Alison Dolan is CFO at Rightmove, and has held senior roles at News UK and British Sky Broadcasting. Here, she explains how non-financial KPIs can be used to support sustainability and challenges her peers to embrace change. This interview was conducted as part of our research inquiry into the role CFOs will play in creating a fairer future.
What was your route to the role of CFO?
I’ve taken a few diversions throughout my career, and I think having broader commercial and business experience is helpful for CFOs. It helps give you greater insight into the commercial pressures peers are under while you’re managing their budgets. I came up through the treasury route rather than the maybe more typical audit route for CFOs, and it gave me visibility on the whole business. Having the mandate to go into the nooks and crannies as part of our treasury team was a fascinating way to start my career.
“I think having broader commercial and business experience is helpful for CFOs. It helps give you greater insight into the commercial pressures peers are under while you’re managing their budgets.”
I later went on to work for Sky, where they are great at recognising your achievements and rewarding them by trusting you to move into an area where you haven’t got any direct experience. I ended up running Sky Business alongside a colleague. I still wanted to find my way back to the world of finance and tie all my different experiences together to make me a better CFO, and I joined Rightmove in 2020.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
Managing the balance between investing for growth and maintaining robust financial discipline, whilst pacing that to match the organisation’s capabilities is the challenge. Alongside this, managing the business’ external profile will be on the CFO’s mind. Although everybody wants to hear from the CEO around results day, the biggest burden of investor messaging falls onto the CFO.
What role do non-financial metrics play in Rightmove?
I’m the executive director responsible for delivering our sustainability, so I’ve started to include an ESG update every time we report a set of results. We’ve also developed a key suite of culture KPIs, which encompasses everything from our sustainability, our diversity, gender pay gap, all the way to our governance. These non-financial metrics are critical in helping us to position ourselves as a responsible, trustworthy business that offers rewarding careers and development. Having that dashboard is a constant reminder of progress and the fact that you are never really very far away from the next reporting date. We also have a really engaged board and it hasn’t been, for example, delegated to one or two — our corporate responsibility committee is a subcommittee of the whole board.
“Having that dashboard is a constant reminder of progress and the fact that you are never really very far away from the next reporting date.”
What are the societal issues that keep you awake at night?
It would be remiss not to talk about AI. Although it presents clear opportunities for innovation and for business efficiency, I also worry about what it means for us at a societal level, and what it means for content creation and the potential for bad actors to abuse its capabilities.
However, it also presents an incredible opportunity to do things better and differently. That’s going to mean disruption and we need to manage people through that well. Even just, for example, the normal process for supplier due diligence: you layer in their use of AI and your use of AI, and it's really complex. And I don't think we've even scratched the surface.
Everyone and every business should be experimenting with it, and find areas where it can make your business better. Our chair has a good adage on this: whilst machines are better than humans, machines plus humans is an unmatched combination that gains the advantages of both.
“Whilst machines are better than humans, machines plus humans is an unmatched combination that gains the advantages of both.”
What’s the role of the CFO in this?
The greatest focus should be on how you work as a management team to try and future-proof the business. Capability is going to be a major constraining factor for businesses: we rely on finding intelligent people who are curious, open-minded, and sensible. Thinking back to the past few decades, technology has had more of an impact on us than anything else — it’s stretched into every corner of our lives, making more of an impact than any regulation or change in consumer habits. There’s no reason to think that this won’t continue, so it’s essential that you have the right people to take advantage of new opportunities and innovations that present themselves.
Recruitment has become harder and more expensive, so how do you set yourself apart as an employer? How do you get people to work for you when they’ve got a lot of choices? That can’t just be about money, it’s about attracting good people. You have to offer people somewhere they can feel fulfilled and happy. Twice a year we do an employee survey that affects our compensation: at least 90% have to say that Rightmove is a great place to work. By design, that’s quite a high bar to hit, but we are usually close to meeting that target even if we don’t hit it. Initiatives like that play a key role in ensuring that your company becomes and remains a place where great people want to work. As the CFO, that’s also about making sure that the marketing and HR teams are resourced to attract and retain great people.
What would your challenge to your peers be?
Look to yourself to embrace new things, and make sure you’re a part of preparing the groundwork for the future rather than relying on other people to get to grips with it. Ultimately, nobody expects the CFO to be writing in Python or anything like that — but they absolutely should understand why, for example, moving to the cloud might enable the business to go faster and why that should be prioritised.
This interview was conducted by Dr Scarlett Brown, Director of the Board Intelligence Think Tank. If you’d like to nominate a CFO leader to be part of our interview series, get in touch.