Interview with Markus Blanka-Graff - CFO Kuehne+Nagel Group

This interview was published on 10 February 2022

Deloitte: What lasting changes do you think the pandemic will make to the future role of CFOs?

Markus Blanka-Graff: A flexible business model and variable costs will be increasingly important parts of management, as will also a solid balance sheet and independent financial decision-making. CFOs are going to have to defend these aspects even when they are at odds with short-term targets.

Deloitte: Sustainability is an increasingly hot topic. What can you as CFO do to support sustainability within your own company?

Markus Blanka-Graff: Sustainability is not an add-on; it is a core part of our business. And the role of the CFO here, too, is to weigh up long-term and short-term goals and to help ensure the company has a broad basis, both commercially but also socially. And that includes the full range of sustainability aspects.

Deloitte: What major opportunities do you see digitalisation creating in future? And are there limitations to digitalisation?

Markus Blanka-Graff: Digitalisation of repetitive tasks and standardised processes will continue, but it will also support decision-making by processing proposals – where appropriate, including with AI. Limitations arise where the work needing to be done includes corporate and operational management roles. We are currently seeing supply chains coming under huge pressure, and human creativity and communication are particularly important in such a situation.

Deloitte: The most recent CFO Survey reveals that many companies now see supply chain problems as the greatest risk they face. How serious do you think these problems are? And how are you tackling them?

Markus Blanka-Graff: The supply chain problems have arisen from increasing friction in chains. Most of these pinch-points have existed for many years, or even decades, and can be attributed to underlying conflicts of interest with the owners of the fixed assets a supply chain requires. One example is shipping. Companies want increasingly modern – and large – ships to support efficiency, reduce costs and improve their carbon footprint. But that means ports need longer quays, deeper basins and more powerful crane facilities. Port operators then need to work 24/7 if possible, but that requires better rail connections, enough lorries, trailers and drivers and very precise scheduling. And the roads leading away from ports need to be able to cope with the extra volume of traffic. Regulators, meanwhile, are introducing additional controls. Every single part of the system is operating for good reasons, but none is coordinated with the other parts. So, during the pandemic, the system rapidly came to an almost complete standstill: capacity was initially limited, then there was an avalanche of demand from the growth in e-commerce. These trends vary widely from region to region were particularly marked in the US. It all helped to create substantial imbalances in the system. And unforeseen events, such as the blocking of the Suez Canal, made things even worse. We do our best to give our customers the best possible service under the circumstances, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they are all satisfied. If their goods get stuck in part of the supply chain for several weeks or prices go up, they get frustrated. We are trying to support our staff as much as we can as they manage these problems, but it’s difficult.

Deloitte: Most CFOs participating in the CFO Survey believe revenues will be increasing. What opportunities does your company have in the current year and next year?

Markus Blanka-Graff: We are not so concerned about revenues: we focus more on gross benefit, which has grown substantially in 2021. One reason is volumes, which are growing markedly again. The other is growth in the market, despite inadequate capacity, and the effort we put into supporting delivery despite all the supply chain issues and giving our customers the best possible service under the circumstances.

Markus Blanka-Graff

CFO Kuehne+Nagel Group

Markus Blanka-Graff has been Chief Financial Officer and Member of the Management Board of Kuehne + Nagel International AG since July 1, 2014. Born in Austria, Blanka-Graff started his professional career in 1996 at Kuehne + Nagel's national subsidiary in Vienna after studying economics. In the finance sector he held management positions in Asia, Europe and North America, among others, as well as at corporate level since 2009, and gained diverse management experience in the integration of corporate acquisitions and the standardisation of global finance and controlling processes. He was awarded the CFO-of-the-Year-Award at the CFO Day 2021 for his achievements.