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Episode 7 - Chris Granger, Head of Commercial, Partners in Performance

  • Posted 22 Mar 2021
  • Richard Holmes
  • Podcast

Chris is a Chartered Accountant with more than 20 years’ experience in senior commercial and finance roles.

After developing his skills in a chartered accounting practice, Chris was Financial Controller at Gordon and Gotch (FMCG with $800m sales at the time) and then CFO of a media division within the listed APN News and Media. At APN Chris was heavily involved in restructuring – including selling group assets, renegotiating unprofitable government advertising contracts and returning his division (Australian Posters) to profitability. 

15 years ago Chris joined the management consulting start-up Partners in Performance as their inaugural CFO. He built the finance function from the ground up, before becoming Head of Commercial responsible for setting up Partners in Performance overseas subsidiaries – which now total some 60 companies. Chris has also set up a family office for the founder of the group.

Transcript Please note that this has been transcribed by AI/Bots so there may be typos and the occasional strange things happening. Richard Holmes 0:02 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 Seven, we welcome Chris Granger. Chris is a chartered accountant with more than 20 years of experience and senior commercial and finance roles. After developing his skills in a chartered accounting practice, Chris was Financial Controller at Gordon and gotch and then CFO of a media division within the listed APN news and media APN. Chris was heavily involved in restructuring, including selling group assets, renegotiating unprofitable government advertising contracts, and return on his division to profitability. Fifteen years ago, Chris joined the management consulting startup partners in performance as their inaugural CFO. He built the finance function from the ground up before becoming head of commercial responsible for setting up partners and performance overseas subsidiaries, which now total 60 companies. Chris is also set up a family office for the founder of the group. Richard Holmes 1:07 Chris, how are you? Hi, Richard. I'm well, how are you? Nice. Yeah, very well. I Chris Granger 1:13 could see you as well. I've known Chris for a number of years from his early days in a business called partners and performance, and Chris's story and journey have been really interesting, not only in his own career, but with with the company itself. Over to you, Chris. Chris Granger 1:28 It's funny, Richard, you're starting these moments. I don't know how often you reflect on your career and how long you've been around. Frank. It but but I did when you asked me to have a chat. And so I've been working for 30 years. So no wonder I've got a couple of aches and pains. I started as a chartered accountant did all of my study. Being a chartered accounting firm, I did all my study part time, including the professional year. And I kind of fell into accounting To be honest, I really wanted to look the best reason for choosing a career. But I was very keen to earn some money as I studied. So that was one of the key drivers for choosing accounting. And I joined a small firm, it was a three partner probably called the business services firm and, and actually ended up spending quite a long time there. I spent eight years at a firm called Banfield and company. And it was a really good grounding, really broad base for all good tax experience, financial accounting company, secretarial, I got some orders and exposure to a lot of a lot of good things. They didn't have big businesses, his clients to medium-sized businesses. But that the general sort of nuts and bolts experience was great. And I think it's something that I've really built on during my career. I don't think I ever saw myself as a partner. I always thought I'd eventually move to commercial life. But I wanted to spend long enough in chartered, such that I felt like I had a base to build on could take some good knowledge into commerce. So I joined I guess you call them an fm firm, a company called Gordon and gotch, who did Australia's magazine distribution. And they're a bit smaller these days, given that newspapers and magazines anymore, but they were very large when I joined, they turned over 800 million at the time. So the big adjustment for me was getting used to a business that size all the systems and processes. And most of the transactions were small, so the volume was huge. But the account the chartered background did give me a good basis to to feel like while I was adjusting to the systems and bigger businesses, I felt like I did have something to offer in terms of my knowledge base and being able to get on with the role. So fairly quickly became financial controller there and started managing a team for the first time. And it was I always hoped to get more exposure to commercial issues. And this is my starting mess, really from there's the running a large team aspect, but also managing a cash flow. And all the forecasting and the things that owners require around that. Accounts Payable and data's and really was a good beginning to a commercial career for me. And God and God was fun. It was there's a lot of young people I think I joined when I was 20 Six, and is probably one of the older ones. And we're up in French's forest. And, you know, Friday nights were fun, and probably a lot of fun. And it was, we worked quite hard, but we had a good