Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a CFO?
I trained and worked in PWC for 11 years in Glasgow, Australia and Edinburgh. The work was varied, involving audit for FTSE 100 companies, resolving complex accounting issues, due diligence and secondments out to clients. I met and worked with some amazing people at PWC.
Following PWC, I joined Murray International as Group Financial Controller. It was great to be on the other side of the table for the first time and at that point, the Group was growing rapidly with ca.£600m annual revenue. I managed to become CFO of the oil and gas manufacturing division (Premier) in 8 months and was heavily involved in buying and then growing companies.
There was plenty of room to grow and develop. I spent 8 years at Premier and during that time the Group expanded internationally, went through two oil and gas downturns and a management buy-out which I led with my CEO. The buy-out introduced me to working with private equity funders for the first time.
In the second downturn and looking to broaden my experience, I decided to consult for a financial services firm, before joining Peak Scientific as CFO. At Peak, I enjoyed working for a fast-growing private company but recognised that the job at Stevenswood was an opportunity I couldn’t pass by.
What led you to move from an accountancy firm into industry?
I was starting to go into the process in accountancy practice where you work towards becoming a Director, and from what I had seen it was very unusual to leave after you were promoted. As PWC had been my only employer at that stage, I decided I wanted broader experience.
Many make the mistake of jumping out of an accountancy firm into industry too early. It is important to get the breadth and depth of technical experience you can find in practice before you move into a company. That allowed me to go into a role in industry at a much more senior level. The grass will always seem to be greener in industry after you complete your training contract but it is important to take your time and make the decision to move properly. I would never have taken the chance to work in Australia had PWC not made such opportunities so easy to take.
Are there any mentors who have been instrumental to your career journey?
It is always important to leave a role on good terms. When I left PWC I moved with the support of the partners and at various points throughout my career they have given me sound advice over a coffee. I was an advisor for half of my career to date and I have gone on to work with many great advisors across the different professional firms.
I always try to learn from the leadership style of people I work with and challenge myself to evolve and improve. I keep in close contact with a CEO I worked with previously and he has acted as an effective mentor for me to discuss issues and opportunities. I must be fair though – my wife knows me best and her advice on career moves has always been really valuable too!
What advice would you give to a Newly Qualified accountant in terms of next career steps?
Build your network at an early stage, keep growing it and make sure that you maintain it on your career journey. You should never be afraid to ask the right person in your network a question; the chances are that they don’t want you to make the same mistakes they did.
I also think that being naturally curious and looking for opportunities in the job you are already in, as well as your next move is critical. Get on top of your day job as quickly as possible so that you can create the space to learn new skills.
I have had to communicate well with FTSE 100 directors and private equity boards and have worked with many different cultures. Developing effective listening skills, being able to get your message across at all levels and remaining approachable are all therefore really important. Operationally, I have seen many times that the best ideas to improve the effectiveness of a business often come from the shop floor.
What are the challenges and rewards of your current role as a CFO?
As a CFO of an SME I have gotten used to wearing multiple hats; HR, operations, finance, commercial, manufacturing, procurement…you often don’t get this variety in larger organisations.
The finance landscape constantly changes, and it can be a challenge to keep pace with new regulations. Often these are designed to make things simpler but experience shows me they only ever seem to make things more complex! This can pull you away from the strategic and commercial running of the business; and working hard to get the balance right is critical.
I am a great believer in making processes and tasks more efficient. Finding commercial solutions with the risks appropriately managed, rather than constantly saying ‘no’ to new ideas is very rewarding. This comes from a Chairman who once gave me good advice, ‘Always tell me how I can get business done and what it would take to get there, try to never tell me it can’t be done.’
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Stevenswood has ambitious plans to grow and there is more than enough going on to keep me out of mischief! The company is financed by Cairngorm Capital, a rapidly growing private equity firm. I enjoy working closely with the team at Cairngorm and hope that if all goes well, I will have another opportunity to work in another of their portfolio businesses at the end of the Stevenswood investment cycle.
Looking to take your next step in finance? Contact Daryl Harper for a confidential discussion on 0131 603 7747 or firstname.lastname@example.org