Andy Boteler, CFO, Riverford: “Net zero is a chance to say yes.”

Fairer Future

4 min read

Andy Boteler is Director of Finance at Riverford Organic Farmers, is Senior Independent Director and Chair of Audit and Remuneration Committee at LungLife AI and is Chair of Audit Committee at Octopus AIM VCT PLC. Previously, he was CFO at Gooch & Housego PLC and FD at SIFAM Fibre Optics. Here, he shares his perspective on how CFOs can create a fairer future, how the CFO role has evolved, and what it means to be an FD in a purpose-led, employee-owned organization.

How can CFOs contribute to creating a fairer future?

It’s become a trend for companies to position themselves as values-based and purpose-driven, but you still need to be commercially successful. If you don’t have the determination and skillset to make a profitable business then idealism alone will do you no good. In the end, you will let down your suppliers, your customers, and your staff if your business fails. In recent years I’ve seen a number of purportedly purpose-led or ethical businesses — ones that sell on that basis — go bust. That is not an ethical thing to do, that is not a values-based business.

With that in mind, the role of CFO in contributing to a fairer future as I see it is to take those fantastic values that we all hold so close to our hearts and turn them into practical and workable policies, that place the business on a sustainable financial footing and enable you to achieve your objectives and purpose in the long term.

For example, one area we’ve been able to make a positive impact is with our sustainability team. They are there to help guide our journey towards net-zero, but they need assistance from an accounting perspective to help guide our spend and ensure it is spent sustainably. Often, CFOs are seen as the people who say no — there is an opportunity for them to be the person to say yes and enable the achievement of net-zero.

“Often, CFOs are seen as the people who say no — achieving net-zero is an opportunity to be the person who says yes.”

How has the CFO role changed in your lifetime?

The pace of technological change has had a tangible impact on the role of CFO. Today, the spreadsheets that we used to rely on would be seen as old-fashioned, and now we’re able to pull data from places I didn’t even know existed. This raises an even bigger challenge: actually finding meaningful data in the blizzard of everything that’s available. My approach to managing this has been a trick I learned years ago — hire smart people with the technical ability and judgment to cut through the noise and, crucially, let them do their job.

Another major change I’ve seen is the surge in importance of ethics, purpose, and planet. When I started my career purpose and planet weren’t major considerations, but as I’ve gotten older these have risen in importance.

“We've seen a surge in importance of ethics, purpose and planet.”

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How do you define and measure success?

Of course, when it comes to any decision or measure of success we need to look at financials, but that’s not enough on its own. We look at our stakeholder impact — including our impact on suppliers, customers, and “employees” (or “Co-Owners” as we are at Riverford). We look at the impact on the planet and we look at the potential impact decisions can have on our brand. Crucially, these strands are all of equal importance. Lots of companies say they have these strands, but this is the only company I’ve seen where they really are given equal weight.

These strands feed into the metrics we use to measure success and into our process for decision-making. This can be a challenge — it definitely can make it longer to make decisions when appraising greater wealth of information, however, you ultimately get better quality decisions when you go through process and consider more than just financial metrics.

“Ultimately you get better quality decisions when you consider more than just financial metrics.”

How does working for an employee-owned company change the role of the CFO?

I think it has been wonderful to work with a business that is both employee-owned and a B-Corp. As CFO I get a chance to talk to all corners of the business about we’re doing.

Back when I worked for PLCs I would present to our investors maybe twice a year, now our council of employee representatives meet monthly and they have a powerful say in how the business is run. A few years ago we developed a financial education programme for that group so that they can understand and evaluate the numbers I’m taking them through. Ultimately, the numbers I’m presenting are their numbers so it’s absolutely crucial that they are able to easily understand and engage with them. And that’s something we’ve found beneficial in good times and when we’ve had to take difficult decisions. Even in challenging situations it’s been fantastic in giving our employees a sense of empowerment, as well as the ability to input into the way we run the business.

“We need to start measuring the ‘S’ factors, because they have financial implications.”

If you could put one challenge to your peers what would it be?

For me it would be: look into becoming a B-corp. We know that we’re lucky at Riverford — having a founder who really believes in running business in the right way, and that being built into our DNA. But B-Corp It gives you a great framework that you can start working towards, that will make you a better business, not just at making money, but doing all the other good things. It’s a great virtuous circle for making businesses better.


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