Q&A: Kellie Goldstein, Thomson Reuters
Kellie Goldstein is CFO, Emerging Markets for Thomson Reuters. We caught up with Kellie following her presentation at the CFO Exchange in London, to get some insights into her role and some of the structural innovations taken by her organisation to ensure an extremely robust focus on some of the world’s most dynamic regions…
Outsource: Kellie, you and your team at Thomson Reuters have been on quite a journey in recent times. Can you give us a little insight into the background to this story – looking at emerging markets in particular?
Kellie Goldstein: The company is not new to the emerging markets; given our journalistic and editorial history, we’ve been in some of these places for a very long time – in China since the 1860s particularly – and we’ve got a relatively large footprint across the emerging market in over 100 countries and are very much looking to accelerate our growth there. We’ve had a global product that we’ve been selling over the years and now we are looking to go more local – so adding more local content, developing more local partnerships, and really addressing the regional and local customers that we haven’t been able to address with our global products. We’re really moving onto our next phase of growth in these markets.
O: Strategically, how do you go about getting the balance between global and local right?
KG: It’s a difficult balance. We just recently reorganised to help us focus in that area; we’ve now got a group called Global Growth & Operations and that’s alongside our vertical businesses (we’ve got four vertical businesses: finance and risk, legal, IP and science, and tax and accounting). And now, instead of being a subset of those verticals and in four different silos, we’ve now elevated the group and we are going to be selling across all four positions, so we’re taking a more holistic, corporate approach to addressing these markets.
We think this is going to benefit us in the area of large corporates and also governments, particularly in the Middle East: we can go and partner with governments who have a vision and who are looking to elevate their countries and grow their people; and as their professionalism grows, there are more finance people, more lawyers, more scientists…Our products can help get these countries to a better place.
O: Bearing in mind the history of the organisation, do you think that getting the right people and the right cultural mix is part of your DNA? Not that you don’t have to work hard at it as well of course! But do you feel that the way that the company is set up is specifically encouraging getting that right talent on board?
KG: I think we are getting better and better at it. We’ve got a mix of global talent and talent that has a global mindset. We are getting better at moving people around the globe; it’s not easy, and we deal with all sorts of issues. The logistics can be difficult with getting people moved around – and it’s also an investment; if we want to really grow the talent in places like China and India, we’ve got to give those folks experience in our headquarters in the mature markets so they’ve got a global mindset to go back and work in their home countries, and we’re getting better at that.
I think there’s always room for improvement, but it’s important to have a balance: you’ve got to have the maturity and the know-how to get things going on the ground independently but you’ve also got to understand that you are part of that global, connected organisation and we need to talk the same language, so being able to communicate and have that information flowing back to the headquarters is critical.
We tend to have a balance in that if there’s a local person who’s a managing director, we would often pair that person with a finance head from the centre – or vice versa; if we have a global business person who has moved around a bit, we might tend to pair them with a local finance person to make sure we’ve got that balance.
O: How much do you think the way that your role – and the organisation under you – is structured specifically helps? Obviously not every company has a CFO specifically for global emerging markets: it’s quite a statement of intent isn’t it?
KG: It is, and it’s great that we’ve got it. Before we had this structure we were basically supporting the sales channel – yet also had to develop strategic plans for the geography. Now we’ve got the seat at the big table, so to speak. I think you’re right: it makes a statement that we’re serious about it, and we realise that you’ve got to focus on it when it’s part of the core business.
We’ve got a lot of small opportunities in the emerging markets but when you stack us up against the developed markets and you try to force rank and prioritise it on the biggest thing, we often drop to the bottom; having this structure, having it segmented, gives us the opportunity actually to make those things happen. We’re not at the end of the line in priority-phase – and it also gives an opportunity to really develop local products, so not everything has to be part of our global framework, our global offering: we can build product locally and develop products that really resonate in these geographies, with local resources, local talent and local development.
O: Is there any disadvantage to the structure? One thinks of “emerging markets” and yet it’s very easy to forget just how different some of these markets are.
KG: That’s a good point; I had a similar issue when I was based in Hong Kong and was the CFO of Asia, and people would ask me about “Asia” and – I forget how many countries and cultures the portfolio covered but it included China and India, developed markets like Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Tokyo, and we had everything else which was developing.
This was a portfolio and you manage it that way, but we do have a lot of things in common: when we talk about risk, I think we have similar kinds of risk in each of these geographies, and also similar kinds of expectation on the ability to grow. Yes, it’s kind of a mixed bag of issues that you’re dealing with, but I think there are a lot of similarities – in particular, the pace of change, the influence of government and regulations and inflation concerns. Is there any disadvantage? Well we’ve really just moved to this structure and it’s early days, so it’s difficult to say at this point if there’s going to be a downside.
O: You are covering some of the most dynamic, rapidly evolving markets on the planet; that also comes with its attendant risks, doesn’t it, in terms of an organisation’s structure? Getting the headcount right, even just getting a strategic plan for where you’re going to be in three or four years, is a very different proposition when you’re growing at eight or ten per cent a year. Do you see that pace of change continuing?
KG: I think the pace of change is going to continue. The growth rates seem to be slowing down just a bit,but that’s not going to stop the underlying business and government drivers. At the CFO Exchange, I was talking about the need to really refresh your business plans and your business cases and to keep a pulse on that because things can change really quickly. There are a lot things from the government regulation perspective that happen to you, so you definitely have to stay plugged in and pay attention – which is why you need strong teams in the field. My role is really more managing the portfolio and being the advocate for this back home when we’re having the discussions as to what to prioritise and what to invest in, so I think in that way the structure is helpful.
O: Finally, Kellie, do you feel that the nature of the role of CFO generally is changing at present – and if so, how?
KG: I think we [CFOs] wear more hats than we used to; specifically I think it’s getting more and more important to have a seat at the strategy table – not just the operations but to really make sure that your strategic plans, your operational plans and your financial plans are all linked together. You’re the chief sceptic and you’re the scorekeeper, and you’re often a coach and an advocate; there’s a lot of different hats that the CFO has to wear. And then from my perspective the basics never went away so you’ve got to have that strong controllership function, you’re that trusted business partner and a lot of times you’re almost the number-two to the CEO or managing director – it’s a big role.