time, too. So, I enjoyed that. I got a chance one of our clients actually joined a media company called APN. And he asked me to come on board to be CFO of one of their outdoor advertising divisions. And I love I loved Gordon & Gotch. But it was a little bit too hard to say no to that. And it was quite different. It allowed me more to focus on the commercial APN at the time actually had a shared services time. So there was just myself, and a management accountant is the finance people in the business. And it was a real business partnering Raul. They had some issues at the time; they hadn't necessarily performed well. So those rationalising assets, so I had a chance to sell their property portfolio. The Division of APM is called Australian posters, it was a poster business. So the posters that you see as you drive along the side of the road, the posters that you see in train stations and things like that. Chris Granger 6:27 And again, I had too many of them. So there was this opportunity to rationalise the sites and rebuild the cost base. Lots of good commercial opportunities, those big government tenders for the advertising sites, in the train stations, for instance, and advertising on the back of taxis and CEO who was very entrepreneurial, really, really relied on myself and the finance people to make a contribution to that. So I really loved it got to a point where it was time to make the next move. And I've enjoyed partners in performance. So where I still am, which was about 15 years ago now. And it was really very different to what I was used to both Gordon and gotch in Australia and posters and very old Australian companies with said insanity set in stone systems and ways of doing things. I was I think the sixth employee partners in performance, and certainly the first finance employee. So it was a Greenfield site, a bit ahead of being a startup founder lady by the name of skip Williamson, had built up from a small business, I think it was turning over 20 million or so at the time, and had some grand ambitions to grow with double digit growth every year, classic entrepreneur skip is and to expand overseas and do all sorts of interesting things. I found that appealing. I've always liked entrepreneurs and got a lot of energy from the things skip wanting to do. And the national focus was was something new and exciting, too. And I guess I kind of figured if it all goes pear-shaped in a year or so my current career hadn't been so bad, I could probably get back into a safe corporate. But really, it's been a my I guess my story is linked to partners in performance more than anything else. It's been partners in performance now turns over hundreds of millions of dollars a year, we have 60 companies, we're in 3535 different countries. So it's been a ride and die has has really been the same. There were the initial days of we didn't have management accounts, you know, I think we're on on mid there wasn't a finance team. So building all those sorts of things, as well as getting involved with skipping, you know, whatever was coming next the contract in South Africa or, or trying to set up a business in Latin America. Our initial scripts background she was from McKinsey, left McKenzie felt that she could start a niche business that I think McKinsey comes up with a lot of strategy and ideas for business improvements. For top-shelf clients, really. But skip was a bit frustrated of seeing those ideas never really been fully implemented or not often being fully implemented because when the management consultants left, the business just didn't have the people in the leverage to do it. So, our model was to send a team of five or six people. And as I said, Before, we had a nation, the mining industry at the time at the time to spend six months with the client and give them that leverage to make the improvements and also transfer the skills to the client so that they could set up their business and Business Improvement departments and keep going with it. So wonderfully profitable model for a professional services firm, you're saying six consultants for six months, and they're 100% utilised, so was very smart business model. And it's allowed us to go globally, on the back of the niche mining intellectual property that we've had. So in the initial years, it was all about being CFO and setting up the finance department, as well as partner and skip. My roles changed in recent years, it's been my title now is Head of Commercial, and it's had two focuses, the overseas expansion, setting up the companies overseas, making sure that we had structures there that work. So we get profits and thumbs else, lots of technical tax challenges, such as transfer pricing, and the nuances of the different countries. Chris Granger 11:20 So yeah, there's 60, companies set up and accounting and, and I've always enjoyed those sorts of new business opportunities. The other way my chat, my career has changed in the last five or six years is, obviously have established a trusting relationship with Skip, having known her for so long. So I've set up a family office for her. So a lot of my time is now spent, managing family interests, making sure we have some intergenerational continuance of wealth, getting out and investing with, which is a lot of fun, preview from hands on investing to equities and property, and that those sorts of things which, which can build family wealth. So that's, I think that's a snapshot of that's my curry partners in performance, it is a great place, it's full of energy, and no, no day is ever