“Finance’s ideal role is to help society to make the most value-creating choices possible.”
Marc Rivers, Head of Finance, Roche Pharmaceuticals, explains why he’s seeking the truth in finance, what to do when the truth gets uncomfortable and what role finance can play in business and society in the future.
Marc, you are seeking the truth in finance. Why?
On my office wall I have a Chinese calligraphy with the saying from the Book of Han “Seek truth from facts” . Our team in China selected that quote as the motto for our finance department as an embodiment of the noble purpose of finance. Whether it is in accurately reporting the financial results or in forecasting various scenarios and options, finance’s role is to be a reliable source of unbiased objective reality. That is our noble purpose.
There are certainly those out there who would argue that the finance profession is not the right choice for truth seeking, e.g. thinking of accounting misuse, fraud etc. How would you respond?
Many professions have been abused by individuals not living up to their higher selves and unfortunately finance is no exception. In the end the responsibility lies on each of us individually to hold ourselves to the highest standards. One practical way to help us do this is to keep in mind that we are serving others. One of my favorite quotes about service is from Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali writer and poet:
“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” Certainly the problems that finance has faced are symptoms of society’s embrace of the excesses of materialism and ego as we have drifted away from those timeless values taught us by our elders. We need to do our part to hold ourselves and our profession to high standards. By improving ourselves and our immediate surroundings we are making the world a better place.
What role does finance play in your company, and what do you attribute with the finance role personally?
Being a great finance professional requires not only great technical skill, it also requires great character. Impeccable honesty and enormous courage is necessary to hold the mirror up to the organization even if the truth being told is uncomfortable. If done in a spirit of service then this will help the organization to become stronger and healthier and more valuable to the world.
Three conditions are necessary for trust to exist: competence, good intent and good character. For finance to be a trusted partner we must know our stuff, have the desire to help the organization and have impeccable integrity.
You have been in finance for quite a while now. Has the role of finance changed over the last few years? Where is the finance profession heading from your perspective?
Certainly the role of finance has evolved over the years. Earlier in my career I saw many examples of the business and even finance people themselves putting finance into the limited role of scorekeeper. I have seen expectations within finance and from the business rise so that finance provides not only an accurate picture of what happened but also evaluates options which are forwardlooking and which help to inform better decision making. This requires finance people to have a very solid understanding of the underlying value drivers of the business to get insights into what is possible. We have also improved our communication skills which then allow us to effectively transmit those options in a manner which influences the business.
How do you integrate your vision within your daily work and, most importantly, how do you get your staff on board?
Working in a healthcare company with a strong purpose of service to patients sets the context in which we practice our professional skills. Stories of patients remind us about our purpose every day which in turn helps us to remember the higher purpose of finance. Nurturing a culture of service-mindedness and values helps to bring out the best in each of us. Everyone wants to do work which is meaningful. What is more motivating than that?
If this were a perfect world, what role would finance play in the future?
Finance’s ideal role is to help society to make the most value creating choices possible. Finance professionals would then be recognized not only for their professional and business prowess but just as importantly for their moral fiber and rectitude of conduct.