The 6th CFO Executive Summit kicked off last April in the beautiful city of Prague. CFOs from all over Europe enjoyed two days of brainstorming, learning and networking. This year’s event was focused on the strategic role of the CFO and the role of analytics in today’s business. One of our exceptional speakers was Omar Saleh from the University of Portsmouth.

Tell me a little bit more about your background.

My background is slightly unconventional. I am a graduate in engineering with a “minor” in economics. I came into teaching late in my career (about 5 years ago) where I am now a Senior Lecturer at University in Portsmouth Business School in the Strategy, Enterprise and Innovation Subject Group. I am also Chairman and Managing Director of Focuspoint Organisation Ltd and, until last July, a Global Director with EY (previously, Ernst & Young). I am also a Chairman of a Non-for-Profit Organisation.  Over my 40 years of professional experience, I’ve worked for and with companies such as IBM, Shell, John Brown, Philips, AXA and many more. I started my career in Engineering in the Chemical, Petrochemical, Oil and Gas Industries and later on to other Industries incl Financial Services, Retail, Technology, Entertainment & Communications. I served in various senior management positions in Sales, Marketing, Business Performance & ended as Chairman & Managing Director roles. I was also an officer of a NASDAQ quoted company. I have a passion for change management and business performance & modelling. I am an advisor to large and medium companies on strategic and operational change management programs. I am also retained as a Coach & Mentor to several Executives.

Over those years, what is the most challenging part of your job?

There are two specific angles that interest & continuously challenge me. Firstly, the accuracy, currency, validity & relevance of business data and information one works. Secondly, the fast changing face of the world as we know it (not just in business terms). What I find most challenging is how unpredictable the changes are, especially if you combine the change with the accuracy and currency of any data we receive. It is crucial to apply the right filters in order to turn the data into reliable information which will help us make the right timely decisions for our organisations & our stakeholders. Operating successfully in ambiguity, uncertainty & complexity is a pre-requisite for future leaders of our businesses.

Can you elaborate more on your presentation on our event?

For my presentation, I came up with something that would keep up the same standards as last year. I decided -in that brief period of time I was given- to cover three of the areas I am most interested in:  strategy, change management and culture. I basically combined three major overviews of the three areas in order to provoke and challenge the audience to think about them. Most importantly, how critical those factors are when you run or manage them together and how CFOs should really use them to their benefit. At the end of the day, although my presentation had excellent ratings, I was kind of disappointed with myself. Because I knew I only barely scratched the surface of these areas. I would love to have had more time to explain and elaborate more & to take many more questions from what was a highly engaged & interested audience.

In what way did this event help you and how it will help potential attendees?

From my perspective, the CFO Executive Summit was of value to me because it helped my “continuous learning”. I met new people with very different experiences, know-how and knowledge. It is always very useful to listen to and interact with others. I believe that one of the ingredients of success is to develop a taste for the “love of learning” in all its forms. Interacting & networking with the type of audience at the Summit is one such form.  Practical examples & experiences from such conferences comes is also useful to use (if appropriate) in my business school teaching & can provide further research ideas.

For the attendees, especially CFOs, I think it is really beneficial to listen to other presentations and attend workshops from professionals outside the financial industry. It gives them a broader spectrum of knowledge to use or to add to their “armoury” when they go back to the office, whether it is for management, strategy or technical business subjects/issues. They may have different perspectives to benefit from the event.

What are your expectations for next year’s event?

If you want to continue to succeed, you need to always have consistency with what is the latest on the CFOs’ agendas. All of course in terms of subject matter, themes, diversity and so on. In my opinion, next year, EBCG needs to search deeper into the professional and business agenda of your target CFO audience and try to meet their needs & requirements. If you do this then the event will be even more successful than this year.