INSEAD Participant Interview

Gain the Confidence to Talk Finance

John Forsyth

Managing Director, Rising Tide Asia

"I was expecting to get the basics, but I came away feeling proficient in finance and full of confidence."

How would describe your knowledge of finance?

It’s good thanks to Finance For Executives, which is excellent. I would say prior to that it was fairly basic. I understood the basic terminology, but I didn’t understand the technical detail behind the terminology.

As MD, finance must be an important part of your day and understanding it must be essential?

I think it’s critical. My day is all about all finance and people. On an hourly basis, I need to be talking numbers as much as I do talking people. So finance is absolutely critical to what I do.

So in the space of two weeks, would you say that you were able to get a solid grounding in the basics of the financial world?

I would say more than that. I was expecting to get the basics and I feel that I came away with the ability to look far deeper into the level of financial detail than I expected to. I think you can come away from Finance For Executives with considerable knowledge if you put the work in and if you follow up on it. I think all the foundations are there to make you proficient in finance, as opposed to just having the basics.

Do you see yourself being able to put into practice what you learnt during the two weeks and how relevant is the programme to your profession?

It is a practical course and the practical aspects are applicable in my role every day. I wish I had done Finance For Executives a few years ago. I gained a huge amount from it. Now, instead of shying away from particular areas of work, or delegating them to someone else, or taking someone else’s advice, I am able to give guidance in that particular area myself. It is focused on the practicalities of what you need to know as an executive in a business and that makes it extremely valuable.

Does the course speak to all markets and industries?

Absolutely. For me it is a benchmark course. No matter where you come from or what you do, once you get to a certain level in business, finance is essential. What the course does is give everyone the same language with which to communicate with in terms of finance. It doesn’t matter where you are from, it applies to you. We had someone from Angola, someone from Peru, a couple of people from Singapore so it’s the same across the world. And I think from that perspective, it’s a very global course. I think one of the great joys of Finance For Executives is being able to meet people from all over the world who all bring different perspectives. What the programme directors were able to do was take all those different perspectives, and all that different terminology, and blend it all into one, where everyone is talking the same language. I think that is really, really important, particularly in today’s globalised world.

Do you think the programme gave you the confidence to talk finance in your role?

Confidence is probably the most important word when describing the course, when describing the impact of the course. Everyone has heard of derivatives, leveraged buyouts, IPOs, balance sheets. Whatever level of finance you are at, everyone knows the topline terminology. But when you engage with someone who’s profession is finance – a CFO or a head of accounts, you don’t have the confidence to really get into the detail, unless you have done a programme like Finance For Executives. What I found is that coming away from Finance For Executives, there were some gaps in my knowledge, which were able to be filled very quickly by Urs and Pekka. As a result I now feel much more confident engaging with a CFO. You come away with the confidence that you know what you are talking about, but also when other people are talking to you in technical financial terms. And more importantly, you can question them on that, and that broadens your knowledge of your own business, of the people within your business and of the people with whom you do business with.

Pekka and Urs come across as very engaging and welcoming. Would you say that is correct?

I thought they were brilliant. You’d think a two-week finance course would be dry, a little bit painful, and rather dull, but I was enormously surprised. It was the opposite of dry and dull. Urs and Pekka manage to make it interesting and engaging. You actually went back to your room at night wanting to read the next chapter in the course book. The topics were relevant and the way they presented it was enjoyable. They engaged their audience. Finance became enjoyable - not normally two words you’d find side by side!

Participants come from such a wide variety of industries. Did you find that you were able to learn from each other?

Absolutely! We’d go out every night and sit and talk to different people. We’d have discussions on relevant topics. We spoke a lot about global markets and how things are trending. So, I think you learn a huge amount. I think people are very willing to share their experiences. And that’s one of the advantages of INSEAD – you have such a global mix of people so you are able to share experiences and you are able to learn from these. And more importantly, you make some good friends, some good contacts. And I know that if was going to fly to Brazil on business, or for another purpose, there are a couple of people I could give a call to.

What was a typical day on the programme?

I think for me a typical day is an early start! Singapore is open at 4 in the morning. I was making a few phone calls. Then I would brush up on my reading and the case studies, followed by breakfast with the team. Then a cup of coffee and away we go.  We had a series of engaging and rewarding lectures and some group sessions. Before you know it, it’s lunchtime. In the afternoon, it’s straight back to the grindstone, to work, and then in the evening it’s back to the hotel and maybe do an hours work on your book, on your case studies for the next day, followed by dinner with the team. It’s intensive, enjoyable and rewarding.

How easy was it to juggle the work and the programme?

I joined very late so I had to juggle work. But normally, my absolute recommendation would be to turn everything off as much as you can so you can really focus and get 100% out of the course. You could juggle it if you wanted, but it wouldn’t be my recommendation. My recommendation would be to focus on the course to maximise the value you get out of it.

So, would you recommend the FFE programme to someone in the future?

Prior to doing Finance For Executives, I tried teaching myself finance, but I live in a fast paced environment, where there is a lot of travel involved. It was becoming difficult to find the time to learn. So, instead you have to set aside the time for a programme like Finance For Executives and it was absolutely perfect. I would definitely recommend it and already have. I would say it’s a brilliant course for people who do not have that financial background behind them.

You’ve already done a course at INSEAD. Is it then somewhere you would recommend?

I think INSEAD is brilliantly run. It has a good ethos. All of the professors I have come across have been excellent, both in the International Directors Programme and in Finance For Executives. The organisation is extremely efficient and the quality of teaching and learning is second to none.

Interested in INSEAD's Finance for Executives programme? Have a look at the Finance for Executives web page and download the brochure.


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