Richard Boyd joins the SRM finance team

Richard Boyd

This week we’re delighted to welcome Richard Boyd to the SRM finance team. We talk to Richard about getting back to real recruitment, the roles he can help you with and his top piece of advice for hiring managers.

Richard Boyd

Tell us about your career and what prompted your move

“I worked at two of the world’s largest recruitment consultancies for 16 years, progressing to a Director-level role. Just before joining SRM, I led a team of fifteen focused on qualified finance recruitment. My remit grew to include executive search and specialist finance roles such as tax and treasury. 

Getting back to real recruitment

Whilst I loved the role and had a great team, inevitably, mentoring and leading others became my focus. Over time I missed actual recruitment and spending time with clients! I like being out there with both clients and candidates and didn’t want to be as internally focused anymore. 

I genuinely believe there is massive scope here at SRM to grow the size of our team and our footprint on the London finance market, so the scale of the opportunity and growth potential was key to the move. 

An experienced team of recruiters

Joining an experienced team at SRM was key, especially working with a close-knit group of people who I knew viewed recruitment similarly to me – from a values, respect and way of working point of view. 

I knew Stewart Robertson from school and he actually introduced me to my first role in recruitment. I worked for Andrew Setchell in Southampton and then London and  worked with Rory MacSween during my time in tax recruitment – during some pretty tough times after the financial crisis! 

The benefits of a boutique recruitment firm

Working with a trusted advisor is even more important right now. What I’m seeing in the market is that people want to make a real connection and build a lasting, personal relationship. That’s something that a boutique firm excels at. I’m excited to be at SRM where we’re really focused on delivering a bespoke service based on your needs.

Tell us about the roles you’ll be working on

I’m primarily focused on permanent qualified finance roles in London and growing this business to better support our clients. I’ll also be focused on helping our clients with FD, CFO and Search level positions.

What do hiring managers and job seekers like about working with you?

I’d like to think I’m pretty straightforward. I’m definitely candid and my network appreciates that. I work hard for my clients and candidates and am passionate about finding people the right role.

Tell us about yourself?

I’m married and have a lovely five-year-old daughter so that keeps me pretty busy. Sporting wise; my main passion is road cycling, both watching and doing. I’m also a rugby and football fan. Hailing from the Westcountry I’m a big Plymouth Argyle fan (for my sins)! I’ve always had a really keen interest in American politics too. 

What’s your top piece of advice for hiring managers right now? 

Essentially: 1. be realistic 2. have a plan and 3. take advice

1. Focus on the key skills that will have the biggest impact on business objectives and you’ll find the right person more quickly. In a client-led market, we often think we’ll find the perfect person who can do everything perfectly but knowing exactly what you need and identifying core skills is a much more effective hiring strategy.

2. Have a clear plan for remote interviews and onboarding, work out your process and what you’re comfortable with. An efficient process is still really important to hire the best people.

3. Talk to your network or a trusted recruitment partner if you’re not sure whether your requirements are realistic or what sort of person will achieve the business transformation you’re looking for.”

Get in touch if you’re looking to hire finance roles or for help with your next career move

If you need help to source your next tax leader or want an honest conversation about your career, get in touch with Richard Boyd today on + 44 7376 497285 or connect with him on Linkedin. 

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Jim Smith joins SRM’s Welwyn finance recruitment team

We’re delighted to welcome specialist temporary finance recruiter, Jim Smith, to our Welwyn team. Jim tells us about his career, why he joined SRM and how he helps clients and candidates.

Jim Smith, our new specialist temporary finance recruiter covering the Northern Home Counties

“I’ve worked in finance recruitment for 15 years, working at Michael Page and most recently at Investigo where I focused on temporary and contract qualified finance recruitment for almost ten years. Having worked for two big recruitment firms, which I loved, the pull for me was the greater autonomy on offer with a smaller boutique business like SRM and the opportunity to grow a business.

