Tips for the top: senior finance professionals

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The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, and never more so than when it comes to big decisions in your career.

Should you leave the big corporate role to go with a start-up? Do you focus on specialist areas knowing there may (or may not) be someone to fill in the gaps? How do you climb the ladder to success? 

Mark Craddock, who specialises in senior finance and CFO appointments at Eton Bridge Partners, recently chaired a wide-ranging discussion where three senior finance professionals fielded questions on their careers.

Providing tips and advice, along with some very honest answers, were Fiona Tee, CFO, Intelligent Environments; Patrick Deller, CFO, broadbandchoices.co.uk; and Hamish Floyd, Finance Director – Corporate Markets, British Gas.

Aiming to be FD or CFO  

Fiona Tee (FT): It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t transition up. I always thought I would be an FD or a CFO and I chose to focus on technology and high growth companies where the role would grow. 

Patrick Deller (PD): I didn’t plan to become a CFO but it happened as part of my career progression. After my first divisional FD role I took a commercial role, but after nine months I was bored, so I went back into finance and my career has grown from there. 

The value of softer skills 

Hamish Floyd (HF): Learning how to adopt the softer skills was a valuable lesson, some things in my earlier career would have been easier if I had been able to recognise the importance of bringing people with me. 

PD: It’s important for an FD to use softer skills to add value to other parts the business. 

FT: The ratio of softer skills versus financial acumen should be 40-60. I have never met a good FD who couldn’t communicate and manage relationships.

Moving from large corporates to SMEs or vice versa 

PD: My experience at Cable & Wireless helped me to bring value to a small company, but it wasn’t always easy to make the transition. 

HF: Starting with a small company gave me a good start. Making the move to a bigger organisation allowed me to gain those softer skills I hadn’t appreciated previously. 

FT: The entrepreneurial outlook, speed and agility of working for a smaller, high growth organisation could make you attractive to larger companies looking for someone not afraid to challenge a situation and ‘get things done.’

Communicating with and influencing people 

HF: It’s important not to get worried about managing a large team. It’s not about how many people you have as a direct report, but your ability to influence a wider group of individuals. 

FT: Take time to visit different offices and connect with employees in order to build relationships and keep communication channels open. 

PD: There’s a lot of focus on how you are perceived by other people, how you interact and influence them, particularly those outside your direct reports, which is probably even more important.

The relationship with the CEO

HF: A CEO wants someone to keep them honest. They want someone to be grounded and they know if they can get your rubber stamp, then their message is more credible. They know they have to win you over, it is a true partnership.

Mentoring and networking 

FT: If you do have a mentor, then choose someone from outside who can have your best interests at heart. 

PD: Networking with your peers at events can be extremely valuable in giving you a different perspective.

What’s the best part of your role? 

FT: Every day is different. I really like being a wingman for the CEO and being able to genuinely influence the outcome of decisions. It’s a platform for making a difference.
 

HF: Being around people and having a view of other parts of the business, it’s like having your garden in order and then you can advise other people on their gardens. 

Best piece of advice 

FT: You should be asking ‘what can I do for you?’ You have to get out from behind your desk and find out what is going on.

Financial controllers need to think about their relationships and their profile in the business and you won’t do that in your office with the door shut.
 

PD: You must get out into the business on a regular basis. It gives you the chance to see how things really work and potentially identify some of the things that are happening that shouldn’t be.

HF: The further along you go in your career you probably hanker after non-finance issues as much as finance. People really appreciate and respect your opinion because of your knowledge of all parts of the business.

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