480: Bringing a Metric to Life | Mark Patrick, CFO, Syngenta

Listen to the Episode Below (00:37:26)

Sometime in the next three to six months, Syngenta AG, a Swiss-based agribusiness company, is expecting to welcome a clan of ambitious offspring. Months, even years in the making, these fruit from a forward-looking group are born from a cross-functional team—one tasked with helping the $13.5 billion enterprise correctly measure its expansive sustainability initiatives.

To be clear, the aforementioned “offspring” are new metrics, the output of an ambitious metrics “refresh” triggered in part by the firm’s determination to routinely evaluate the numbers intended to provide Syngenta management as well stakeholders with a clear-eyed view of its sustainability efforts.

“It’s all good and well establishing a new metric, but if you can’t measure and monitor it, then it has no value in any shape or form,” explains Syngenta CFO Mark Patrick, who first mentioned the sustainability “refresh” when asked about metrics that had become increasingly top-of-mind for finance—but were clearly “nonfinancial” or beyond the realm of traditional finance.

While Patrick said that he was reluctant to discuss the yet-to-be-released metrics, he suggests that when it comes to finance, the innovation is not what the metrics measure but how they came to be—and how Patrick’s finance team operated as part of a larger cross-functional effort where finance partnered with the sustainability group and the company at large.

“We’re actually the custodians of value, and it’s about how do we work with those within those cross-functional teams to ensure that we’re moving down the right path and investing in the things that are going to give us the greatest chance for success tomorrow. And this has to be a relationship built on trust,” he explains.

This trust, according to Patrick, is now being enriched by finance as it seeks to make metrics more visible across the organization and allow individual employees to measure how their work is bringing benefits to the company and contributing to its success. –Jack Sweeney

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Guest: Mark Patrick, CFO

Company: Syngenta

Headquarters: Basel, Switzerland

Connect: www.syngenta.com

CFOTL:  How do you view the role of finance in this organization?

Patrick: We’re like the octopus. We have the tentacles that go into every part of the organization, and it all comes back to finance at the end of the day. We have to have an element of independence, a challenge, a role within those cross functional teams to ensure we’re doing things that are utilizing the scarce resources in the best possible way for the company, number one.

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And number two, ensuring that, you know, we’re not doing anything from a statutory governance perspective that’s in breach of what we should be doing. But it’s about partnering with these guys. We don’t want to be—sometimes we used to be called the policeman of an organization. I don’t like to see us with that title because we’re much more than that. We’re actually the custodians of value, and it’s about how we work within those cross-functional teams to ensure that we’re moving down the right path and investing in the things that are going to give us the greatest chance for success tomorrow. But it has to be a relationship built on trust.

CFOTL: How do you push metrics or numbers down into the organization to educate the workforce? Is that something you do?

Patrick: We actually have a financial KPI tree that takes very complex metrics like CFROI and breaks them down into very, very simple levers. It doesn’t matter where you sit in the company, you can say, “Okay, I can pull that lever, and that will then—when you work it all the way through the tree—that will have a benefit to this metric that’s ultimately important for the company overall.

So it’s taking some of these very complex things down into what I would term pretty simple stuff, to ensure that it doesn’t matter what level you are, what part of the organization you’re in, you can see the benefit you are bringing to the company. And it’s something that’s specific to you that you can action on. We do a lot of work in that space to try and bring it to life in some very simple terms so that every part of the organization understands how they’re contributing to the success.”