Global Finance: You’ve held CFO roles in a variety of industries, from online food delivery to software development. What are the unifying factors or commonalities that connect these experiences?
Paul Harrison: A CFO’s skill set crosses industry boundaries. A recurring theme in my career has been working with technology and growth-oriented companies.
GF: Given the challenges facing rapidly growing companies, how do you respond to interest rate fluctuations?
Harrison: This is a great question because it requires a delicate balance between short-term challenges and long-term considerations. While AutoStore continues to see strong growth, it is important to recognize the broader macroeconomic impact. Researching the market shows that only 20% of warehouses have adopted the level of automation that we offer, and this presents a huge opportunity for us to capitalize. The key to effectively navigating the current situation while preserving the essential elements for long-term success lies in the management team and his CFO’s role within it.
GF: How important is it for CFOs to meet and get to know stakeholders such as investors and customers?
Harrison: To be frank, there was a time when the CFO role was primarily back-office, focused on financial management and narrow responsibilities. However, in today’s climate, the CEO is looking for his partner in the business, not just a financial expert. They are looking for someone who can participate in discussions beyond finance and provide insight into the wide range of decisions faced by CEOs. As this strategic partner, we can’t just stay in the back office. We need to actively engage with our customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders. Doing so provides a comprehensive perspective to support the CEO and significantly evolve her CFO role over time.
GF: Another thing that has probably changed over time is the importance of environmental, social and governance. [ESG] It is important. What does that mean to you?
Harrison: It is easy to get swept up in generalizations within the ESG framework. Although it has only been a short time since I joined AutoStore, for me, his AutoStore is a business that provides extremely high efficiency to customers through multi-level warehouses. This approach allows customers to operate in smaller warehouses, reducing their environmental footprint. His contribution to AutoStore in this regard sets it apart from other companies, and we expect this effort to continue.
GF: What keeps you up at night?
Harrison: Throughout most of my career, we experienced a relatively stable world. However, significant changes have occurred recently, including the pandemic and difficult geopolitical and macroeconomic conditions. Management teams, including the CFO, are currently considering how to navigate these uncertainties.
Given the unpredictable nature of the world we live in today, emphasis is placed on preparing organizations to effectively deal with unexpected shocks. This concern is particularly heightened in growing businesses, where finance functions must be continually reviewed to ensure they are not only relevant today, but also fit for future business conditions in two, three or four years. This includes a proactive approach that looks around the corner to anticipate and address future challenges.