Ep. 3: Andy Burrows - Strategic Business Innovation

June 17, 2019 | 15 Minutes

Andy Burrows, CEO & Founder of Supercharged Finance and Finance Transformer, talks to us from the UK about strategic business innovation, how the finance function should support strategy, and the evolving future of business. Andy qualified as a chartered accountant in the UK in the mid-90s, and then moved from public practice audit into big business Finance, and was quickly promoted through the ranks to a Finance Director position at the age of only 29. From then on he’s had a varied career in sectors as diverse as energy, professional services and software. He’s covered the full range of Finance responsibilities, and even recently worked as a project manager, delivering change into Finance. He recently started his own online venture, a Finance training website, called Supercharged Finance. Tune in for some insight into strategic business innovation!

Andy's Finance Training Website:
Contact Andy Burrows:


: (00:03)
Welcome back for another episode of count me in Adam Larson here along with my cohost Mitch Roshong. As we look to cover all things affecting the accounting and finance world, our topic for today is highly relevant. We had a great speaker, join us from the K and talk to you, Mitch, about strategic business innovation. How did the conversation go? 
Mitch: (00:18)
The conversation was great. Andy Burrows is qualified as a chartered accountant in the UK and then moved from public practice audit to big business finance. He was quickly promoted through the ranks to finance director at the age of only 29 and has since worked in various sectors of business, including energy professional services and software. Andy is truly brilliant and had a lot of great stories to tell. So let's take a listen to the conversation. 
Mitch: (00:43)
What is a strategic business innovation? 
Andy: (00:52)
Sure. Well, I guess first of all, I started using the phrase strategic business innovation to talk about a big change that transforms the business in some way. But I'm not too specific. When I started using that phrase at all I wanted to do is distinguish from innovation in the finance function itself and look at what's going on outside of finance in terms of innovation. I guess secondly if you look at the definition of innovation in some published material, innovation is like translating an idea or an invention into something that creates value that a customer will pay for. So it's customer-focused, you know, for example, online banking or online grocery shopping, it makes customers lives easier or online shopping, like Amazon or even iPods. It just makes customers life's easier than it was before and I guess I'm not just thinking of technology, I think I'm open to thinking about other transformation ideas as innovation. Things like you know, for example when Southwest airlines brought in the 20 minute turnaround, it wasn't necessarily technology based, but it saved millions of dollars and it was transformational in terms of their business and enabled them to sort of dominate as a low cost airline for a number of years. So it's kind of transformation and new ideas for value creation within the business rather than within finance that I'm thinking about when I talk about strategic business innovation. 
Mitch: (02:44)
And then in your opinion what should a finance professionals attitude be towards strategic business innovation? 
Andy: (02:56)
Well, I guess start by thinking about an example of like blockbuster. It's an old example. I guess to reiterate blockbuster video could have had the chance to buy Netflix for about $50 million in the year 2000, but they refused. I think Netflix were even the laughed out of the board room. But a few years later, obviously blockbuster went bust and Netflix is now worth, it was about $30 billion when I last looked. That's incredible. And it's one of those examples. I mean, why didn't blockbuster want Netflix? And you know, I will say is because they weren't interested in customers except to make money out of them. So anyway, it's a big case study, but a and best not get sidetracked. Our main point in mentioning it is as a finance person, you don't want to be working for the next blockbuster or the retailers that are going out of business because of Amazon and so on. So that's why we're going to pay attention really to the likes of blockbuster and innovation. The other thing I'd say is that finance, and this is my slogan over the last few years is mainly in the business to drive performance. So finance has got to take to find this is going to care about the success of the business and we've got to desperately want to help the business to succeed and avoid failure. So we've got to have an open mind when it comes to innovation. We don't want to be the ones to say no to the next Netflix or Amazon because we were too risk averse. But at the same time, we don't want to support a repeat of the dotcom bubble, which had very little substance and was fueled by excitement and people throwing money at things just so they wouldn't be left out. So I guess that's the kind of balance for you I'd encourage for finance professionals with innovation. 
Mitch: (05:13)
Sure and just as an aside to that, it was your article I came across on LinkedIn about the blockbuster and Netflix and that's what really interested me into bringing up this conversation and learning a little bit more about your mindset because it seems, you know, 20, 20 hindsight, right? You come across situations like that and it's just unbelievable to look at those numbers and the opportunity missed. So as finance you know, look to support innovation as part of their business strategy what kind of advice do you give those who are considering, you know, maybe a little bit of a riskier initiative as you said, or something innovative for their organization that's a little bit outside the box. How would you kind of coach them through that? 
Andy: (05:56)
