In today’s challenging macro environment, chief financial officers are increasingly leading in spearheading process improvements.
Leslie Daniel, CFO at sustainable ag-based pulp and molded fiber producer Genera, told PYMNTS during a recent conversation that since stepping into the chief finance role last October, she’s been laser-focused on “driving cost out of the business, helping get [Genera] where we need to be to be profitable and make this a great business well into the future.”
Her business, Tennessee-based Genera, partners with local farmers to produce sustainable pulp and fiber solutions for a wide array of eco-friendly packing applications, including compostable food service tableware, to-go containers, packaging, paper, tissues and various other sundry pulp, paper and packaging products.
Through the past few years, global businesses had shown a level of resilience that hardly seemed possible to imagine when the COVID-19 pandemic first began to send tremors through the world’s economic foundations.
While many emerged from the pandemic battered but strong, more than 90% of CFOs still expect further macro headwinds, including a global recession, to hit within the next year, according to 2023 PYMNTS data — making it mission critical for organizations to focus their spending priorities on enhancing operational fundamentals.
Genera is no different, and Daniel says that the company is implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “We’ve decided to come onto a new system, and as we get into that and start working with our new ERP partner to find what our best practice is, I absolutely think there will be things — particularly around internal workflows — that will be greatly improved.”
PYMNTS has previously written about how businesses increasingly turn to technology and modern digital solutions to help them be strategically proactive with growth in the face of macro headwinds.
“We’re actually in growth mode,” Daniel says. “We have a pretty big build out coming and so we haven’t been running our pulp mill full out, so it’s really about optimizing what we do and making sure people [internally] are aware that every time we make a decision, there’s a consequence to that decision.”
Still, it’s not all digital tricks and modern tools.
“I will say we tend to pay our farmers with checks. We try as much as possible to do everything via ACH, but there are definitely still some checks floating around out there,” Daniel says.
As economic uncertainty has businesses looking inward and finetuning operations, the role of the CFO as a strategic leader has only become more pronounced.
“I feel like I’m a big sounding board,” Daniel says, “not only for the CEO but also the rest of the team. We really work together. There’s a lot of decisions to be made about what we’re doing, and it’s a super collaborative environment where everybody has their own role to play, yet we all still come together to help each other do what needs to get done.”
She added that it’s exciting to feel like she’s making a difference in the company’s performance.
As Genera ramps up its expansion and growth, Daniel says that even in a burgeoning industry like sustainable ag-fiber products, there are still a lot of risks.
“Now I would say we have an amazing product that is the way of the future,” Daniel adds. “So for us, the biggest risk at this stage of the game is really going to be execution risk — making sure we have everything in the right place and are able to execute. If we do that, we are going to do very well in the space — I’m proud of the organization because we are on the forefront of what the next ESG play is in this country for packaging. We have a product that rejuvenates itself every year, and is perennial, so it’s very easy on the environment.”
What’s next for the self-described “cost-minded” CFO?
“Making sure we have all the offtake that we need, and then it’s just exciting to be expanding out — really getting to expand out more on the financial side and see that side of the business has been exciting for me.”
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