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(Continuing from the interview in the July/August 2013 issue of FM)

Malcolm Furber on…

… staying relevant with CPD.

“We’ve got to keep learning – and at a faster rate. I’ve always thirsted to learn and not stand still, so CPD has always been natural for me. I’m a product and the customer is the employer that pays my salary or the client who consults me.

So this product has to stay fit for purpose – hence my involvement in the institute’s past four qualification reviews.

“Since I’ve been involved with the CIMA’s CPD programme, I’ve realised that a lot of our members don’t work in finance any more, so how do you do tax updates if that’s not their scene?

We turn it on its head, we call it continuing personal development and we base it on outputs rather than inputs. It fits with my philosophy that I’ve got to keep up to date, or people won’t want to pay me and I’ll be dead in the water.

So I develop my own programmes every year. “Lifelong learning is a given for anybody who comes into this profession. The portability of the qualification helps: in the past seven years in consultancy I’ve looked at practically every industry it’s possible to look at.”

… learning how the whole organisation works.
“I soon realised on arriving at Afrox that there’s a lot to running a gases business. You’re humping gas around in cylinders, which are worth many times more than what’s in there. The separation units in them take air and split it into the three main components – liquefied oxygen, nitrogen and argon – which are stored at about -182ºC. You have got a big vacuum flask on the road that’s worth about R2m (£200,000), so asset management is the name of the game.

“In this role I got very much into the operations side and supply-chain management. The one thing I always advocated to my team was that, if you want to understand this business, kick the tyres and hug a cylinder: fill and deliver a cylinder; go and see the difficulties the delivery guys have. I advise this all the time, even in the courses I run around the world, when I talk about kicking and hugging.

“For management accountants to be successful, it’s about having confidence in what you do and say. You can’t create that confidence by sitting behind a desk.”

… working as a finance business partner.
“If you’re going into a partnership role you need to understand collaboration. You’ve got to understand where people are coming from. To understand the Zulus at Afrox, for instance, I had to learn their language. But engineers talk a different language too. So do marketers and HR people – and you need to understand them all and communicate with them. You’ve got to be someone who knows the total business. When I joined ICI Agrochemicals, for example, I didn’t know what a BPH was. I had to go and find out that it was a brown plant-hopper, a little insect that eats tobacco.

“As organisations collate more and more data, management accountants are best placed to exploit it. We know the tools and techniques of correlating data, forecasting and predictive analysis and accounting. This is coming out of our qualification review: somebody has to be there to take the bits of data that organisations need, leave the rest behind and match them to something else. We’re in that space because to do that we’ve got to understand how the business works – ie, get out and kick and hug.

“This becomes even more interesting when you add other forms of intelligence such as data from social media, which can be used to identify trends. Companies nowadays are having to become more agile by observing such indicators and understanding their effect on business.”

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