On the money: Meet BBH Singapore CFO Natasha Lindsay-Barker

Natasha Lindsay-Barker is the CFO of BBH Singapore, and has been helming the role for the past seven years. She first joined BBH in London back in 2009, and was involved group finance, before moving to Singapore to take on the role of CFO.  As CFO, Lindsay-Barker's job scope cuts through various departments. "I’m heavily involved in pitches and ongoing accounts from a commercial and legal point of view. At the other end of the spectrum, I’m a part of our innovations and diversity and inclusion teams," she said. 

Find out more about how she came into the role, and what her job entails:

Marketing InteractiveTell us a little bit about your role? How did you end up in the agency role?

I’m originally from Melbourne. My parents were both creative entrepreneurs there; my dad ran a successful but commercially dysfunctional architecture practice and my mum is the founder of a boutique biscuit brand. So starting out as an accountant, it didn’t take long for me to realise that I wanted to be closer to creativity.

I worked in London in the global music business and then IP rights before starting at BBH in Group Finance in 2009.  It was on my maternity leave in 2012 that I received the call offering me the role of CFO for BBH Singapore.

I’ve been lucky to be given the trust and latitude to shape my role. Our success comes from having the best talent delivering great creative work for our clients. My role is ultimately to ensure we have robust business processes and the right resources in place to allow us to consistently deliver this. In practice this ranges from commercial strategy to the tactics of negotiation and finding operational efficiency - and I also oversee legal, governance, office management, HR and D&I.

Marketing Interactive: What is a popular misconception people in the industry have about the CFO role? 

Some people may believe that "finance people" view commercial success as a separate endeavour from achieving creative excellence. Having just quizzed my colleagues on this question, we’re thankfully agreed that it is a virtuous circle. 

Marketing InteractiveIn light of the current pandemic, agencies are under a lot of strain. How has the pandemic evolved your role and impacted your job?

I’ve had to balance a lot more negotiating and financial modelling with far less turnaround time - all with the added challenge of little visitors creeping into the background of my Zoom calls. We’ve also had to quickly rethink how we operate and how we look after our people with our agency decamping to 110 home offices.

Marketing Interactive: What kind of requests from agency heads/leads are you most likely to say no to?

Expensing an Uber-copter....

Marketing Interactive: What kind of requests do you find hard to say no to?

A request for help.

Marketing Interactive: What is the best way to get a budget from you?

The best way to get a budget from me is to have a clear and well thought out plan. I’ll need to understand the strategic rationale, whether this is a planned for or incremental cost and your confidence level in achieving success. If you consistently deliver, this will be a faster process.

Marketing Interactive: What is the biggest challenge in your role?

Nurturing a business mindset across all disciplines.

To help with this I developed and now run an interactive training programme that gives everyone (from our Receptionist to our CCO) a go at running the business. They are targeted on revenue, profit, margin, creative success and staff satisfaction – but are penalised if they can’t collect cash, leverage their success or overwork their team.

Marketing Interactive: What is the best part of your role?

I’m lucky that there are many...I love working with such talented people - who generate ideas and innovations that I could never dream of. I also take real pleasure in improving how we look after them, working with the diversity and inclusion team and putting in place initiatives such as our improved parental leave policy. BBH has also supported my growth in giving me the flexibility to take on the role as Treasurer of The Talent Trust, a skills volunteering charity that brings together groups of mentors to help charities professionalise and grow.  

Marketing Interactive: How much involvement do you have in creative conversations or pitches and strategy or PR?

Optimising the quality of our output is important context for every decision I make.

As a management team, we review the work, effectiveness and financials of each account every quarter.

I’d be in the wrong industry if I didn’t care, but that’s also the reason I stick primarily to doing what I do best.

I’m heavily involved in pitches and ongoing accounts from a commercial and legal point of view. At the other end of the spectrum, I’m a part of our innovations and diversity & inclusion teams.    

Marketing Interactive: A CFO in an agency today doesn’t just need to be good with numbers. What other skills do you feel are needed to be a great CFO?

For a CFO to be able to influence, they will need to have perspective and be objective. My feeling is that to get to great, they will also need to be able to communicate their message simply and with empathy. 

Marketing Interactive: What is the biggest economic crisis you’ve been through? What were some of the learning lessons?

From a position of responsibility, it’s definitely this one.

It has further strengthened my belief in our talent. I could never have imagined that during lockdown we could create and produce a campaign as innovative as Virtual Sentosa on Animal Crossing from our bedrooms and dining tables. Or win a large global account headquartered in LA without travelling. For me, it has really proved how resilient and adaptable our team is.

It’s also a stark reminder that a business with strong fundamentals will have a better chance at weathering the storm. Touch wood, we’re on track for our 7th consecutive year of growth. 

Marketing Interactive: What advice do you have for the agency world amidst this turbulent time?

Stay true to your long-term goals, but in the short term operate a flexible model, conserve cash, communicate and above all, look out for each other.

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