Ep. 112: Miguel Molina - How has Finance become an Accelerator for Change?
Miguel Molina, CFO at Avocados From Mexico, joins Count Me In to talk about how the finance function has become an accelerator for change. Miguel is a bilingual CFO/VP for accounting and finance with expertise in designing and implementing operational strategies. He is a passionate financial leader with unique marketing and sales & distribution perspective. In this episode, Miguel emphasizes the importance of leadership when it comes to change management and explains how financial professionals can seek and obtain buy-in from organizational stakeholders. Download and listen now!
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA’s podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Mitch Roshong and today's conversation will cover the topic of leadership and how finance leaders accelerate change. In episode 112 of our series, Miguel Molina, CFO at Avocados from Mexico talks about his career journey and what he has been able to overcome and accomplish through effective leadership and change management. Stay tuned as we listened to his conversation with Adam now.
So Miguel, can you tell me a bit about your career journey?
Sure, Adam. Well, I'm the son of Carmen and Hector, and Carmen, my mother was a visionary woman and, my father was a successful entrepreneur in southern, Mexico. I'm a first generation going to college. Actually my, my mother was the one who convinced me to go to Northern Mexico to pursue a degree. And even she said, look, who knows, maybe you may end up working in the U S. And so I did my undergrad in accounting in northern Mexico in one of the most prestigious university in Latin America, which is Monterey tech. I graduated with honors in December, 1994. 1994-1995 was a difficult years in Mexico. There was years of economic and political turmoil. Mexican economy style deficits rose. Politics became unstable and even some politicians were assassinated. And after 75 years, the PRI to the main party in Mexico, lost government control to another party after 72 years. But, so despite all these changes as a young student, I always wanted to represent Mexico and work for an international company in the US. So I've quickly realized that I needed to improve my skills, Adam. I decided to sell my car both to Canada, I spent three months to improve my English skills. Vancouver, Canada was a great, great experience, but also my last year in college, a teacher of mine, actually a corporate executive and one of the largest tortilla corn meal companies in the world invited me to join Mission foods here in the U.S., and I did. and I started, I started internal auditor. I had been fortunate to travel to the U.S, and I spent a fantastic 18 years careers at mission foods. And I took a position in Southern California as a sales and distribution accountant. Company gave me a full region moving from Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Eventually our corporate offices were moved to Dallas, Texas, and we relocated in 2003 and they gave me all U.S. responsibility for the sales and distribution accounting. Then in 2009, as all we know the U.S. experience a great recession, and also needed to improve my skills. So I pursued an executive MBA at Southern Methodist university, and graduated with honors in 2011. Around 2014, the former VP of marketing for Mission foods moved to Avocados from Mexico, as his precedent and CMO, and he invited me to join Avocados from Mexico. I accepted, and now I'm at the CFO, one of the most exciting and successful problems, marketers organizations in the U S Adam.
That's great, and I'm a consumer of avocados from Mexico. So that's very exciting to talk with you today.
Excellent. You'll be surprised that eight of every 10 avocados consumed the U.S. come from Mexico. And just as a trivia, you need to know that avocados is a berry it's from the same family of a berry.
So you have a quite, quite a journey that you've come from, you know, where you grew up in Mexico, all the way to where you are today. What leadership characteristics have enabled you to get where you are?
Well, there are a few topics that I can see in my career. I'm borrowing some items from the leadership tools begin with the end in mind. I think that that is very important. Be resilient and lead by example, and yes, some, some good old luck, Adam. Let me tell you a quick story about, about that. When I was in college, a classmate, invited me to spend a spring break with him at his house. He is from Queretaro, a state located in central Mexico. And during his family dinner, he talk about his plans. I remember him saying that he wanted to finish university, pursue his master's degree at the University of Michigan, go back to home to his hometown, and became the mayor of his hometown and then become the governor of his state. I was in awe. So wait a minute, here's a guy, my same age, same age, education level, both were doing very well at school. With such plans unbelievable because until then my goals was to go back to my hometown and work for my father and my family. But I have to say that that made that night, my life change, I dare to dream. I decided to do well with school, learn English, pursue an MBA and work for an international company. So beginning with the end in mind, I think is, is important, be resilient, be consistent and always lead by example, Adam.
Definitely, and you know, I'm sure as time has gone on your job role has changed as an expectation changes. We're in the middle of a pandemic still, you know, how have you been able to develop your change management skills and make everyone aware of the necessary changes as you've gone along?
Change is always being consistent, and I follow an author, Yuval Noah Harari, and he wrote one of the best sellers book, Sapien. And he's an extraordinary philosopher, historian, and storyteller, highly recommend to you and your audience to look for him, Yuval Noah Harari. So he makes an interesting analogy. He says, Hey, listen, in the past, we were thought to have any strong and deep foundations, it was very important, right? So like a house, if a hurricane or a strong wind passes, that foundation will keep you grounded. Well, today he says the knowledge is different. We need to have a mentality of a tent. Yes, like a camping tent and be ready for significant changes on a strong winds. So when that happens, now, what we need to do is to pick up a tent and move to another place. So let me say Harari talks about the most successful skills in the future will be the capacity to that capacity to change, right? Including the psychology of change, because in our lifetime, we need to reinvent ourselves so many times. I'm sure you Adam, me and all of us, your audience have we need them force or to reinvent ourselves. Right? So during my career, I've been very fortunate to work with great leaders, Adam, and it gave me the freedom and the confidence to make changes. So over the years, I have reinvented my position many times, I expanded my responsibilities to other areas, including technology, and continue process improvement, and I'm upstairs. We've improving processes and finding efficiencies and changes come with risks. I have some battle scars for sure by that. However, if you're prepared to business case and take a small risk to test your ideas, you gain confidence and that the company where you're working with also begin building that trust in you, Adam.