I think the first thing I'd is make sure you don't stifle research as far as resources in the business permit. Just allow and encourage research into new technology and new thinking and even research into competitor activity, you know, keep tabs on what competitors are doing and it may take a long time for that research to yield any results. And actually it's impossible really to do a business case for it because it's like we're researching to find out what we don't know yet, so how can we say what the returns are going to be? But we've got to give that like I said, as far as resources permit, we've got to give that that opportunity to do that. but it's important to, for those people involved in that, to know that what the purpose is, is to work out what new things could benefit the customer and that we should listen to those views really when we have strategy discussions. The second thing I'd say is related to that, we'd have to be careful not to kind of stamp out innovation too quickly on the basis that the business case doesn't stack up. You know, you could argue that online banking may not have had a very good business case if you measured it up against the do nothing scenario because all it was was a new technology. We're an offering new accounts or it wasn't gonna particularly you know, move people from one to another. But the fact was it was going to keep customers from going going away because of the technology used by competitors. So it wasn't a fair comparison really to say you know, to compare against the status quo. I suppose the fair comparison would be, what if we don't do it? That's a different ballgame. So you know, can we afford to let our competitors do a better job of serving our customers? So you've gotta think of it that way rather than just say you know, think of it in isolation. 
Mitch: (08:28)
Well, as somebody who solely does their banking online, I'm very happy to see that all of these banks made that transformation. So great example once again now and, and I believe you did write something on that topic as well, so, yeah, that's true. Yeah. I appreciate all of this insight that you're sharing with us. My next point here, my next question I should say as we look at how organizations and businesses are transforming finance, the function itself is supporting this, but how do you see the finance role transforming even further in the future? 
Andy: (09:04)
I think finance is going to be about more about decisions and business performance management. And I've sat in a number of forums that this is the kind of thing that has already transformed the CFO role in general terms over the last few decades. Not innovation specifically, but big change, you know, global communications, travel technology, all these things that increase competition lower barriers to entry, increase opportunities increased the speed of change and the way I put is that to cope with all this, the business as needed, a numbers guy at the heart of the business and the CFO is in that position to be that person. And now the CFO. It's, you know, the pace of change is just so fast that I think even the CFO is getting overwhelmed. And what the CFO needs is the finance function to step up and help with that decision, support and business performance management being the numbers, people at the heart of the business to help with that change competition and the way the whole global economy and markets are moving so quickly and it's, you know, things are gonna move away I think from accounting and go more towards business partnering. I say that I hesitate really saying that because I do think we need to do more business partnering, but at the same time, I can't see accounting going away. It's still really important that, we're grounded in, in accounting. That's, and in fact, that's what enables us to learn about the business and become better business partners. So I think in terms of the weighting of our roles, it's going to become more business partnering, more decision support and less accounting. But accounting, it's not going to go away. 
Mitch: (11:12)
Right, right. Very well said. So I've mentioned or referenced a couple of your articles already and I know in talking with you leading up to this conversation, you know, your experience, your knowledge is vast. So in addition to all of these articles, I understand you've started your own online venture. This is a finance training website, is that correct? Yeah, that's right. So supercharged finance, what is that all about? 
Andy: (11:42)
I think basically it's going to be all about it's, it's online, it's online training for finance professionals who want to learn how to use their skills to add value in the business. So it's not, it's not like a Excel power BI training or you know, updates on IFRS's this is how to add value in the business or what skills and and what not you need as finance professionals to do that. So that's what superchargedfinance.com and I'm building that up at the moment. 
Mitch: (12:20)
Well, that's great. And for the listeners, as I said, the articles that I've read and the conversation we've had today, I highly recommend it. So we certainly appreciate your time today, Andy. And before we go, before we wrap up, are there any other points you want to mention? 
Andy: (12:38)
I think just one final point. I mean this is a good way to wrap it up. I guess it's just to reemphasize one point. As finance people don't sit on the sidelines, just spectating the business as it's struggles with innovation. Don't just feel like the commentator, like the sports commentator up in the stands, watching everything happen and kind of tutting his various ideas, crash and burn, get involved. Show your business colleagues that you with them and you want to use your financial and business knowledge to help the business tread the best path to success. So you know, be part of the business and not standing over the top just looking in and spectating. I guess that's my final points of summing up really. 
Mitch: (13:30)
That's a great way to wrap things up. I certainly agree with you. And one more time. We thank you very much for your time today. Thanks very much for having me. It's been great. 
Announcer: (13:41)
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