The CFO of Axians Portugal tells us about how strategy-minded CFOs should look to reduce costs by investing in digital transformation and fulfilled, top-notch teams.
What impact has 2020's economic uncertainty had on Axians' business in Portugal?
A crisis also represents an opportunity for transformation. A crisis is never wanted, but we should learn to live with, and overcome, them as people, organizations and society. In today’s context, digital transformation has become mandatory – to speed up our activity, we need to understand ourselves as part of an ecosystem and a complex market where success will depend on the performance of every stakeholder and the pace of the world’s economic recovery.
The pandemic had a huge impact on organizations and Axians Portugal was no exception. Axians has around 1,000 employees in Portugal and, at the peak of the pandemic, we had all of the workforce working remotely, in a sustainable efficient way. Without having any contingency plan in place for this specific situation, the response was agile and totally aligned with our management philosophy and safety culture. Beyond the procedures, we also had to re-learn to work and communicate with each other. Being able to handle change easily and in a committed way was extremely valuable. It was a success – we had the right culture, the technology and the means to continue operating, even though the offices were empty.
While suffering some negative impacts (specifically in the tourism and aviation sectors), we had a boost in purchase orders related to supporting companies with e-commerce and the transformation to remote work. This public health crisis has shown that it is possible to work remotely without losing efficiency and with undoubted gains for the environment and, in some cases, benefits for work-life balance. We believe that the 100 per cent remote model should not be the only model available after Covid-19 and we want to promote a hybrid model where the balance can exist between remote and on-site, allowing a sense of corporate identity as well as enabling the proximity that fosters trust between teams.
Has Axians amended its strategy as a result of the economic uncertainty?
Axians Portugal is part of VINCI Energies. VINCI is a highly decentralized organization, which follows directly from the nature of its largely local business activities. Within this framework, we have always sought to tailor our services to each client, each business unit, and each sector of activity.
We did not make any big centralized decisions for everyone according to a ‘one size fits all’ logic. Very specific adjustments were made according to each client’s needs. Our strategy is to serve our clients well now and keep on serving them well when this is all over.
What is your outlook for the coming year from an economic perspective?
I believe that the return to the ‘old normality’, meaning economic growth, will be slow. It is certain governments will need cash to support their economies and will collect it in the classic way, via taxes. As a result of the crisis and higher taxes, economic activity will slow down and there will be significant social consequences. It is up to us all to adapt and learn to manage this new set of circumstances, while always bearing in mind that the biggest social contribution a company can make is to help keep the economy alive.
What are the key challenges you currently face as a CFO?
Uncertainty. 2020 has been one of the most memorable years of my professional life. Every CFO would love to go to the board with a 30 per cent reduction in costs this year. But, the strategic-minded CFO will enable their organisation to reduce costs in the medium to long-term by investing in digital transformation along with well cared for, and fulfilled, top-notch teams. In the end digital transformation is all about people. More than ever, delivering business value is not just reducing costs. To keep the economy alive we must streamline processes, manage risk and, above all, we need excellent leadership. We should try to challenge all we are comfortable with and help our people to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty that change always entails.
Interview by Ben Cook