Our Group Chief Financial Officer, Chris O'Shea, reflects on his first few months at the company.
I’m lucky enough to have joined Centrica at a very exciting time, a time of rapid change within the energy sector. And I know that Centrica is ideally placed to lead that change, thanks to the combination of truly innovative technologies and a long history of serving customers.
Speaking of customers, the first thing that impressed me here was the commitment to satisfy them at every level of the organisation. At the heart of everything is the question: “What more can we do for the customer?” At the end of the day, getting the answer to that question right is crucial to our success as a company going forward.
Customer focus is driving many of the changes we’re making in the way Centrica operates. As such we recently announced the sale of the Clockwork home services brand which operated principally through franchisees, and was therefore not in step with our strategic intent to deepen relationships with our customers. The sale generated £230m which will help us to maintain a strong balance sheet and continue to invest in improving our customer experience and growing our business.
My priority as CFO, of course, will always be the bottom line. And I have been pleased to see that there is already a lot of focus on cash generation among colleagues across our businesses. That is not a given in every company, and it’s very encouraging. I think that there is still a lot more we can do, but we start from an already strong base.
Central to this is cross-selling the wide range of services and products we offer across the group. We know our customers are demanding more than just energy – whether they are individuals wanting smart home products like Hive, or businesses using the Centrica Business Solutions platform to improve efficiency and business resilience. It is crucial that we continue to develop those relationships with customers and provide them with the innovative, user-friendly solutions they need.
Learning on the job
While we’ve made some significant investments in technology to support the growth of our company, it’s also critical we invest in talent within Centrica itself. Learning is very important to me personally and so I am proud to support continuous career development at Centrica by sponsoring a number of initiatives focused on early careers. It is only by having a skilled and inclusive workforce that we can drive innovation and deliver for our customers.
This week is National Apprenticeship Week. When we talk about apprenticeships you might just think of traditional routes like our home services engineers – and, of course, we continue to invest in our world-class engineering programme. But we are also expanding apprenticeships into new areas such as leadership, management and digital, as well as our existing customer service apprenticeships.
Having a diverse workforce that reflects our customer base will be key to our success. Not only does it help us understand our customers’ needs, but it’s also essential that we harness all the talent out there in order to address the growing shortage of STEM skills. That means using resources like our Career Development Hub and specialist learning Academies to empower people with future skills. And I’m proud to say that we have seen 13,000 of our people enhance their capabilities in the last six months.
Looking to the future
The biggest surprise for me in my time at Centrica so far has been to see so many opportunities to deliver efficiencies and further improve our cost base. I really didn’t expect that, particularly from a company which has already done so much - £1 billion over the past four years, with a world-class payback period. But the potential is there for much more.
I have also seen some challenges facing Centrica within my first 100 days, and I expect there to be more ahead; there are extremely high levels of competition, and intense regulatory scrutiny in our core energy markets.
But Centrica is well placed to meet those challenges and seize the opportunities ahead. It’s a privilege to be part of the team leading the Group through the next phase of its transformation.