As technology evolves at an exponential rate and customers demand more from their products than ever, the role of C-suite executives is also changing. Few understand this as well as James Haslam, Chief Financial Officer, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll, who seeks to redefine the traditional associations of his role as he leads the financial strategy of the tech company that enables medium-sized companies (50 to 2,000 employees) within Australia and New Zealand to deliver employee satisfaction through the use of its cutting-edge technology.
Haslam’s experience spans over an 18-year career in accounting and finance. Before becoming a chartered accountant, he obtained his Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Business from the University of Warwick in the UK. Haslam moved into KPMG’s graduate program in 2001, working largely across audit and corporate restructuring before moving to Australia in 2005 with KPMG's secondment program where he worked primarily in corporate finance.
In 2014, he joined Deloitte as a director in the corporate finance team. Yet Haslam’s ambitions were pulling him away from ‘the Big Four’ and in 2017 he founded Financial Agility Consulting. "I saw a gap in the market for providing corporate finance advice to mid-market executive teams, particularly around mergers and acquisitions and IPOs,” he explains. Shortly after founding the company, Deloitte reached out to Haslam, referring him to ELMO in order to assist with developing the company's prospectus as part of the IPO, which was successful in 2017. Little did he know at that time how the initial engagement would set him on the path to become a CFO at ELMO.
As he continued with Financial Agility Consulting, Haslam continued to work on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) projects and IPOs until early 2019, including supporting ELMO on five successful acquisitions, before he succeeded ELMO’s then-CFO, Trevor Lonstein. "It's not your traditional route into the CFO role,” Haslam acknowledges, “but the advantage I’ve gained through both my Big Four and consulting experience is a wide view of the strengths and weaknesses of many CFO’s who I have worked with. I believe this experience has provided me with a more holistic view of businesses which I find now benefits me in my role.”
The skills and networking abilities gained from both KPMG and Deloitte, along with its prestigious alumni, gave Haslam the tools he needed to navigate the industry well, but he reflects that it was in his private consulting work where he learned how to obtain his own opportunities and engagements. "That need to be resourceful and go the extra mile with self motivation has really honed my negotiation and emotional IQ skills that are so vital in my role today.” He goes on: "Learning how to really listen to the needs of stakeholders is integral to my work at ELMO every day.”
ELMO is a leading provider of human capital management (HCM), payroll, rostering and time and attendance software solutions. "We've currently got 14 modules covering the hire-to-retire spectrum, with a focus on increasing automation for companies alongside providing a fantastic user experience," he says. As CFO, Haslam's core responsibility is to set the financial strategy and ensure the accuracy of financial information and metrics, both internal and external to the company, particularly with regard to stakeholders. This is in addition to the traditional role of ensuring company controls and processes are both working and effective. Yet to truly drive the company forward, the role of CFO needs to extend beyond day-to-day operations. "The position is no longer about simply doing the work and reporting the numbers" explains Haslam, "but being a leader that looks beyond the numbers; being a progressive figure.” He describes this type of CFO as the ‘Modern Finance Leader’.
"A Modern Finance Leader looks ahead by two or three years; asks themselves 'how can we invest and lay the foundations to support further growth?’ and embraces new technology in an ever-changing landscape. To do that you need to be partnered across the company and able to communicate complicated financial data with any department in a way that everyone can understand."
ELMO is growing at a significant pace both organically and through acquisition, reporting annual recurring revenue growth of 42.8% over the last 12 months to A$52million and it is expected the high growth will continue in the near term.
Haslam explains, “It is important to support the growth through the adoption of new technology and partnering with key providers across the business, particularly as we grow our customer base, now up to 1,478 and employees up to 368.”
Haslam divides the company into four segments: the financial and administrative function; client services; sales and marketing; and R&D. "All of these departments need great support and so we work closely with them to ensure that their needs are being met. This also extends to C-suite members of the company."
To ensure these partnerships are cared for, Haslam notes that there are other companies that ELMO partners with in order to support automation. “For example,” he says, “our sales and marketing team and the executives undertake a significant amount of travel and TripActions provides a simple and intuitive platform for booking travel and capturing the data around travel.” Nurturing partnerships like this is a part of the forward thinking, technology embracing attitude that the Modern Finance Leader needs in order to assist in navigating the company through a fast-evolving landscape.
A company that ELMO is currently engaging with is Zuora. “Zuora, provides automated billing services and metrics reporting, we expect Zuora to have a major benefit to our operations going forwards. Automation is a key part of my outlook for finance which enables my team to spend less time undertaking routine tasks and more time developing themselves, their knowledge and decision making.”
Another partnership Haslam is enthusiastic about is the ongoing work between ELMO and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) on developing a new module leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence in a program that will benefit both institutions mutually. "Through the partnership with UTS, which includes access to their state-of-the-art data center, we can leverage our large volumes of anonymised data to develop insights to develop algorithms which are expected to provide customers the ability to deepen their workforce planning processes" he says.
To ensure a high standard, Haslam enthuses that, for him, and for any good Modern Finance Leader, it is imperative to have a great team that is both supported and appreciated by the CFO. "My team is the backbone of our finance operations and I am a big believer in empowering my team, whatever their aspirations may be." Since Haslam has been in the role, he has expanded the team and set up both a financial planning analysis team, and a corporate development team. He identifies being “collaborative” as the key requirement for teams. "I want the team debating ideas and talking collaboratively. I don’t stress about mistakes, but I want the team feeling confident in exploring and finding solutions. I often say, if you can't fix your issue in less than 30 minutes, share it. I believe that we have a great work culture and I am only as good as my team. I am proud of them and their efforts."
As ELMO continues its upward growth trajectory, it will continue to drive automation through technology. As it breaks into the finance and technology industries, Haslam is confident that younger decision makers will increasingly adopt the ELMO solution with their increased appetite to adopt technology. "Our automation makes both employers and employees lives simpler. We have great brand equity in the ANZ region; we attract a lot of leads and we're evolving into a market leader in the mid-market.” ELMO also garners a notable amount of international interest, with a number of other countries taking interest in the solution. Although the company is very much focused on maximising growth across Australia and New Zealand it will be interesting to see how this latest acquisition with operations in the UK evolves and if it acts as a launchpad for global expansion?