Alan Rouse, Senior Finance Executive and Former Unit CFO at Mars Inc., talked to Kelvin Collard, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Administrative Officer at Universal Weather & Aviation about the importance of employee engagement at his company and how he achieves it.
Rouse began the afternoon fireside chat at the 2016 Chief Financial Officer Leadership Forum held on September 14 in Dallas by asking Collard about Universal Weather & Aviation and his role in it. Collard replied, “Universal Weather & Aviation is a private, family-owned company in a niche business of providing trip support services for corporate aviation departments and high-net-worth individuals who own their own corporate jets. We provide fuel and have people stationed around the world that do ground handling, catering, and ground transportation. Being a service business, our employees are our biggest asset and our biggest liability. I’m one of four board execs that work with the owner to set policy and strategy. Employee engagement is our top priority. As for my role, I’m in charge of a variety of operations, including HR, legal, compliance, finance…and our catering business. That’s the fun part.”
Rouse asked, “How did you lay the groundwork between finance and HR to collaborate the way you do?”
“When I first came to this company, it was a very siloed situation,” Collard explained. “There were support groups and the businesses, and things were being lobbed back and forth over walls. There was a need to collaborate and do a better job for the good of our customers. It began with hiring the right person in HR and then reorganizing the HR department, which involved freeing up folks to be business partners to help engage and develop our employees.”
“What business challenges are you collaborating on the most?” asked Rouse.
“First, we wanted to get away from the annual performance evaluation. Nobody likes those things,” stated Collard. “We set up a situation of management by objectives—aligning employee and department goals and objectives with the goals and objectives of the company. We meet with employees monthly to discuss their goals and objectives, with a focus on the employee’s development.”
“We set up a situation of management by objectives—aligning employee and department goals and objectives with the goals and objectives of the company.”
“We’re in the middle of doing our talent inventory and talent management,” he continued. “We have four boxes of employees—high-potential high performers, the steady Eddies, people promoted too early, and people we want to get into the other boxes or get them out.”
Rouse asked what skills and capabilities are most crucial in Collard’s finance organization to achieve goals and objectives, today and in five years.
Collard replied, “Mostly we hire experienced financial experts in their fields; we’re not training folks. It’s really around the soft skills—emotional intelligence. We, in finance, have to be able to influence. We can’t dictate. Folks may be good at finance but they struggle with the soft skills. We also focus on leadership training and providing opportunities for finance people to really get to know the business.”
“We, in finance, have to be able to influence. We can’t dictate. Folks may be good at finance but they struggle with the soft skills.”
“Do you see gaps in what’s taught at school and the requirements of doing the job?” asked Rouse.
“Again, it’s about the soft skills,” said Collard. “This is an area that’s particularly an issue with Millennials. They’re more comfortable working with a device than looking someone in the eye.”
Rouse followed up with, “How do you measure your engagement level?”
Collard replied, “We do an annual survey, but we’ve also identified key people throughout the organization that our employees talk to, and every quarter we bring these people together to get a sense of the employee climate.”
“Anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?” asked Rouse.
“People are the difference with us,” stated Collard. “Eighty percent of our business comes from 500 customers, so it only takes a few unhappy customers to impact our business. We emphasize to our employees that whatever they do matters.”
“Eighty percent of our business comes from 500 customers, so it only takes a few unhappy customers to impact our business. We emphasize to our employees that whatever they do matters.”
ABOUT KELVIN COLLARD:
Kelvin Collard is Chief Financial and Administrative Officer and Board Member of Universal Weather & Aviation, Inc., a global leader in business and corporate aviation trip management with 47 locations in 19 countries. Kelvin is leading Universal in the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics AX and is a key contributor in the company’s digital roadmap. Kelvin brings 34 years of accounting, finance, and business experience from a wide variety of industries and businesses, is a CPA, and holds a BBA in Accounting from Lamar University.
His career began with Coopers & Lybrand, one of the original Big 8 accounting firms that is now part of Price WaterhouseCoopers, one of the Final 4. After nine years in public accounting, he expanded his career and embarked on an opportunity with Atlantic Richfield Company for 12 years, where his assignments went from financial reporting and analysis to Controller at several subsidiary companies, including Lyondell Chemical Company, where he spent most of his time. While at Lyondell, he led the implementation of an ERP system and the integration and consolidation of the Controller’s functions.
Prior to joining Universal, Kelvin was the Chief Financial Officer of The Brock Group, a private, equity-owned specialty maintenance contractor. Within 16 months, he helped acquire six companies that increased the size of the company sevenfold.
You can find Kelvin on twitter @KelvinC57.
ABOUT ALAN ROUSE:
Alan Rouse is an adaptable and results-oriented Chief Financial Officer and Senior Finance Executive. For the last 11 years, Alan has worked for Mars Incorporated where he has a history of accomplishment in finance leadership roles across Africa, Russia, and, more recently, in the US. Prior to working at Mars, Alan was an external auditor for KPMG and the Financial Controller for Gillette in South and Sub-Saharan Africa. Alan lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.