As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Juergen Lindner.
Juergen Lindner is Oracle’s senior vice president of global SaaS marketing, focusing on the company’s finance, planning and supply chain software-as-a-service (SaaS). He is responsible globally for SaaS thought leadership, go-to-market strategy, and sales enablement.
Prior to joining Oracle in late 2016, he held several leadership roles at SAP across applications and technology. Before joining SAP, he worked in the SAP ecosystem and at Deutsche Bank.
As a more than 20-year veteran of the enterprise software industry, he is driven to help companies succeed in their digital transformation journeys and take full advantage of new technologies. Fascinated by new technologies, he is constantly exploring the impact on professional and consumer life, with publications in leading media outlets around the world.
He holds a master’s degree in international business administration and management from the University of Applied Sciences in Konstanz, Germany, resides in the San Francisco Bay area with his family, and is an avid traveler during non-COVID times.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I had a very blue-collar upbringing in Germany and with that, early on in life, developed a drive and sentiment that everything must be earned and that you can never take anything for granted, which guides me every day. When I saw an opportunity to work for a reputable employer such as Deutsche Bank, it brought me closer to the next thing. But with every step you take, you realize that there is potentially an even wider canvas to paint on. Therefore, I decided to continue my studies and, during an internship, was exposed to an SAP implementation. I realized quickly the huge impact this technological change has on organizations, so when SAP offered me a chance to help shape its product, I didn’t hesitate. In late 2016, I saw a great opportunity to combine my passion for technology, digital transformation and cloud with emerging technologies like IoT, machine learning and artificial intelligence by moving to Oracle, a mission which I treasure and passionately live every day. The impact of technology on both professional and personal lives continues to mesmerize me.
I’ve been an athlete for most of my life. I’ve competed in youth Olympics, trained 7 days a week in various sports ranging from handball to tennis, have been a windsurf instructor, and have learned from a former world champion. These experiences have helped me to develop an athlete mindset that I rely on heavily when tackling business challenges.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think many of us have experienced a similar situation: you are eager to make a mark for yourself in a corporation and are being super responsive at all times to impress senior leadership. There is an opportunity to provide your insight in an executive email exchange while you are in between flights. You grab your mobile device and thumb away with the best possible intention and hit send before realizing that “auto correct” has completely failed you. You try to recover fast but wait — there is another “override” and you just dug yourself deeper into a hole on a prominent distribution list.
And then, when I was already beside myself, a blocked number call came in and I took it. It was the CEO himself, asking what it really was I wanted to say and how he could help.
In hindsight, it was a very educational moment. It taught me to not just be mindful and extremely alert, but to really pause and take quality time for critical moments rather than letting the heat of the moment get in the way of proper executive communication.
On another note, I missed the flight connection since the conversation with the CEO led to a great exchange on some ideas I felt strongly about. Funnily enough, some key projects that I ended up working on came from this particular incident.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Given my athletic background, I have always gravitated towards motivational and power-of-the-mind literature. I am a firm believer that you can learn just about anything if you have the right attitude, grit and mindset, so you will never see me shy away from new challenges or be outworked. One interaction and book that has greatly helped me along the way is a training by Chade Meng Tan and the “Search Inside Yourself” session I was privy to attend outside of the Google campus. The session taught me a lot about mindfulness and mental clarity.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. A good relationship between a CEO and CFO is critical for business success. What role do you think the CFO should play within an organization?
The CFO should be the co-pilot of any organization. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, I’ve seen many CFOs work closely with their CEO to address the most important business challenges, such as improving cash flow and liquidity, maintaining business continuity, improving financial and operational processes, taking advantage of M&A opportunities, and even completely transforming business models. Without this strong partnership, businesses face difficulties keeping up with the fast-paced environment that we now live in and will eventually fall behind competitors.
It is important to remember that a good CFO is involved in just about any business decision in some way shape or form, from balancing budgets and reporting earnings to paying supply chain partners and allocating employee salaries. CFOs and their finance teams play an integral part in the success of any business. CFOs have access to real-time data that CEOs need in order to have a holistic view of the business and make informed decisions quickly. So it is not surprising that CFOs are typically next in line when it comes to CEO succession.
When working with the finance team, do you have any best practices that guide you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The number one thing I’d recommend to CEOs when working with the finance team is to ensure they have all the resources needed to do their jobs quickly and accurately. If there’s one area of the business that you don’t want to run inadequately, it’s finance. Inefficient and inaccurate finance processes can lead to lost revenue opportunities, and financial missteps can have legal repercussions or downright devastating effects to the shareholder community.
Therefore, having the right technological foundation to run your financial processes like clockwork is essential, and we have seen cloud-based business applications, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software or Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), help to constantly up your game.
Cloud, and by “cloud” I mean true SaaS-based applications, have proven to be a continuously appreciating asset for finance teams. Ideally, when cutting-edge capabilities like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also leveraged, cloud ERP can help finance teams improve efficiency, spend less time reconciling accounts and double-checking spreadsheets, better manage risk and planning, and afford more time for building operational resilience and adding strategic value to the business. I can’t stress how many corporations are banking their corporate livelihood on the successful adoption of AI, and my team is excited to help them do that.
The second recommendation I’d make is giving finance a permanent seat at the table. Finance teams have access to some of the business’ most important data, without which CEOs won’t be prepared to make intelligent business decisions. That’s why it’s important to involve CFOs in important conversations early-on, rather than pulling them in at the end to simply analyze the financial feasibility of a pre-determined decision.
In this day and age, technology is a necessity for any team’s success. What technologies should finance teams be utilizing and why?
