Anders Hagh, CFO of Salling Group, spends a lot of time coaching the next generation of young talent. For example, newly appointed CFO of Netto in Poland is just 29 years old. But age is just a number if you are willing to trust individuals and your leaders provide the right support.
Anders Hagh was just 28 years old when his boss at Maersk sent him to Hong Kong to lead a team. Even today, in his mid-forties, he has not forgotten the trust that was placed in him, and now as CFO of Salling Group he is determined to do the same for the next generation:
“One of the great things I learned in Maersk,” he says, “was their ability to trust young people with a large responsibility, which is exactly what they did when I was sent to Hong Kong at the age of 28. I still believe that if young people have the interest, the drive and the right mentality, you should give them a real chance at leadership. Our CFO in Poland, for example, is just 29 years old, but he is doing an amazing job. And it is not just about promoting him personally. The rest of the finance organisation also notices when a talented young individual gets a real opportunity. It is something that inspires everyone.”
Salling Group is one of the largest and most well-known companies in the Aarhus area, and so it is generally not difficult for Anders Hagh and his leadership team to recruit talented individuals to its finance organisation:
”Many young people who study in Aarhus also want to remain in Aarhus afterwards and raise their families here; so our head office location enables us to attract some very bright candidates from the university. Many of our head office employees also worked in our stores when they were young. It is not unusual for someone who started at the bottle recycling bank to make their way later up the system, because they liked their colleagues and our culture. Remember, we have about 40,000 employees in our stores in Denmark, so our recruiting base is large.”
Yet, even with a well-known brand and a strong local foothold in Aarhus, Anders Hagh admits that Salling has also had to ‘dust off’ the HQ brand and focus more on work-life balance and diversity:
“Like most other companies, we have changed a lot over the years and modernised our organisation and the way we do things. We are more inclusive today, more forward-thinking and much more purpose-driven in our approach. Moreover, ownership of the Group by the Salling Foundations means that all our profits are either re-invested or donated to charity. Especially for our young talent who are driven by purpose, this is hugely important and meaningful.”
An ever-evolving finance organisation
Anders Hagh was appointed as the CFO of Salling Group in 2015. Back then, Salling Group was known as Dansk Supermarked, and the finance team was changing from being primarily the ‘accounting department’ to also becoming business partners, which was difficult because the commercial teams often did not trust the numbers that the finance team provided. On top of that, the company was in the process of moving operations midst of moving to a new service centre in Poland while also implementing an SAP system. A turbulent time, Anders Hagh recalls, but a necessary transformation:
“When you speak about recruiting and developing talent in Finance, it is obvious that basic processes and trust have to be in place before you can focus on proactive business partnering. In that sense, we have come a long way since 2015. Today, Finance is much closer to the steering wheel of the organisation, we are allowed to challenge the business, and we are an integral part of important decision-making. This also means that our people have a ‘licence to play’. They are listened to, and respected.”
Anders Hagh also admits that he, himself, has had to challenge some of his own ideas about how to run a finance organisation:
“For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to new ways of working. Yes, you can actually work from home and still get things done. You do not have to live in the vicinity of Aarhus. You can be productive in a Teams meeting, and we do not all have to work from nine to five and be physically in the office. I think these revelations were important. They have helped us create a much more inclusive organisation where our people do not all have to fit in the same box.”
With this new work infrastructure – and with a very competent team handling everyday challenges – Anders Hagh can devote even more time to developing talent:
“Having a smooth finance operation means that I can spend more time working with our talent. Today, I am probably more accessible than I have ever been, and I spend more time coaching individuals one-to-one and providing the support they need. Especially when young individuals are given a big responsibility, you have to be there as a senior person to make sure that they do not feel alone. But it is only doable if the organisation as a whole is functioning well; otherwise, you will spend most of your time fire-fighting and dealing with day-to-day problems.”
More changes on the horizon
In spite of the significant progress over the years, Anders Hagh has even higher ambitions for Salling Group’s finance organisation. It needs new capabilities, especially when it comes to data and sustainability:
“As you can imagine, Salling Group produces an overwhelming amount of data on consumption and shopping patterns, and it is something that many of our people find interesting. However, to get full value from the data, we need better tools for analysis, and this is something we are developing at the moment. Our ambition is not only to analyse data, but also to democratise the data in an agile way, so that our whole organisation can benefit from the insights it provides. But we need the technology, and we need the organisational capacity to match questions and answers. There is a magic formula that we have to find.”
Like many other companies, Salling Group is also pursuing initiatives when it comes to sustainability, and Anders Hagh is proud to see his finance team take an active role:
“Our ESG reporting is now also a part of Finance, and we approach non-financial data with the same kind of rigorousness and consistency that we always apply to financial data. Many of our finance team were closely involved in our decision in 2022 to invest DKK 2.4 billion in energy optimisation and green solutions in more than 1,400 of our stores in Denmark, Germany and Poland. Even if we cannot always calculate every single benefit, sustainability investment in my view belongs in Finance, and I see it as a natural part of the responsibilities of a CFO.”
Finally, in the near future, Anders Hagh would like to see more women in finance and a better balance between young and experienced employees:
“Gender and age diversity are something I feel very passionate about. I truly believe that it can help us build a more balanced finance organisation with better leadership and more diverse mindsets. We also need people who are future-oriented to complement those who are analytical. We need academic excellence, but also old-fashioned commercial awareness. We need great people under 30 and great people over 50. It is all about finding the right balance, and we are working hard to improve each day.”
Three pieces of advice from Anders Hagh
- Get the basics right – it is where it starts and stops for Finance. When you have a smoothly running operation, you will have the time to coach talent, and give them the right responsibility and the right support.
- Be visible and accessible – and be ambitious on behalf of the organisation. Keep pushing beyond the boundaries, do not settle for less.
- As CFO, take on a broad responsibility for the business in order to position the finance organisation strategically. Always show interest in the business – and encourage your people to do the same.
Kim Hendil Tegner
Partner and CFO Programme Leader
+45 30 93 64 46