Ep. 26: Indra Moeljadi - The Evolving Role of the Business Partner

Indra Moeljadi, CMA, is a Finance Business Partner as the Business Excellence Lead of Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland. He serves as the finance lead for a business unit within Takeda with global products and deals a lot with the mid-term and long-term strategy of these products. Indra has worked in Switzerland for 20 years, but is originally Indonesian. Indra is active in the IMA Chapter of Switzerland, where he currently serves as Treasurer. In this episode of Count Me In, we talk to Indra about the evolving role of a finance business partner, the value of technology and data analytics, and address the importance of storytelling. Download and listen for a global perspective on strategically positioning yourself as a finance leader!

: (00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm Adam Larson and today we're going to listen to Mitch speak with Indra Moeljadi from Switzerland about the evolving role of a finance business partner. In their conversation Indra talks about business partnering technology in analytics, strategic decision making and storytelling. Let's go to the conversation now. 
Mitch: (00:26)
How has your role as a finance business partner and the head of finance changed over the last few years? 
Indra: (00:37)
Yeah, so you know, I said progress in my career. I found out that it's less about the data crunching and more about finding a story within a numbers. You know, days of going through the numbers on a spreadsheet, there's becoming less and less, I mean, they still exist of course there's the bread and butter, but now I spend more time putting the numbers into PowerPoint presentation and then doing some analysis on it and presenting the analysis and the story to the organization. So as a finance business partner, you know the asks from the people I spend the most possibly thought as part they are commercial minded team. So you know, they're not really great with numbers. You know, they always ask how can I help them get certain messages based on the financials across the organization. You know, and to be able to do that, I need to understand a couple of things. I need to understand the business, why they say that we do, you know, whether the products work, all that stuff. I need to understand the organization. So who are the people that I'm dealing with that I'm interacting with. And then also the last thing is what message is it that they want me to convey? Cause that's really important in trying to, you know, be the right business partner. So for me it's more about understanding and preparing a story and less about data crunching numbers. And I've seen that over the past few years. And I also see people going into finance roles. You know, the technology is there that enables them to do the data crunching. So you know, you need to do a bit more than just the data crunching. 
Mitch: (02:10)
How do technology and analytics skills help you and your team understand the business and the message you are trying to share as data change the necessary skillsets and how decisions are ultimately made? 
Indra: (02:21)
Yes, I believe so. There's a lot of data out there. You know, take, take an example. In the past when I started, I started working almost 20 years ago, still worked on paper invoices and you know what we do with paper versus we take what's important only the important bits because we didn't have the resource nor the capability to store all the information. Nowadays one transaction has a lot of data points, you know, multiple data points in there. You have to date, customer location, payment method, delivery method, stock keeping, unit currency, everything else. And now we actually have the resources and capabilities to store all this data. So yes, we need to technological skills cause we need to be able to go to this data and filter out what is important. You know, what do we actually need and then once we find what's important we need the analytical skills to come up with a meaningful analysis that will aid this with the decision making process. So yes, and when we talk about strategic decisions, these are decisions impact in the future. Data that we have is from the past. You know, the historical data. So how do we take historical data and make a decision for the future with it and, and be sort of accurate sort of where we can predict the future. And technology really helps. There are lots of tools and can predict and forecast for the future. They can do trend analysis, they can, you know, it's obviously not perfect but it really helps a lot. But then on top of the technology, you also need our analytic skills and our experience. And that's fundamental because we should be able to predict, you know, when the peaks and the dips are in the sales from an expenses should be able to predict and calculate return of investment and then adding our ethics skills and our experience on top of that. Then we get a good story and then you know, we can have the right parameters to make the strategic decision for the organization. 
Mitch: (04:13)
Business partnering, strategic decision making. These are popular terms today relating to finance, but another one that seems to be becoming even more important, and I know you referenced it earlier, is storytelling. So what exactly is storytelling and how does it fit into the finance function? 
