to say that they like it. And I think being an accountant is great because you can really do a lot of things you can try. You can go to different industries. So if you say you like cars, right? You can be an accountant in the car industry if you like something different. You can go to this other industry and even throughout your career, you don't need to always be in the same industry, you can go to another country. There's a lot of people from the law again now, in the UK at the moment I came myself to Sydney and I did I started the job in the same job as I did in my country. So I think this is great about what we've done. Richard Holmes 22:49 Yeah, no, it's good, isn't it? It's truly a global profession. It is. It's quite interesting that you could go to the States or Europe and get a job quite easily. So we've talked about we touched on before being surrounded by good people, what, when when you look back in your career, what recommendations, and had D wished that you've not followed by someone give you some advice? That's pretty bad advice. When I look back, Chris Berner 23:21 I am not going to give this specific example I think I mentioned before just trust your gut feeling is so important. And people would have different priorities and they would like to achieve different things. It is not always aligned if what do you want to achieve? And this is what happened to me a few times. And if they do it consciously or subconsciously is another story not all of them will do it on purpose. Right? So that's why it's so important for you to have someone you can trust and also to even take some time before you make a decision. I think this is important. And Richard Holmes 24:02 with your job as well as you progress these you have more on your workload in times when you come across as a fairly kind of children, killing it kind of guy, but when you do feel overwhelmed when the depression stress hits it, what do you do? How do you manage it? CB Chris Berner 24:22 I think that two things, right? If you're in a situation where it's very stressful, sometimes, again, take a break. Just if you're in the room, it's okay to leave the room. If you don't want to say something that would what do you would regret. If you just try to resolve a problem and you don't have time you feel under pressure? Ask for help. It's so important to ask for help. Like it's not a weakness. I think a weakness is when you don't ask for help. So it's crucial that you are open when you struggle and then you talk to other people. Yeah, I think so. is important in your life to defend things and your work. And so it's not that much if you're in a difficult situation right now. But just find a balance between your work your life, your family, what you do for yourself. Like for me personally, it's tennis, I love playing tennis. And if I don't play for three weeks, my wife would tell me just Chris go and play tennis because you unbearable, right? And because you feel pressure and you feel like stress is building up in you. And definitely any sport activity, any fitness activity will help you to release it. And you can really, or whatever it is reading your book meditation, I tried to do a bit of meditation as well, for the same reason, right? tennis for me is like an active meditation. But meditation is great also to help train your focus and other things. But it's really important to just clear your mind from stress. So you can take a look at the situation in that particular situation, again, with a fresh mind and see what you can do with this. Sometimes things to me, if you like, super hard, but when you take a break, you talk to other people, and then it's like, okay, it's such an obvious solution you wish you didn't see before because stress didn't allow you to see this solution. Richard Holmes 26:18 And stress isn't allowed to allow you to see it. It's true. And I think I completely agree with you and with your earlier point about asking for help. It's interesting when we're in our early career when we think it's kind of not shameful, but embarrassing. I don't want to ask for help, because it makes me look poor at my job. But as we get older we ask him for help is what is the direction we should have asked when we create? I think it's it's that kind of peer pressure that I don't want to be perceived. But I can't do it wrong. To finish the conversation off, Chris, tell me something not many people know about you. Chris Berner 26:55 And quite a few things like that, which I probably would keep to myself. One thing I can say is that I learned to ride horses when I was six and use it for another 1213 years. It became my passion. I took part in an international showjumping competition. It took a lot of my life, but it was great. I don't think many friends in Australia even know about it. But yeah, one of the things Richard Holmes 27:27 I wouldn't have said that Chris. Chris Berner 27:29 Yeah, that's far from tennis and other things I do. But Richard Holmes 27:32 yeah, that's, that's great. And, um, look, Chris, really appreciate your time. I think. I think you'd been a great guest and I think you've offered some really good kind of sage advice and look, I think we've come he career is just evidence of your hard work and taking the risks. We touched on I think, I think you're gonna go far which is great. But thanks. Thanks again for coming on. And I look forward to catching up with you soon. Chris Berner 27:58 Thank you for having me. Yeah. Richard Holmes 28:00 Cheers, Chris. Have a good one.
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