Putting Our Money Where Our Purpose Is

Richard McLean

Part of the “Purpose-Driven CFO” series

By now you’ve probably seen the SAP TV commercial featuring actor Clive Owen. In the ad, he points out some very big problems that are best fixed by business, because that’s what business does best – solve big problems. It’s a clever spot that drives home the importance of SAP’s purpose: to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

This purpose is more than an advertising hook. If you dig beneath the surface, you’ll see a lot of evidence about how SAP is upholding its mission. The truth comes out to me when I can put budget aside at the start of the year for an initiative like the One Billion Lives program – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s real substance behind what we’re trying to do as an organization.

Working beyond the traditional boundaries of finance

SAP’s purpose is tied to the role of finance and several programs I’m pleased to support as a strategic CFO. Finance enables the business by ensuring that it adheres to sound and compliant financial practices and processes. That’s a given. But beyond these practices, there are programs we run that support our people and their ability to deliver on SAP’s promise to help our customers run at their best for the long term.

For example, I’ve been asked to sponsor some remarkable talent-management initiatives at SAP, for which I was recognized by CFO Innovation, all designed to enable our people to reach their highest potential. I’m an executive sponsor of the Business Women’s Network in Singapore and a member of SAP’s Global Finance Diversity and Inclusion Council. Plus, I’m on the steering committee for the Amazing People@GFA program, which is a career skills-development program designed to help our finance organization build the requisite skills for the future of work in a digital age.

If you want to be cynical about it, you could say that people are asking me to be executive sponsor for these programs in an effort to secure more funding. In reality, I think they ask me because as the CFO of a region, in all due modesty, I have influence. I try to be accessible, and I’ve shown an interest in these types of initiatives. They align with my purpose as a CFO to develop talent and create a strong and engaging culture at work; that’s why I think people feel comfortable asking for my involvement.

Transforming the role of finance, phase two

I’m also involved with several long-term initiatives, such as the Transformation Agent program. We’ve successfully rolled it out in the Asia-Pacific region and around the globe. The program seeks to engage finance with internal customers to better understand how different areas of the organization can work together to create new and innovative solutions to real and complex business challenges.

As we automate more work to become an intelligent finance organization, our teams will have more time and will need the skills required to collaborate. I’ve written a lot about collaboration, increasing our business knowledge, and applying that knowledge in a way that’s positive for the business. That’s what the Transformation Agent program is all about: teaching methodologies for deep analysis of business problems, coming up with creative solutions, and working with business partners to implement them and improve business performance.

Keeping the end goal in mind

I’m quite open to being involved in programs that are not directly related to finance. I think it gives me an opportunity to have a much more enriching and broader leadership role than I might otherwise have. At the same time, I must, of course, maintain a focus on what’s good for the business. Participating in these programs is not just about leadership and inspiring others. It’s not about having a joy ride at work all day. These programs that help fulfill SAP’s broader purpose are all intrinsic to our long-term sustainability as a successful business.

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Richard McLean

About Richard McLean

Richard McLean, regional CFO for SAP Asia Pacific Japan, oversees all key finance and administrative functions for field and regional headquarters, supporting more than 18,000 employees. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior finance roles with leading global companies across a range of industries, including financial services, investment banking, automotive, and IT. He joined SAP in 2008.