the same, will go pretty much anywhere in the world where we can sell work. And often the selling work comes before working hours, how are we going to do the work and some far off far off land, and it's my job and my team's job to work that out and make sure that we can deliver on what we've committed to a client from a partners in performance perspective. So yeah, it's well, Richard Holmes 12:53 it's a great story, just listening to you linkless kind of mentioned at the time to take that role. Chris Granger 12:58 Mm hmm. Richard Holmes 12:59 Were you with the sixth employee departments performance, your risk appetite for doing something so different to APN, which was still a very established business, then? Chris Granger 13:07 Yeah. I think my risk appetite has always been higher than the most accountants, I think, like calculate risk. From my perspective, it was one of those meetings that you go along to, and sort of missed an hour, and then you start to get engaged. And I think there was four or five interviews as I started to get to know people. And it was easy to say yes, in the end, but calculated from the perspective of you know, I didn't have by that stage, six or seven years of commercial life behind me and charmed life. So it would have been disappointing if it didn't work out. But it was at that stage where you can really make your mark, and you don't often get an opportunity to do this. And you don't know how many of those chances you'll get suppose. Yeah. So I would do it all again. Hmm. It's, Chris Granger 14:03 it's interesting as motorists, because we see a lot of people who were really hung up on this. This term out there called it the barbecue brand, or if you've heard that before, where you’re at your friend's house, and now I work for coke. Or I work for Woolworths. And it's interesting. I think a lot of people coming through that earlier part of the career. Yeah, I'm just working for these barbecue brands, if you will. Yeah. But it's Yeah, it's there's so many good opportunities out there and working in the recruitment industry every year this is new companies we deal with Yep. And we are amazing companies amazing people amazing cultures, and you've never heard of them. And like yeah, even myself on like Google and the company when we're having the first conversation you get to meet them and they're just amazing. And it's it's interesting that that that appetite for just looking at it what could be something a bit different. It can work in your favour. I think your stories, evidence of that. So what advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career like yours like yo took before you went in chatted with her for eight years, was it always in in intention to be there for eight years? Or no, it Chris Granger 15:06 was during the recession as well. So that probably contributed to it. I always I was more nervous in in those days about Am I doing the right thing? And do I know enough and I, I didn't see myself staying in charted, but I wanted to feel like I had something to offer when I went to commerce. And I perhaps stayed a year or two too long. But I would I've also seen people jump out of chatted too quickly, I think and may have done not done enough, because there is some trade elements to accounting and tax. Of course, it's a bit nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts type of things. So I'm meandering, but what was the question? Richard Holmes 15:56 into what what advice would you give to someone What to do? Chris Granger 15:59 Okay, so I, I think I told you back in, I had, even the Chad days thought I'd like to go to commercial life. And the other thing about childhood was those broad base skills. And my first commercial role as well was also broad based, I think people can specialize too early. But tax or or management accounting. And, and look, if you're passionate about that, and you're sure about it, it's, it's great. And don't don't hold yourself back. But if you want the role by CFO and commercial type roles, you need to be across more than one area, I think you need to understand tax effects things, you think you need to understand the job, too. So important financial accounting is to the management, you know, having having all of your having integrity with your information, and making sure that's done? Well. I think if you if you understand all the elements and how they work together, you're valuable to the commercial process, and you start to develop good judgment. You know, you're often working with people who don't have the same, obviously don't have the income or sit down at the same financial background as you. And they're looking for that good judgment. So giving yourself enough pro experienced. So you can have this good commercial judgment. Richard Holmes 17:25 I think it's important. And that's good advice, isn't it? And when did you recognize that early on in your career that we're self aware to realize like I don't, I don't want to just do tux? Chris Granger 17:35 Yeah. I was more nervous earlier in my career. I was I used to get afraid of what Wait, I know. A Friday Fridays, if I wanted to be commercial, I was afraid if I specialise in one area, I wouldn't have known enough about the risks. So I was aware of it. And I'm glad I took that approach. Yeah, Chris Granger 17:56 that's a that's excellent. And, I mean, with with the evolution of partners and performance, what's the biggest area related to your role now that you're most curious about? Because finance is evolving as well? Richard Holmes 18:09 