A case in point: thanks to an enormous data warehouse, “they were very far along in making decisions and managing based on data,” Walker says. “Pretty much everything you need in terms of data, they had already, and we didn’t have to build anything new. I never had this much information available to me, and thank God it is available because we have 37,000 different units and more than 700,000 career employees.”
Along with projects such as setting up new capital allocation processes and introducing the postal service to enterprise risk management, Sarbanes-Oxley has been moving up his list of priorities. Is that a good thing? “Well, it’s a big thing, let’s put it that way,” he says with a chuckle. “Working for an English company, I missed part of that development.” Starting now, he says, puts the USPS “in a good position, because a lot of other companies have already gone through it so we can learn from their experiences. We’ve got a lot longer, but then we’re also a lot bigger than most other companies.”
Walker will be relieved that the USPS has an SSC network, making the centralised analysis and oversight of processes easier for Sarbox Section 404 compliance. The USPS had, in fact, set up three SSCs a few years before Walker arrived. As he recalls, “I had to strike off ‘setting up shared service centres’ from a list I had about what I could bring to the organisation.” No matter — the list was undoubtedly already long enough.
1998: CFO, DaimlerChrysler
2008: Chairman of the Board of Directors, Zurich Financial Services
More so than the euro. More so than IFRS. Manfred Gentz, former CFO of US-German carmaker DaimlerChrysler, reckons that the changing corporate governance landscape has had the biggest impact on the CFO role over the past ten years. New regulations and heightened investor scrutiny of how companies are run have put CFOs in the spotlight, he says, making their jobs much more externally focused than they were when he arrived at Daimler-Benz as a management trainee in the 1970s.
By the time he left the company’s HR function and was appointed CFO in 1995, there were seeds of change in Germany to enable greater corporate transparency. For that reason, Gentz remembers, one of the first projects he launched as finance chief was to scrap the firm’s dual reporting. Daimler was no different than numerous other European companies that reported one set of numbers internally for their staff and another set externally for regulators, tax authorities and the like. But “it didn’t make much sense,” he says. “It led to misunderstandings.”
Meanwhile, as part of a crusade to convert the company to value-based management, Gentz drove through Daimler-Benz Financial Accounting and Controlling Transparency System (DB-FACTS), a project to help with the adoption of US GAAP and introduce standardised internal performance metrics based on ROCE, among other things.