Indra: (04:28)
So storytelling and finance to me it's a couple of things. One is translating the numbers into something coherent for the audience. Most finance people you know they get a headache when you show them an Excel table. And I've had that a lot where I give them access table and they just shake their heads and they don't want to even see it. So how do you make these people at ease with numbers? Right? So what do I do? I replaced the numbers for a story and that makes it understandable for these people. Now a lot of the senior managers in the organization that I've worked with, they don't have the time, neither nor the mental capacity to go through an Excel file. So as a finance business partner, it's our task to make the numbers understandable and to do that, you know, providing a story is a really good tool. And then also another aspect of storytelling in finances, stories have a distinct pattern, right? We learned that when we're children, as long as the beginning, a middle and an ending. And if you look at, you know, strategic decisions that, that a company's making, they also for beginning. Beginning being the reason why do we need to do this? And there is a middle, you know, to how, what's the process to get there? And then the ending, the ending is being like, what is the objective? Most companies started with the ending first, but then it all goes from the beginning of middle and ending. So by putting all of this in the story, it will help everybody. You know, cause we are as humans, we're conditioned to learn about stories all around us. Everything is about a story. That's how we are. This is how we grew up. This is how we are conditioned as human beings and also storytelling. It's the most powerful tool to pass on a message, right? But a good or bad, if you put a right story behind it, a bad message can become a good story. And vice versa. If you have the wrong story, a good message become a bad story. Right? And so, so if you have this tool, you know, use it because then the audience can relate to it and they can really understand what is going on. 
Mitch: (06:24)
So let's put all of the pieces of this conversation together. What advice can you give to accounting and finance professionals attempting to develop a strategic driven story to add value to their organization? 
Indra: (06:35)
So by telling a story, you're adding value to an organization. Now, would your business partner, would you prefer, would they prefer it? If you just give them an extra table and then get on with it. Or would your business partner prefer you tell them what is going on when you show them the numbers? I think it's most cases and I think majority, I'm pretty sure they just want to tell. They just want you to tell them what's going on. Maybe show them the numbers. They don't have time to go through the details. So providing a story, it saves times and maybe even resources so that the organization can focus on what they need to do. There's no point in just giving them more things to do and then actually taking time and resources away from stuff that they should be doing. So to be able to tell the story, there are a couple of elements, right? One is understanding the business and you know, like I said before, it means understanding it inside out. You know, what are the products that the company's providing? Well, how does it add value to the customers? How are they produced? What methods is used to sell the products? What is the industry like? Competition, competitive landscape. You know, what do the people think will happen to this industry in the next three years, five years, ten years? Obviously it's something that's quite hard to predict the future. But if you understand the business, you know, sort of where it's going to go to and what it is and how it works. And I think it's fundamental. Even though we're just finance people, I think finance is actually the heart and the center of the organization. We should be able to understand the business based on the financials. The other element is, you know, understanding the organization, the, what is the hierarchy, how do they react to the messengers, what you know, what, what is the numerical literacy of the business models and the people you deal with and, and if you know, what they need, then also gives you an indication of what kind of story you needed. You also need to understand the system that has numbers in. Nowadays actually, you know, you use all sorts of financial systems going to be in an ERP constellation tool. So as a storyteller you need to know how to get the data, where to get a data, what the data means, but also the source of the data and then how it's processed and you know, then be able to figure out how then it becomes a story. And then the last thing, you know, when we talk about storytelling, everybody's able to tell a story. I mean it's, yeah. Since school, but everybody's still taught how to say a story, you know, the beginning, middle, and ending narrative. So I don't think, I don't see why it should be difficult to tell so everybody knows how to do it. And you know, I can only stress the importance and the focus of storytelling within finance. You know, finance is more about just numbers and to be able to tell the story, you don't need a market thing or literature degree. He just, you know, you use your ability to tell a story. Use the technological skills analytical still. And I think you're probably already doing it without realizing it. So, you know, I think storytelling is really important in finance. And I really hope that people spend more time on, you know, improving it and, making it more important as part of their repertoire. 
Announcer: (09:54)
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Adam Larson
Adam Larson
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