The changing nature of success

The changing nature of success – A conversation with Doug MacColl

After my last article on the future of finance roles, Doug MacColl got in touch to tell me about some of the trends he’s noticed in IT and Finance. 

He spoke about how they’re impacting the way he hires and also the way his teams operate. I was interested to understand more about how these new tools and technologies have changed his definition of success on a personal and business level.  

Here’s our conversation.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I’m Finance Director and Transformation Director at Reed Exhibitions. We run 35 different events across Australia and New Zealand, which cover the consumer space and B2B. 

Our events include things such as PAX and Comic Con, all the way through to those focused on energy, waste, medicine and mining. We also have the more well-known Retail and Reed Gift Fairs, as well as events such as the Online Retailer Industry Awards and Hair Awards.

Ultimately, what we do is sell a connection. For example, at consumer shows we give people a place where they can meet up with like-minded people and celebrate being part of a community. 

What does the role of Finance Director involve?

As Finance Director I’m responsible for delivering the basics – the month end close, making sure that accounts are right etc – but our Finance Department is quite proactive. 

Traditional finance is dying. Basically, people no longer want just a bookkeeper. They want a finance function that adds value. 

With IT and finance people want to understand two things:

  1. Is the information right? 
  2. What does the information mean? 

These days, this information is gathered and provided in a highly automated way. So we have to provide assurance it is right, interrogate it to make sure it’s correct and then help people understand what they can do with it. 

Even though so much has changed, it’s still all about the process and the people. In order to get the process right you need to make sure that you’ve got the right people. They need to be motivated and understand what it is they’ve got to do. 

Has the way you hire candidates changed given the technology advancements?

To me, the most important thing when hiring is fit. Each organisation has got a DNA and characteristics. You want someone that fits in in terms of that DNA and in terms of those characteristics. 

In my industry, I want someone who I know is going to enjoy being part of the connection both in the office and on site. At events they need to make sure they turn up at 7am ready to set up so the doors can open on time, even if they’ve only had 6 hours sleep. They’re not someone who wants to just turn up 9am to 5pm, because those jobs are dead.

Skills you can learn and are perhaps less important as part of the overall mix now. They help in terms of getting the CV looked at, but in hiring for the job you really want to make sure the candidate is the right fit.

What are the qualities you look for in staff?

I want people who are self-motivated and innovative. These are the people who want to deliver value and are passionate. I also look for resilience – people who are able to put up with the good stuff and the bad stuff. 

The final thing I look for is whether someone has the ability to be a leader. I don’t mean are they a leader by title, because not everyone has the word ‘manager’ next to their name. But what I want to know is if they can lead the team through influence. 

Can they engage with a project and step up and do it? Are they driven by the desire to wake up in the morning and make something better? That takes leadership and the ability to influence others, regardless of your position.

Is it harder to keep staff happy these days?

Absolutely. There are far more options and the expectation that people will come somewhere and work for a long time doesn’t exist anymore.  

I’ve got a finance team who have longevity because they’re self-motivated. They seek out innovation and want to make things better – therefore every day can be slightly different. But when you turn a job into a commodity, staff will treat it like a commodity. They’ll leave because the next bright shiny thing has come up. 

There’s a blurring now between work and community. People tend to go out with their work colleagues more and as a result they’ll leave quickly if they feel the community is not for them. There’s much more emphasis on looking after your staff and you’ve got to make sure they feel part of that journey and are connected. 

What are the ways you keep people engaged?

First of all, you need to make sure staff are passionate and care about what they deliver. Globally, what we’ve done is sit back and realise that every business has a story. So, we have to work out what these stories are. And this is about who we are, who are customers are and where we want to go. 

Then it’s about helping people to understand how they’re part of the journey. It’s about filling them with pride in what they’re doing. People want to be proud of what they deliver and what they’re achieving. When I ask people what we do they’ve all got what we call their ‘pride story’. 

Lastly, people no longer want to work for someone. They want to work with someone. So it’s also about delivering opportunity. We have a successful partnership with the Australian Institute of Management established by HR, where anyone within our organisation can go along to do a course there. 

I’m amazed at some of the courses are they do. We don’t dictate and say this is your role so this is the course you’ve got to do. We allow them to choose and then work with them to explore how that’s going to fit into what it is they want to do in the future. They can pick a course from something like mindfulness, to something that’s a very specific skill. We’ll support them the whole way through. 

And this desire exists at all levels. I look for this same kind of support from the great leaders above and around me.

What’s one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the last 15 years?

The thing that stands out for me is the changing nature of success. Not only are the tools we use to measure success changing, but also how we define success is changing.

This means finance teams have to change the way they value different parts of the business. Success is no longer just having the biggest turnover. It might be growth of the business, it might be growth of revenue, it might be growth in terms of social media recognition, it might be being recognised as the number one brand. 

Outside of work I’m involved with netball. It’s interesting looking at their strategy, how they’re valuing the success of the Swifts and the Giants who are NSW teams. They measure success in terms of participation. Recently they’ve started reporting on how they’re trending on social media with followers and then understanding how to use this to deliver connections for players as well as sponsors.

So, the definition of success is evolving. People see that it’s about numbers – they just aren’t necessarily financial numbers anymore. In the netball example, they’re saying, ‘If we get successful in the amount of followers, then that will bring in sponsorship because we have more eyeballs. Then through connections and partnerships those eyeballs can be turned into cash which is re-invested in the grassroots.’

Essentially, success has become much more broad.

What’s your forecast for the future of the workforce?

The horizon is no longer what’s in front of you. Last night I was on the phone talking to Korea, Japan, the UK and France. You can no longer think about a short horizon, we are part of a global community where we all have different languages. 

One of the most important skills to develop is the ability to talk to and engage with everybody. The skill to operate internationally is becoming more and more necessary.

I look forward to reading more articles and debate from my peers as we all work through these common issues. 

If you would like to have a confidential discussion regarding strategies to hire the finance people of the future now, contact us Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group 0404 803 609 or

This article represents the views of the interviewee and may not necessarily represent the views of their wider organisation.