Definitely trust is a huge factor, in, in any type of change management. Is that what you use to kind of get buy in from your stakeholders in your organization as you made those changes?
Yes. Yes, Adam, listen, I would like to talk about a time when I failed and I failed badly. I was working for my previous company. I convinced your management that we needed to invest in a trade promotion application. I created a vision, tackle it at a potential savings company, senior management authorize the investment and I failed. And I failed because I used the word I all the time, and I felt that working hard was enough, but is imperative is critical to include all the stakeholder and all the senior management, but a way I have to move from the word I, to the word. We, because as the saying goes, there is no I in the word team, right? So in any new initiative, it's critical to get buy in,\, not only from a good way to test your ideas and how viable those ideas are, but also to make it a reality. So I have four main observations that I will recommend in my experience. And first we need to begin with your team or your immediate circle of influence. And so that includes people reporting to you, your supervisors, but also be mindful of those indirect hierarchies in the organization. There's always some key stakeholders that they may not have the title, but they have a big influence. Number two, is that, it's all about the why. So I read also I follow Simon Sinek. He's a best-selling author, and he talks about people come to bid the best when they believe in the why on why they do that. And of course we are the finance team, right? So we need to find a strain in the numbers we are finance. Our job is to allocate capital, to support a company goals and prepare a robust business case. That is the must. You have to have a robust business case. I mean, build others, Adam, share ownership and recognition. Bottom line if your coworkers are more likely to succeed in a project and do better if they feel ownership in whatever they do.
I wanted to just circle back. when you mentioned, when I asked you, you know, how do you get buy-in from your organization? You know, you mentioned that the first thing you mentioned is like, let me tell you about a time I failed, and I want to just ask a follow-up if you're okay with that. It seems like many times people want to focus on everything they did well, and they never mentioned the failures. How have failures helped you get where you are today?
Listen, Adam, when you take risks, you will fail, but failure is not really a, the problem is not learning from failure by, and that seeing that taking that learning is that brings value to the organization and your practice, and we need to take that seriously and also create an environment where your team with failure is susceptible. Now, if you don't want to fail, it's likely that you don't want to move. You stay and do whatever you're doing all the time, and then everything will be okay. But like I mentioned, re-inventing our positions every time comes with some failure. So learning from it is what the value is about. Now you need to be creative by not taking massive failures, but also taking calculated risks where you prove I'm pro your ideas, and once you feel more comfortable, you move to the next step. And that is important because changing our mentality as number of people who were used to have everything calculated to move. Now, it's not quite like that. IN a digital experience, you need to be flexible test and then be flexible and test again, and then move. So I think that that flexibility in failure is important, Adam.
So how do you envision the role of a finance leader growing even more in the future? Not necessarily, the changing of what you do day to day or the building of sustainable culture, but from a leadership perspective, how do you see your position being more, even more valuable?
I truly believe that the CFO is a new CIO, Adam. Our finance team is moving from achieving operational excellence, which is a lot of what we do right to a new emerging role, and that is to support the modern workplace, be at the center of the process, towards a customer digital experience, and really for us to be in a competitive advantage. And I would like to call out Microsoft CFO, Amy Hood, and one of her conferences she'd say in coding, by adopting innovative technologies, finance will strengthening the business leadership through compliance, accuracy and efficiency, closing quote. So really I generally believed that the CFO is the best position in organization to work with all the leaders at him and take advantage of this digital revolution. The finance team, understand the operation. We understand the operation and all the possible efficiencies in our organization, again, where we can allocate capital and to sustain growth and really identify those key metrics to improve performance. But at the same time, Adam skill sets need to change, and we need to have a much deeper understanding enough of analytics and to have a strategic thinking, work with our precedent on the strategy. And we need to learn to influence and negotiate, right, and to advance a business, and also to understand our customer not only in our numbers, but also our customer. To have that as strong customer knowledge. Let me give an example, here at AFM, Avocados from Mexico. We recently embarked on an initiative to implement a business intelligent application, and we believe that everything begins with a digital transformation really begins with a good, solid, reliable data. We have to have good data. So, and we move all our applications on the cloud and we move our accounting system to now an SAP by design, which is a cloud solution, as our core accounting system. We connected that data to SAP concur, and we also implemented adaptive insights, bad budget planning tool, and to start synchronizing data, as well as, DocuSign as a contract management life cycle solution. After we achieved now that core data, and we felt that we were ready to start connecting data points. Now we have this structure and we've started to work for an analytics solution, and we'll move to look at multiple technologies, including SAP, Microsoft, Tableau, and we decided to move with a Microsoft power BI and to start connecting data sources. That is our next frontier item, data and analytics, and to take really our company organizations to the next level and of course contribute to our competitive advantage in the marketplace.
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