When I spoke to SRM’s founders, Andrew Setchell, Stewart Robertson and Rory MacSween I knew we had the same philosophy. We’ve all been around long enough to know what we like and dislike about the industry. I found them upfront, honest and direct and that matched the way I’ve worked through my career. 

My partner, Liz has worked at SRM since the start of the year so I had inside knowledge it would be a good fit for me!  

Increasing the scope of my role

I’ve tripled my patch as it were. There are no restrictions to geographic boundaries or roles I can cover so the opportunity is bigger than anything I’ve experienced before, which is massively exciting.

As you grow in your career you no longer need the KPIs and closer management styles that are essential in your early days, so part of the appeal was the opportunity to set my own targets and work in a more flexible and adult environment.

A down to earth approach to specialist finance recruitment

SRM’s founders are investing in me and giving me free rein to build the business – that’s really why I decided to make the leap. The approach is refreshing and no-nonsense, basically do a good job and go home.

My focus on temporary qualified finance

My focus at SRM will be on temporary qualified finance recruitment across the Northern Home Counties. 

My clients say I’m a straightforward, attentive and consultative recruiter and my candidates appreciate my personal approach. I would describe myself as a down to earth person who treats others with respect.

“To my mind, Jim is the very essence of what a recruiter needs to be in the current climate. Friendly and on the ball from the outset, and once he has a role in mind for you, is helpful and thorough right through until the conclusion.”

John McInnes, Experienced QBE Accountant

I like to be able to look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and conduct myself in the right way. I’ve kept that approach from my early days recruiting for the big four accounting firms to today, where I’m working with commercial firms hiring newly qualified accountants to Finance Directors. 

I’m a well-rounded specialist finance recruiter hiring across all disciplines within Finance, from newly qualified accountants, Finance Managers, FP&A Managers, Financial Controllers to Finance Directors. It’s allowed me to build a strong network across a wide variety of industries – from SMEs to blue chips. 

Looking forward to connecting with new clients and candidates:

I’m a single Dad to a bright little boy who keeps me constantly on my toes, I love Man United and am currently attempting to learn to play Golf. I’m from a forces background and have lived all over the world. I was actually educated in Canada and went to nine different schools before I was 12 so I thrive going into new situations and meeting new people. I think that’s why I genuinely love recruitment and people.

I’m looking forward to working with new clients and candidates and as my partner Liz and I will be working together in the same office I’m looking forward to that too – I’m not phased by it at all!

“I have built a trusted working relationship with Jim and sincerely thank him for securing my latest role. I have found him to be a great person to deal with and confide in and we have built up a great rapport.

I would not hesitate in recommending Jim’s services to anyone seeking to develop their career.”

Charles Hancock
Senior Finance Manager, Welcome Break

Get in touch:

I’m really excited about where the finance recruitment market is going so if you’re looking to hire the very best talent in finance and accounting please do get in touch with me today. Or connect with me on LinkedIn. We actively headhunt the best specialist finance talent, rather than rely on the same set of candidates from a database.”

Read more:

Find out more about working for SRM Recruitment

Read Andrew Pal’s career story and why he made the move to SRM

Moving from a large recruiter to a boutique firm

Luke Higgs large recruiter to boutique firm

Luke Higgs joined SRM Recruitment in the summer of 2019 to establish and grow our Northern Home Counties office. Before coming to SRM, Luke worked at some of the world’s largest recruitment consultancies. We want to know, what are the benefits of moving from a large recruiter to a boutique firm?

Luke Higgs large recruiter to boutique firm
Luke Higgs is Business Director of our Welwyn Garden City office

Can you tell us a little about your career path up to this point?
I went straight into a career in sales – my first job after university was at HSBC, selling mortgages, loans, etc, both in a call centre and online, which in 2005 was quite a new area. Around that time, I spoke to some friends who worked in recruitment and it seemed to me that with the commercial acumen I’d gained I might do quite well in the industry. I joined Martin Ward Anderson, which is part of Randstad, a huge global organisation, and built up my professional knowledge there.