Yeah. Chris Granger 18:11 I'd say globalisation. I mean, around, there's, yeah, there's a lot of international roles, but a lot of them deal with inbound investing, I suppose. There are knocks there out there, but there's not that many interesting Australian companies that have hit offers in Australia and investing outwardly in the world. So I'm interested in globalization and it's such a challenge, you know, the world is so connectable now, you can easily sell your products and, and make sales, even with professional services virtually and beyond some pipe rapport and, and go and do a client engagement. So and that's good for the world learning off each other and, and growing economies. Class, the world, the regulators are also trying to catch up, you know, how do countries still collect their own tax bases? So how do they make sure they're getting their share? You know, and transfer pricing such an issue these days. Countries are also very nervous about fraud and people doing the wrong thing. So there, whilst it's easy to make a sale and have a presence in a company, actually going through all the corporate regulations to invest there and establish a business is, is seemingly too slow in today's world. How countries are going to react to protecting their revenue base and making sure they become a country that attracts him national interest and investment is a real challenge. Chris Granger 19:46 And it's a inotia touch on just in the last few years as well at that appetite for globalisation for a lot of companies is more so and you've seen it with your business and the convention. I mean, we've known each other for a while Chris there that The hurdles of say, setting a company in South America? What hurdles did you face personally? And how did you overcome them? Chris Granger 20:10 I think culturally is a big thing. I have had done some travel in my life before partners in performance. But just understanding that what works in Australia doesn't always work internationally. So, you know, with whether something's not going well, giving people the ability to save face still rather than, you know, the be too challenging in meetings. You know, I'm in a management consulting business, which is very fast paced in Australia is very fast paced. Not every country is like that. So been willing to change down a gear at times to suit the situation. projects, things that come to mind. Yeah, Richard Holmes 20:54 look what you've learned from dealing with countries in Asia, compared to South America, in Europe, and Chris Granger 20:59 yeah, yeah, I think there are elements of it in South America to look, I think another thing that's benefited my career is, you quickly learn not to be reactionary, you can be too reactionary and too emotional. And you're talking about things earlier in your career, I think there's times where, you know, you could be too emotional, and you end up making the wrong decisions. So even into the very developed countries, it's hard to establish a business overseas, you're always going to run into issues and some barriers, and you've got to be calm and take a problem-solving approach, and you normally get there. So charging it, always charging it things like a bullet, again, isn't always the best way. Richard Holmes 21:45 And in when when when you reflect on partners performance, you've been there for 15 years, what? What thing would you wish to have known that the star would have made your life a bit easier? Chris Granger 22:00 Yeah. Probably that first phase, I remember the South African man I, I did charge things that are like a ball of the gate and probably burned a couple of relationships that I shouldn't have, frankly. And it probably took us two years to set up. And if I had approached it differently, it would have taken us six months or so. It probably is that. Yeah. Richard Holmes 22:24 In how I mean, you've you've experienced so much within your Chrome business, how do you continue to learn? Is that something that's Chris Granger 22:32 god, I'm really lucky in. My job has new stuff in it every day, Richard, and it really does. This year, for instance, we've set up new companies in Saudi Arabia and Japan, and we're about to that do some restructuring in in the UAE. So actually learning about how to do business in those countries and their tax laws and their cultural aspects. is always has me on a learning curve. I do a lot of technical reading, like most people, I think you tend to particularly become more experience, hone in on things that affect your job. It's hard to be across everything. The other thing where I'm lucky is in a management consulting business, there's a lot of intellectual property and training on soft skills and general business skills. But yes, how to the best way of solving a problem, you know, we call it putting a problem on a page and working out what the key drivers out of something and what your optimal outcome is solving problems quickly, such as forming a hypothesis, really learning to prioritize what's important, other than the noise and things that other people say urgency. So the intellectual property, you know, our business I'm always learning from, and I'm lacking in that aspect. Chris Granger 24:00 Looking at anything you've been 15 years and years, years engaged now. Yeah. This is what you were when I first met you. Yeah, it's you've seen a lot from from from a finance point of view. And your finance team evolved a lot in partners and farm it's we touched on before this conversation, that the small office, you were