Mar 15, 2024
5 mins

CFO business strategies: Supercharging transformation at General Electric

Talking Transformation At General Electric: Rockstar CFO Podcast
Quick summary

Payhawk sponsors the 'Secrets of Rockstar CFOs' podcast, where host Jack McCullough interviews superstar CFOs from various walks of life. McCullough's recent chat with Carolina Dybeck Happe, the visionary CFO at General Electric (GE), reveals her pivotal role in the company's historical transformation. Here, we take a deep dive into some of the topics discussed in the podcast, including one of the greatest business transformations in corporate history.

Table of Contents

    In the world of finance, change is constant and Carolina Dybeck Happe’s professional experience is living proof. From the serene landscapes of Sweden to the helm of an American industrial titan, Carolina’s CFO journey is nothing short of remarkable. As the Chief Financial Officer of General Electric (GE), she sits at the epicentre of one of the most audacious transformations in corporate America. In her interview with Jack McCullough, Carolina unveils the blueprint of GE's metamorphosis into three powerhouse entities.

    HBR report: how to drive business strategy and growth

    1. Leveraging a global perspective for transformative leadership

    With her vast international experience spanning from tech industries in Sweden to industrial roles across Europe and the U.S., Carolina brings a unique perspective to her role as CFO at General Electric.

    Carolina describes:

    I have worked and lived in seven countries, worked across different industries, and been a large-cap CFO for 13 years.

    Carolina's journey through the finance world has given her a rich understanding of exactly why and how things change constantly. She's seen it all (and from different corners of the globe), which helped equip her with in-depth knowledge of sustainable business practices and innovation strategies.

    Right now, she's got a big job ahead of her at GE. They're splitting into three separate companies – GE HealthCare, GE Aerospace, and GE Vernova. It's a massive task, but Carolina's diverse background in leadership and finance from various industries guides her approach to tackle it head-on.

    Carolina says:

    My background and experience in operational CFO roles on a smaller but highly complex scale — and having many years of expertise within roles that have grown in both operational and strategic ways — have helped me enormously.

    2. Embracing digital transformation for a competitive edge

    In a world where technology dictates market leadership, Carolina Happe's approach to digital innovation stands out as a cornerstone of GE's transformation. She reflects on her transition from tech to a more traditional industry, a path less traveled yet instrumental in envisioning a tech-enabled future for GE.

    Starting in the tech world, my earlier years were formative and made me a digital believer for life. If you look at ASSA, how we moved the company from a traditional industrial company to mechanical solutions to electromechanical solutions to digital and SaaS solutions was an enormous transformation of the company.

    She uses the transformative power of digital tools, including AI in finance and lean methodologies, to redefine traditional business operations, financial forecasting, and product development strategies. This use of tech and data helps address immediate operational challenges and sets the stage for long-term innovation, ensuring GE remains at the forefront of industry trends.

    Looking back at our work on the manufacturing floor, we can see how technology impacted everything and massively improved safety, quality, delivery, and cost. I believe the same will be true with AI for office workers. We will improve the quality, the delivery, and the costs.

    3. Strategic decentralization and lean management

    Carolina's vision extends beyond financial restructuring, diving deep into operational excellence and efficiency.

    I believe that my strong background in decentralization and "lean" was critical for me in guiding principles for transformation

    Carolina emphasizes giving more power to decision-makers at the operational level. This change sets the stage for a quicker and more flexible organizational structure.

    We decided to go from five P&Ls to 30 P&Ls or business units. What was important for those 30 teams was that they would have the right tools to drive the impact. They can also measure and see if their actions are creating the impact they want. If not, they can pivot. It's much cleaner and closer to the customer action-oriented solution, which is also important.

    This CFO strategy streamlines processes and fosters a culture of innovation and accountability across GE's diverse business units. By situating decisions closer to their impact points, GE has seen significant improvements in efficiency and responsiveness to market changes.

    4. The role of strategic acquisitions in value creation

    With a history of orchestrating numerous acquisitions, Carolina leverages her vast experience to ensure that each acquisition fits strategically with GE's long-term objectives and promises operational synergies.

    Having done almost 200 acquisitions in my previous roles at ASSA and successfully integrating those over time has also helped me enormously in understanding what works and what doesn't. I do think this is about being a change agent, staying agile, and being able to adapt to any situation. That is a skill set that served me well.

    Under her guidance, GE prioritizes acquisitions that enhance its competitive edge and align with its overarching goals, ensuring seamless integrations into the company's fabric. This value creation extends beyond the acquisition, involving continuous alignment with GE's strategic vision and operational optimization.

    Finding a dual math that works that it's a win-win. That's where the value creation happens.

    This acquisition-focused CFO strategy showcases how well-executed mergers can be powerful catalysts for organizational growth and innovation.

    Other CFO strategies: Transforming finance with innovation

    Financial change management often encounters formidable challenges, from risk aversion and stakeholder resistance to operational disruptions and the constant pressure of regulatory compliance.

    The good news?

    Leveraging technology can dramatically enhance your overall CFO strategy.

    That’s where solutions like Payhawk come in. Our comprehensive enterprise spend management solution addresses these very challenges, providing CFOs with the tools needed for effective change management in finance.

    Our solution, including corporate cards, expense management software, multi-entity management, procure-to-pay automation, and native ERP integrations, empowers businesses to curb busywork and data delays.

