The Big Interview: Tim Wakeford, Workday

Director of Finance catches up with Tim Wakeford, vice president, financials product strategy, EMEA at Workday


First of all, Tim can you tell us a little about Workday? What are its main business objectives?

Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources. We deliver financial management, human capital management (HCM), and analytics applications designed for the world’s largest companies, educational institutions, and government agencies. Organisations ranging from medium-sized businesses to Fortune 50 enterprises use our software.

You are based in the UK. How do you relate to Workday’s global business? 

As Workday’s VP for financial product strategy across EMEA, I have tremendous responsibility to build, maintain, and grow the strategic direction of our financial product offering in the UK and beyond. Workday continues to be in growth mode, whether it be expanding our product portfolio or growing our market footprint. But as Workday continues to grow globally there is greater pressure to increase profits, an important factor in helping our company succeed in the long term. So in my role, I am focused on continuously evaluating our financial product offering and ensuring we’re making progress in EMEA, without any compromises.

How has the company evolved in recent years? What kind of companies do you work with? 

Our business is growing at a fast clip and we’re seeing an increasing demand for our products globally. We currently have operations in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region, with more than 7,900 employees worldwide and 1,900 customers, including such companies as Cushman & Wakefield, Amazon, Hitachi, Rolls-Royce, and Unilever.

Why should today’s organisations look to cloud-based financial software as a means of gaining insights for future growth?

Forward-thinking finance leaders should turn to cloud-based financial software to manage finance data and workforces smarter, faster, and more efficiently. This will enable them to take advantage of big data, in real time, and also to uncover and address challenges and opportunities that were previously difficult to see or understand. Access to better, faster, and bigger data facilitates data driven decisions that support corporate strategy. This data enables finance and the business to collaborate more closely and effectively, with less time spent gathering and compiling data. Freed of that burden, finance can spend more time providing improved decision support to help drive the business forward. I think it’s time for finance to step up its game. Thanks to the emergence of cloud-based financial management systems, it has all the ingredients to work faster and smarter while becoming a much more strategic business partner.

Can you tell us a little about your career development before joining Workday?  

Before joining the Workday team in November last year, I served as UK CFO for the property firm Cushman & Wakefield. As the company is a Workday customer, I played a key role in the deployment process of the Workday Financial Management solution across the organisation. Here, I saw first-hand its ability to manage the complexities of transactions and accounting, providing the necessary controls to ensure data integrity and compliance. This insight is certainly something I will use to inform my role at Workday. Prior to my role at Cushman & Wakefield, I served as financial director for the UK at Willis Towers Watson. I have also held executive level positions in the finance departments of both private and public sector organisations.

What is your approach to business? What do you like about what you do?

My approach to business includes trying to empathise with the position of the person/people I am engaging with. By understanding their requirements and what would represent a good business outcome for them, it is possible to develop mutually beneficial solutions and hopefully exceed their expectations. As an ex-customer of Workday and an experienced finance professional, I have a deep understanding of the issues facing our customers, which is crucial in helping us to develop financial solutions that drive business benefits. This is very rewarding on a personal and professional level.

More generally, how do you think the role of the CFO has changed over the years?

Once considered a numbers-only role, the CFO is now balancing traditional responsibilities with growing demand for data-driven analysis and insights that support growth and strategy. I’ve noticed that many CFOs are now making decisions on which processes are digitised and how IT budgets are allocated. It all has to come back to providing value for customers. Part of the CFO’s job is now answering the question: how will this investment in technology ultimately help boost profits?

In some cases, technology drives efficiencies that create new sources of revenue or open up whole new business models. There are other trends out there too, such as greater adoption of cloud computing and robotics – the CFO needs to be mindful of all of them.

What advice would you give the younger generation if they were thinking about working in the financial sector?

  1. Place as much importance on developing your management capability as you do learning the technical aspects of the role – being a bad leader is career limiting.
  2. Get as close to the operational aspects of the organisation as possible. Excellent finance professionals do not work in isolation from the client facing operations, but instead work as an integral part of a wider team.
  3. Deliver solutions, not problems. Don’t expect other people to solve your problems for you – always be prepared to identify creative ways to overcome hurdles, whilst making sure to stay within the law and adhere to corporate values!

If you had to sum up your approach to business in three words, what would they be?

Commercial, customer-orientated, creative.

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