'Finance’s Main Role In Innovation Of New Products Is To Ensure That Realistic And Accurate Projections Are Developed'

Interview with Steven Hickson, CFO of AccuWeather


Steven Hickson is a proven finance leader with media and management experience in guiding organizational growth on a global scale, providing financial leadership for organizations around the world including significant expansions in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and more.

In his role at AccuWeather, Hickson directs all financial responsibilities and stewardship and is a member of the company's executive team, overseeing AccuWeather's leadership and continued expansion as the largest source of weather forecasts and warnings in the world. He was previously CFO for Latin American Pay Television Service (LAPTV), a pay television joint venture owned by 21st Century FOX, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, and MGM that operated leading pay television subscription networks in Latin America.

We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at the CFO Rising West summit, which takes place in San Francisco this October 16-17.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in finance and what first sparked your interest?

I originally thought I wanted to study engineering, but quickly found out that was not for me and switched to Accounting. I wanted to have an international component to my career, and knew that a career in Finance could help open that door, and Finance also gives you a vision into every aspect of an organization’s operations.

How has the role of the finance function changed over the last decade? What do you see as having been the main drivers behind this?

Finance has become a more strategic function, with emphasis on full participation and partnership in company strategy and operations. Companies have gotten more lean and competitive, and all areas need to contribute to company results. Finance is perfectly positioned to provide the value-added analysis and insights to help drive profitable growth.

What do you see as being the most important thing to consider when forecasting during a period of sustained growth? What else can finance leaders do to drive growth?

It’s important to be able to break down and understand the 2-3 main drivers of growth in each business area and be able to measure and manage them. Finance can develop the KPI’s around the growth drivers that can be adopted across the organization to ensure consistent focus.

What do you see as the finance function’s role in innovation of new products?

Finance’s main role in innovation of new products is to ensure that realistic and accurate projections are developed that give a clear picture of the product’s economics. Finance plays a critical role in ensuring that capital is efficiently allocated to the most promising new products.

Do you see new technology as having made your life easier, or has it also introduced new complexities? Which technologies do you think will have a major impact on your role and company this year?

We have been implementing a new financial and reporting system with powerful, customizable dashboard capabilities, so in the short-term, it has made our life more difficult as the implementation is time intensive and represents an important investment, but we believe we will achieve significant benefit and organization alignment in the longer term.

What do you foresee being the major risks you face at your company in the near future? What do you think presents the greatest challenges for finance leaders over the next year? Do you have strategies in place to overcome these?

We are a global media company that produces niche but ubiquitous content, so reach and global scale are critical. The media industry is dynamic and we must continue to evolve to meet consumer needs and habits and how they consume content. Visibility is a significant Finance challenge in our organization, as we are entering new categories and face changes to business models in our more established lines of business. It’s more important than ever that Finance is embedded with our business lines to improve information flow and visibility and react promptly when required.

What will you be discussing in your presentation? Is there anyone else you are particularly looking to hear from?

I will be discussing how the CFO role can help chart the future course of the organization and how it is central to all strategic and operational challenges and opportunities an organization faces.

You can hear from other industry leaders like Steven at the CFO Rising West summit. View the full agenda here


Read next:

The Case For Integrated Planning