To compete in today’s volatile market, finance teams should be using cloud-based business applications. Not all cloud applications, however, are created equal. There are cloud-hosted applications where people simply host legacy ERP applications on cloud infrastructure, and then there’s software delivered as a service (SaaS). SaaS is where the real innovation is happening in finance, as the applications get updated with new features every 90 days with zero disruption. This enables organizations to take advantage of new advances in AI, machine learning, digital assistants and analytics as soon as new features are available, without having to wait for the next upgrade, which could be years away. SaaS ERP applications give finance teams the insight and capabilities necessary to make informed business decisions, pivot quickly as situations change, and outpace competition.
With AI and machine learning for common business use cases embedded directly into the application, finance teams can automate mundane tasks, reduce errors, improve accuracy, and accelerate insights. In fact, in our recent study we found that the case for AI is undeniable: 89 percent of business leaders believe that AI can improve their work through assistance with detecting fraud (34 percent), creating invoices (25 percent), and conducting cost/benefit analysis (23 percent).
What would you advise to a CEO who’s looking to boost growth and “restart their engines” post-Covid?
Oracle recently published a report outlining this exact topic — the big moves that leading organizations are making to get back to pre-pandemic growth. These moves include:
- Business model innovation: The pandemic has created dramatic changes in customer behavior, and organizations must adapt to meet these new demands. We’ve seen our customers rethink existing business models, such as a shift to subscription pricing models, or even launch entirely new, more profitable products and services.
- Capitalizing on M&A and divestitures: An economic crisis is an opportunity to acquire companies at attractive price points or provide an opportunity to divest underperforming assets, so it’s not surprising that the summer of 2020 saw some of the busiest M&A activity in decades. Finance plays a key role in determining which investments and divestments are most beneficial to an organization’s short-and-long-term success, so it’s critical that they’re looped into any M&A conversations early-on.
- Accelerating towards an automated close: A manual close delays the reporting of financial results to stakeholders, who need to understand the state of the business, and can prevent your organization from being able to react quickly to market changes. Cloud ERP applications with embedded machine learning capabilities can help organizations close the books faster, so they can spend less time looking in the rearview mirror and more time finding new ways to drive revenue. Oracle itself uses its own cloud applications and we have achieved a remarkable milestone in the S&P500, being the fastest in the group to report to the street — just 10 days after quarter close on average.
- Embracing a Risk Intelligent Culture: Finance leaders are realizing that having a risk-intelligent culture is the gold standard for protecting critical and sensitive data. If you’re not already adopting a risk-intelligent culture, big business moves provide an opportunity to improve and automate an organization’s security and audit processes. By doing this, you can quickly and accurately identify and report threats, strengthen financial controls and streamline audit workflows.
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The most common finance mistake I see is non-decisiveness to embrace technological innovations. Financial processes have become increasingly digital, and the events of 2020 have accelerated that trend. Digital is the new normal and technologies such as AI and chatbots will continue to play an increasingly vital role in finance. Organizations that continue to rely on disparate, outdated on-premises systems will lack the agility, resilience and scalability that’s required to survive and thrive in today’s changing market.
In fact, a recent study from Oracle found that 87 percent of business leaders think organizations that don’t rethink financial processes will face risks, including falling behind competitors (44 percent), more stressed workers (36 percent), inaccurate reporting (36 percent) and reduced employee productivity (35 percent).
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things that every CEO should know about finance in order to succeed in today’s environment? Please share a story or an example for each.
- CFOs can be storytellers and catalysts for change: For any change to be successful, it’s important to get organizational buy-in. CFOs have access to critical business data and can use that information to paint a picture about why a decision was made and the expected benefits. Let’s say an organization is shifting its business model, but not all employees are enthusiastic about the change. The CFO can leverage data analytics to tell the story of how this business shift will increase sales and recurring revenue, which will result in higher rewards for all employees. Making a business case using irrefutable data increases corporate buy-in and leads to smoother and faster change management.
- Finance deserves a constant and immediate seat at the table: The finance team is often one of the only departments with a holistic view of the organization’s wellbeing. Therefore, it’s critical that CEOs include CFOs in all major business conversations early-on and tap the information that’s readily available at the CFO’s fingertips.
- The right technology is key: By leveraging cloud-based ERP and emerging technologies, finance teams can increase productivity, enhance decision-making and drive growth. For instance, a ride-share company that processes billions of transactions a year is leveraging Oracle Cloud ERP and machine learning capabilities to automate its financial close process. By doing this, they’re able to report earnings in half the time, and are able to spend less time looking backwards and more time driving future growth.
- Business leaders are excited about AI in finance: A recent survey found that COVID-19 has negatively impacted how business leaders feel about managing money, and the majority — 77 percent in fact — now trust robots more than their own finance teams to manage their organization’s finances. The research also found that 85 percent of business leaders want help from robots for finance tasks, including finance approvals (43 percent), budgeting and forecasting (39 percent), reporting (38 percent), and compliance and risk management (38 percent). By leveraging AI in finance processes, finance teams can be freed up to do more strategic work that makes a positive impact on the bottom line.
- Plan for A, B and OMG!: COVID-19 has shown just how quickly things can turn upside down, which is why it’s important to leverage scenario planning capabilities within cloud-based business applications to run a wide variety of what-if scenarios, create contingency plans for any possible outcome, and adjust as factors change. Because finance teams have a holistic view of business operations, including them in the planning process to ensure the data being utilized is accurate and up to date can be the difference between your organization thriving vs. dying in tough times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would want to explore options that address financial illiteracy. Through our study, we found interesting correlations around how AI, if properly applied, could democratize access to investment intelligence and financial wellbeing. Think about the impact this could have on millions of people around the word who are disadvantaged because of their finances. Think about reduction of student debt. Think about the prevention of debt accrual. I think we are at the brink of something really big here and I am passionately exploring how technology can be the key.
How can our readers follow you online?
Connect with me on LinkedIn!