A Common Vision for Finance

May 8, 2019

Mundipharma CFO Arnaud Breakout talks about how he has seen the CFO role evolve over his 20-plus years in the life sciences industry.

Arnaud Breabout joined Mundipharma (Cambridge, UK) as CFO in October 2018, after 16 years with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where his roles included VP & CFO of Global Functions and Investments, VP & CFO GSK Pharma Pipeline, and VP Finance and CFO of GSK Biopharmaceuticals. Prior to that, he served as European Business Planning Director Procter & Gamble, and in Audit Manager positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb and PwC.

Pharm Exec caught up with Breabout to talk about what prompted his move to Mundipharma, a global network of independent associated companies operating in over 120 countries with more than 8500 people, and about how he has seen the CFO role evolve over his 20-plus years in the life sciences industry.

Pharm Exec: What prompted to the move to Mundipharma after your long tenure at GSK?

Arnaud Breabout: Mundipharma is a very entrepreneurial company. It’s got a history of growth and agility and that’s exactly what attracted me to the company.

I was extremely fortunate at GSK to have had a wide range of finance roles across commercial, R&D and manufacturing before  moving to the corporate centre as CFO of Global Functions and Investments. I really got my teeth into all aspects of the business.

But operating in an organization of GSK’s size can limit one’s ability as a leader to impact the business in a direct and immediate way. I relish the opportunity that my role at MundiPharma gives me to define and lead the finance agenda across the complete organization and not just influence pieces of it.

A CFO report by McKinsey characterized four CFO profiles: the finance expert, the generalist, the performance leader, and the growth champion. How does your role at reflect one or more (or all) of these?

I probably play in all of those quadrants to a certain extent. I would define myself as a hybrid, a rather ambidextrous CFO, who combines Big Pharma capabilities with an entrepreneurial spirit. I have a talent for building the strong processes and systems necessary for any Finance function to work with efficiency and at scale, but everything I do is always undertaken with the intention of finding and turbocharging the grow engines of any business.

What were your priorities upon joining Mundipharma as CFO?

Mundipharma is a network of independent associated companies and every company has historically had their own CFO and finance group.

The real opportunity now is to establish a common central vision for Finance and create a shared and robust financial architecture that delivers value and drives strategic performance by being a source of insight as well as information to the key decision makers in the business. That’s what Finance being a true partner to the business boils down to for me.

We’ve made phenomenal progress towards that goal in a short space of time. Much of the credit for this goes to the clear mandate for change I was given and to the talent, energy and goodwill I have been afforded by my new finance colleagues across the network. Their contribution epitomizes a ‘can do’ attitude which has made our journey fast but really enjoyable too. 

I am ambitious for what Finance can bring to MundiPharma. That starts with putting into place the right systems, enabling processes and the right finance architecture to support that vision. I’m very focused on the fact that finance is perceived as a driver of the strategy and delivers value to the business. A key part of that involves developing internal talent and bringing in talent from the outside.

How would you say the role of life sciences CFO has changed during your time in the industry?

When I started in life sciences 20 odd years ago, in common with many industries, Finance and its leaders were typically treated as an accounting function. Today, CFOs play a significant role informing the business strategy and really driving all aspects of decision making, from pipeline investment to the commercial choices that need to be made around the organization.

The second big change is around how technology and IT agenda has expanded the remit of Finance and CFOs. The digital, data and analytics revolution and its impact on finance architecture has driven an agile and nimble mindset throughout finance, very much balancing the various roles and functions from stewardship and governance to planning and controlling, but also partnering and building on the technology agenda.

The third key change is around people and talent. In a fast-evolving world, both from a pharma market and a technological perspective, talent (finding it, growing it  and keeping it) is now central to the CFO agenda.  To adapt and win, we need a blend of people and leaders, often with very different profiles from the typical finance recruiting pools of the past.