in in Clarence three and in the regular apartment before then, yeah, you touched on. So well. I mean, now we're in 2020. What does the future of finance look for you? I mean, we've evolved a lot. How do you see the next next few years going? Chris Granger 24:33 It's funny you touched on that I recently we have blogs and things and I recently wrote a blog about what PIP was and we call it Pip. performance was like in the early days and I joked that you know, skip and I are in a caravan and pasted a photo of a caravan it wasn't far off that were in a two bedroom units in the rocks in Sydney initially. And then when I met you were in a tiny office in in Clarence Street. And these days, we've got proper offices and proper facilities, I suppose. What's the future of Finance? Look, I'm probably less operational these days, obviously, it and Digital's going to have a huge impact on the way people do things into the future. What I can say it partners in performance and everywhere, it really is businesses continuing to value people who have knowledge and can be something to the table. In my regard, it's probably, you know, I suppose it's commercial knowledge and commercial judgment. So although the nuts and bolts of accounting and information will change, I'd urge people to keep developing their skills, making sure they're taking jobs, that really does push them further and give them new things. And other people doing recruiting as well. to, you know, hire people who they can see in the future are going to be able to develop valuable knowledge and, and add something. Chris Granger 26:07 Yeah, that's a that's a good point. But I'm not going to talk about recruitment, Chris. Okay because I'll just go off on a different tangent. No, it's, it's interesting looking at it is is all about the people in that knowledge in that commercial savviness. That that knowledge, but yeah, it's going to be interested in a couple of conversations, but recently is that the future of finance has been with us for the last few years has it? It's never as quick as what we think it's not just going to change next year. Chris Granger 26:35 I think so. I mean, developing businesses are always going to want people who can have value add skills, and despite how wonderful technology gets judgment still required. So giving yourself enough experience and knowledge to have good judgment. I think Richard Holmes 26:54 that's a that's a good point. And knowing what you know, now, Chris, what advice would you give to your younger self? Chris Granger 27:01 Oh, goodness. Okay, it is a journey, isn't it? Today, you go back and punching in and you don't know where where you end up? Look, it is it is that cut? As I said, I was a bit nervous earlier in my career and occasionally emotional, if I could go back and say, because you're on the right track back yourself. Those sorts of things really clear. Yeah, Chris Granger 27:27 it's, it's true, isn't it? I think I think as you go through your career in your early 20s, it comes down to confidence as well. You already know what you know, and, and you don't want to watch the kind of stupid questions and when you reflect I should have asked that I would, rather than taking a couple years to figure out myself. Richard Holmes 27:42 Yeah, Richard Holmes 27:43 I think it's interesting how it works, isn't it? Yeah. But that's the that's a that's what life is about, isn't it? We'll get older and wiser. And tell me something to close out. Chris. Tell me something not many people know about you. Chris Granger 27:56 Ah, okay. I'm probably I love cricket Richard and I've played a lot of cricket over the years I've played for a club called Lancome Cricket Club. And I'm my my teammates from from my cricket days, unfortunately, do notice that I'm always talking my cricket up but I could bet a bit but I was probably the worst bowler is the only the only Captain at our in my 20 years of the Cricket Club. The only Captain ever ever bothered me was me. And and a home ground is you know, ripping Epping road 10 Talon oval, that's great. The grandstand. I've only ever seen a cricket ball hit onto the roof of the grandstand twice in all my years playing there. Yeah, I bought eight balls at 10 telling overland being hit under the grandstand twice. Richard Holmes 28:52 I thought it was gonna go a different way, then that was. Chris Granger 28:56 That was my bowling! Chris Granger 28:58 Yeah, sorry. Richard Holmes 28:59 Are you gonna be? Chris Granger 29:00 Yeah, no, I wish. Richard Holmes 29:02 No, it's good. Yeah. And, and hey, look, Chris, I really appreciate your time. I think it's what you said has been really insightful. And look, I guess to the to the listeners. It's about looking at options, keeping your mind open and just backing yourself and having a certain degree of appetite for risk. Yeah. And look, it's where well in your favor. You've had a great career and in like, 15 years online, we touched on before you still still engage you're learning things every day, which is which is awesome. Chris Granger 29:27 Yeah. That is that's a bit of luck, as a bit of luck in at all but yeah, the calculated risk, like everything in life. Richard Holmes 29:35 It's true. So you kind of create your career and look, yes. Excellent. Well, look, I really appreciate your time, Chris, and we'll catch up again soon. Yeah. Chris Granger 29:44 Thanks, Richard. Nice to see you. might see you in person soon mate. Richard Holmes 29:48 See you Chris, chat soon.
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