“To Me, Change Is Positive”

Susanna Zethelius, Pricer’s new CFO, on why openness is the key to success for today’s finance chief.
Pricer CFO Susanna Zethelius

Ask Susanna Zethelius, who will become the new CFO of Stockholm-based Pricer in
September, about Covid’s impact on retail, and she will focus on the opportunities for the company, a leader in electronic shelf labels. “The pandemic has accelerated the need for store digitalization,” she says.

That’s true, but the answer is also part of Zethelius’ approach to business, and life: “you always need to challenge yourself and the current state to keep developing and improving.” Come the fall, she will challenge herself with everything from Pricer’s strategic agenda to managing risks to leading the company’s approach to ESG issues. We talked with Zethelius about her new job, why there are so few female CFOs and how the position has changed in recent years.

Congratulations on the new post. What would you say is the most important aspect of your new job?

Thank you—I’m very happy to join the Pricer team. Pricer is a global leader in ESL, electronic shelf labels, and we have an interesting journey ahead, leading the digitalization of retail which is changing very fast. Coming in as a CFO my objective is to be a strategic partner to the business as a whole and to our CEO Helena Holmgren specifically. In addition to working with the more traditional financial aspects of the role I will be working alongside Helena and the rest of the management team to develop and implement the strategic agenda. Driving change and managing risks will be other important aspects, as well as ESG and digitization.

Retail has been hard hit by the Covid pandemic. What are the biggest challenges—and opportunities—it has created for Pricer?

During spring 2020, deliveries and a number of store installations were delayed as several countries introduced restrictions on people’s mobility and store operations. At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated the need for store digitalization. Pricer offers solutions that improve the efficiency of many employee-intensive store processes, such as in-store picking of online orders, shelf replenishment and inventory-taking. The need for automation and streamlining of store processes has never been bigger.

How has the role of the CFO changed in recent years?

Generally, I would say a modern CFO is more focused on the future than the past, thereby putting more emphasis on strategic questions, such as future growth opportunities and business model optimization. To succeed you need a broader competence spectrum that covers everything from finance and analytics to business intelligence and digitization. With that comes a broadened cross functional focus. The CFO is also often a key stakeholder of the ESG agenda. Many of these trends are accelerated with the Covid pandemic as an even higher pace of change and agility is required.

Has the relationship between the CFO and the CEO shifted?

That of course varies a lot depending on the business, individuals and circumstances. But relating to my answer to the previous question I would say that it often means a closer and more strategic collaboration in more operational and forward-looking questions.

Korn Ferry says just 11 percent of CFOs are women. Why do you think there are so few women in the position?

With a male-dominated investor side and an under-representation of female role models, a CFO career may not be top of mind. However, there are plenty of competent women out there with the right qualifications and mindset. In my view, senior executives and boards have a large responsibility to spot talented individuals and build their competencies—technical capabilities, but also business and organizational awareness. Internal promotion is often the easiest way of advancing. Another important aspect is to acknowledge that it needs to be possible to combine family life with a demanding job. Providing a certain degree of flexibility and support can make a big difference.

In announcing your hire, Pricer’s CEO said your personal qualities are as important to the job as your strategic and analytical strengths. What personal attributes made you a good pick for this post?

Well, I would say that I am a curious person eager to learn and understand the business dynamics as well as getting to know the people and the organization. Also, I am very focused on results and to make the right priorities to move forward in the right direction. To me change is positive, and you always need to challenge yourself and the current state to keep developing and improving.