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Standard Life CFO on how she made it to top finance role


Jackie Hunt, chief financial officer of Standard Life

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Few people will tell you frankly – and many would struggle to even acknowledge - their regrets, weaknesses or strengths, especially those sitting on the executive boards of the UK's top companies. But then Jackie Hunt, chief financial officer of FTSE 100 insurer Standard Life, is an exception in many senses.

One of her professional regrets she candidly tells CFO World is that she never gained experience outside the finance function. For a women who is one of only nine female CFOs in the FTSE 100 it's hard to reconcile that a lack of a stint in operations or marketing has held her back, but she so firmly believes in the experience that it forms a critical part of the company's talent development programme for finance staff launched 18 months ago.

"I didn't go it and regret it. I actively transfer people out of finance and second them," Hunt says.

Her resolve on this point is explicit. One of the failings she recognises in those in finance is their distance from customers. As a business that prides itself on customer service and staff development Hunt says it's vital for Standard Life to ensure finance teams gain some experience in customer-facing functions.

"It's so easy for the finance function to never come into contact with customers," she says.

Another reason for encouraging secondments outside of the finance department is to broaden individual's horizons not just professionally but personally as well. "Finance people are genuinely nice people but the flip side of that is that they don't like confrontation." Again, Hunt doesn't strike you as someone who's afraid of confrontation.

As a foreigner on these shores – she's South African – the finance chief also promotes the benefits of overseas experience and actively encourages a foreign secondment among her 1,300-strong global finance team. And the earlier the better she says.

"We encourage people to get experiences in new markets and new geographies early in their career. It's important to learn cultural sensitivities and self-awareness. And an ability to realise that there are other points of view.

"We say early for pragmatic reasons because as people get older their work life balance is more difficult and they have more commitments," she adds.

As for her strengths, she is happy to promote them and urges women to do the same. Explaining the lack of female CFOs among FTSE companies, Hunt says it's down to her willingness to take risks where others may have been more cautious. And her decision to highlight her strengths – something she learnt the value of early in her career.

"What I've tended to do is be braver about choices. I have taken moves that I've had people that knew me call up and say 'why are you doing that?' There's risk associated with it. But I do think you need to take chances in your career. That's maybe one of the differentiators," she says.

Hunt points to a growing body of research that suggests "if you ask a man to do a job and he can do 80 percent of it and he'll say 'yes I can do it', but if you ask a woman the same thing and she can do 80 percent, she'll talk about the 20 percent she can't do. And it's culturally consistent. It's a female issue."

Aware of this failing in women in general, she has always been conscious to focus on her abilities rather than her failings. That said, she's keenly away of her limitations. "It's not that I'm not thinking about the things I can't do, but I'm focusing on my strengths rather than my weaknesses."

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Standard Life CFO on how she made it to top finance role
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