    By automating tedious and time-consuming tasks, our customers free up valuable time and get unparalleled spend control and real-time visibility into corporate expenses, enabling CFOs to make informed decisions swiftly.

    As Gabriela Leovac, Accountant at Porsche e-Bikes shares:

    We now have more time to analyze the expenditure, which, before Payhawk, was consumed by acquiring all the data from employees. Now, we have more transparency, tighter control of spend, and less paperwork.

    Ready to tackle the challenges of financial change management head-on?

    With Payhawk, you can equip your finance team with the tools to navigate change effectively, ensuring your organization remains competitive and resilient in the face of constant evolution.

    Book a demo today and discover how you can supercharge your corporate finance strategy by becoming a CFO who not only reports history but makes it.

    Leveraging a diverse background for leadership beyond finance

    Yoana's unique career path, blending information technology and finance, has had a big impact on her approach to financial leadership at L'Oreal. Her unusual combination of skills and the way she's used her IT career in her finance leadership highlight the value of a diverse background.

    An important part of the picture, according to Yoana?

    The idea that you have to be very good at what you're doing no matter what.

    Her IT background has given her a unique angle not only on data and business intelligence but also on the broader aspects of leadership. Yoana emphasizes the value of team-building and delegation, which are crucial in the role of a CFO. No matter the discipline, "the leadership strategy, communication, and ability to relate to people is the difference between a manager and a leader," she says.

    Yoana's diverse skills go beyond financial management, focusing on strategic leadership and teamwork. As a modern CFO, she highlights the importance of teamwork, technology, and empowering others for overall business success.

    Skills are important, but at the end of the day, if you have a very strong team, you're not going to close the books yourself anymore. You're not going to do the budget, control of spend, and forecasting. You have the people in your team (that you selected) who are the best to do that for you.

    Navigating cross-cultural challenges and embracing global perspectives

    Yoana also highlights the importance of understanding and adapting to varied cultural contexts in global business operations. She shares that her experience working across different countries, including a stint in China, has given her invaluable insights into managing diverse cultural dynamics in business:

    I do believe there's nothing like learning about what's going on in China. If you have the opportunity, you should try to go there because it's a different world. This perspective is crucial in a globalized economy where understanding local market conditions and cultural nuances can be the difference between success and failure.

    "Being there on the ground, you realize that it's a huge opportunity. It comes with risks, like every opportunity. And you need to live there to see the opportunity (but also see the other side, which is the risk), and then decide what's best for your business," she says.

    Yoana's journey shows that embracing global challenges as opportunities is crucial for success in the changing world of international business.

    The role of emotional intelligence in crafting successful CFO strategies

    Soft skills, such as empathy and understanding, are just as essential as technical expertise in the finance industry, according to Yoana. The real value is in understanding people, both within the team and in the broader market context.

    The more you get into the leadership position, the less it is about your 'skillset' and the more it becomes about your ability to relate to people, understand who they are, what they want, and how to motivate them.

    Yoana's perspective flips the traditional view of a CFO's role from a 'numbers-only' focus to one encompassing a broader, more human-centric approach. And it highlights how leadership skills, like adaptability and continuous learning, are essential for success.

    "It's easy to transfer (skills) seamlessly from one industry to another; what you have to learn is the industry. We're constantly learning in life whether we want it or not," she states, which is vital in managing diverse teams and guiding them through periods of change and growth.

    Yoana strongly believes that honing soft skills is important for better leadership, team dynamics, and overall business success.

    Mastering finance change management

    In today's fast-paced finance world, success often hinges on rolling with the (metaphorical), which often means change management, whether it's strategy, process, technology, people, or all four.

    The role of a CFO is not 'just' about crunching numbers. It's about navigating the complexities of global markets, embracing technological advancements, and understanding the human element in finance. What's more, mastering a smart CFO strategy (and having the right team, tech, and attitude to bring it to life) is vital to achieving success, as finance guru Yoana exemplifies.

    CFOs in large and growing businesses (even if not L'Oreal-sized) must collaborate across departments to balance budgets and seize opportunities. Real-time spend control, informed decision-making, and finance automation are essential for saving time and avoiding errors.

    At Payhawk, our solution is a gateway to strategic financial management. With features like corporate cards, multi-entity management, and native ERP integrations, CFOs can maintain real-time spend control and make the most up-to-the-minute decisions with real-time data at their fingertips.

    As Carolina Einarsson, Finance Director at our customer, Essentia Analytics, says:

    What's great about Payhawk is that you can design and set up workflows that work for your business. For example, at Essentia Analytics, we want to centralize AP and subscriptions, but we want to delegate the employee expenses. And Payhawk lets you set that up in a way that works best for you.

    For CFOs grappling with finance change management and hesitant to move away from traditional systems, Payhawk presents a compelling case. After implementing our spend management solution, 40% of businesses have achieved ROI in less than six months—a rapid return on investment testament to our finance-professional-first approach to transforming spend management.

    Are you ready to redefine your role as a CFO and steer your business toward a future of sustainable success?

    Book a demo and discover how Payhawk can help take your corporate finance strategy to the next level.

    Trish Toovey - Content Director at Payhawk - The financial system of tomorrow
    Trish Toovey
    Senior Content Manager
    LinkedIn

    Trish Toovey works across the UK and US markets to craft content at Payhawk. Covering anything from ad copy to video scripting, Trish leans on a super varied background in copy and content creation for the finance, fashion, and travel industries.

    See all articles by Trish →
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