Sea Changer: It Wasn't until the Early 1990s That the Royal Navy Had a Financial Forecasting System, but the Man Who Created It, Malcolm Cornberg FCMA, Has Tackled a Whole Raft of Challenges during His Career in Her Majesty's Fleet. He Talks to Cathy Hayward about Reorganisations, Resource Management and Russian Nuclear Submarines. (Profile Malcolm Cornberg)

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Life on dry land might seem a dull option for a naval officer. But for Captain Malcolm Cornberg, who has spent much of his career grappling with the Royal Navy's resource planning, it's rarely been plain sailing. As first deputy assistant chief of staff (plans and resources) to the commander-in-chief of the fleet, Cornberg is the senior accountant responsible for business planning, resourcing and performance management for the whole fleet.

It's a role that was created in the wake of a major reorganisation in March 2002. Until that time, the Navy had a headquarters and separate organisations for its various divisions--the fleet air arm, surface ships, the submarine service and the royal marines--each of which had its own chief executive. The commander-in-chief announced that this unwieldy structure would be replaced by a single organisation and that the HQ would relocate from London to Portsmouth.

Cornberg's main task was to develop a business plan for the new organisation. "It was a big bang," he says. "I had to work out how we could start again from a blank sheet of paper."

Working from temporary offices (the new HQ won't be ready until 2004), Cornberg took until October to submit a four-year business plan, which is due to take effect next month. He thinks the Navy is now better organised, which has made the budgeting process much easier. The overhaul has coincided with a change in the force's attitude to resourcing. Next month the Ministry of Defence will be implementing the final stage of its new, more commercial, approach to resource management whereby all decisions must now be based on the true cost of output.

The reorganisation has also had a significant impact on the finance function. Each section of the fleet had its own finance department, but now there's only one. Of the 300 jobs cut at HQ, 50 have been lost from finance. But Cornberg believes that the Navy's teamworking culture will help people to overcome the shock of the changes.

"We all go away together and float around on tin cans on the ocean and there's no hiding place," he says. "You are who you are, and it's not like any other workplace where you can present yourself in a certain way--that would last three days on a warship. You learn about teamwork in a way that's probably unique."

A life on the ocean wave was far from his mind when he left school in 1972. Having excelled in sciences, he joined pharmaceuticals firm GD Searle as a development chemist. After graduating with a degree in chemistry from the University of Newcastle, which he'd taken on day release, he switched to the procurement department, but his career hit the doldrums once he became deputy to the purchasing director. "He told me I was doing well, but, as he was going to stick around for another 20 years, promotion was a long way off," Cornberg recalls.

Having spent a few years running his own business brokering sales of industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals, he spoke to a friend in the Navy, who convinced him to join up. When he arrived at Dartmouth in 1978, the culture shock of working for such a disciplined, hierarchical organisation was huge and, at 25, he was significantly older than his peers. Although he joined the supply and administration function, Cornberg still had to go through the basic warfare training and soon put to sea. He had initially planned to stay in the Navy for eight years, but external factors were to steer him in a different direction: in the early 1980s Michael Heseltine, then the secretary of state for defence, introduced a revolutionary new reporting system called "management information for ministers".

"Until that time in the MoD if you'd asked what something cost, people would look at their shoes," Cornberg says. "They were good at writing excellent prose and not so good at thinking about the numbers."

Cornberg was quicker than most to recognise the importance of resource management to the new regime, and he asked to take management accountancy training because he considered it to be the most relevant qualification. …