When I met my wife, who is from Welwyn Garden City, I decided to move there, and transferred with Martin Ward Anderson. Then, Robert Walters, another leading global recruitment firm, called me to ask if I would come and work for them to set up their St Albans office. It was an incredible experience – I helped grow the team to 12 people, and in year one we made more revenue than any of their other start-up offices.

With a young family, I knew I wanted to work for a company where there would be more flexibility. I considered starting up my own consultancy. Then about a year ago, I met with Andrew Setchell, the founder of SRM Recruitment, who I knew from my early days at Robert Walters. Andrew is someone I trust and respect, and it seemed like the perfect balance – to have the freedom to grow a business but with the support of an experienced team.

What appealed to you about SRM?
When I first considered joining, the main appeal was the opportunity to work with Andrew again. He’s a very talented recruiter, and the network, processes and support he offered at SRM were a combination for success. As an experienced recruiter myself, I was drawn to the culture at SRM, where I would be given the tools I needed, but then would be trusted to do the job. Andrew trusts and values everyone who works for him, from director to consultant level. Sometimes you find that at a senior level in larger firms, but it’s rare for consultants to be given that freedom to manage yourself.

The other big draw was the commission scheme, which is market-leading in terms of what they offer financially. It’s also the work-life balance, which with a young family is really important to me.

How have your first few months been?
It’s been great, though quite an adjustment! I went from an office in St Albans managing twelve people and turning over a million pounds a year, to working on my own. It can be a bit lonely, but you get into your stride, and I recently recruited Liz Hawkins as a Principal, so there are two of us now! It’s a completely different way of working here. Robert Walters was such a big firm, you wanted to register at least five candidates a week, to ‘stock your shelves’. Here, we are much more targeted in our approach and we headhunt for each role. It’s a different pace – you’re doing less but of a higher quality. It took me until Christmas to adapt, but it’s a much better way to go about your business.

I now spend far less time on KPIs and managing other people, and I can invest that time in building relationships with my candidates and clients. It also means I have a lot more flexibility in my working day because I’m so much more productive. I used to work from 7.30am – 6.30pm at the earliest, whereas now it’s more like 8.30am – 5.30pm. That work-life balance is much appreciated as it means I can spend more time with my family.

What sort of people do well here?
This isn’t a classroom environment – we’re all experienced recruiters, so it’s not a training school. People who are motivated and proactive will do well. You’ll be given tools and support, but you’ll have mentors, rather than trainers.

With the maturity in our approach, I think there’s a lot less ego and arrogance you see in some bigger firms. Everyone here is good at their job and there are some great opportunities for all of us as SRM grows.

One of the big opportunities is for people here to really do recruitment. So often, in larger firms, the more experienced recruiters and top billers get promoted to management roles that they may not enjoy, and that takes them away from the actual business of recruitment. Here, regardless of your level, you’re going to be on the front line, recruiting, for most your day.

What advice would you give to someone looking to further their recruitment career?
Try to decide what it is that you really enjoy doing. In a larger firm, you’re likely going to need to choose whether to focus on recruiting and be comfortable staying at a Principal level. Alternatively, if you want to go into management, you’ll spend less time recruiting, but instead you’ll be passing on the knowledge you’ve gained and you’ll further your career through others.

That’s the main difference when choosing between a large recruiter or a boutique firm – at a small firm like SRM, you don’t need to sacrifice one or the other because by necessity you’ll be doing some of both.

Can you sum up how SRM is different?
SRM really headhunt for every role. A big thing for us is meeting candidates even if we’re not going to place them straight away. A lot of those people get jobs and use us to fill their teams. There’s a real emphasis on building relationships.

The culture is so unique, and it’s a great environment to work in. I’m earning money and I’m happy at work – there isn’t a compromise.

You can have a work-life balance here. You don’t have to choose between growing your career and building your family.

If you’d like to know more about working at SRM Recruitment, visit our work for us page and discover what makes us different. If you’d like to have a chat about the opportunities we can offer you, we’d love for you to get in touch.

From The Forces To Finance

forces to finance

When Alastair Horrocks left the British Army in 2009, he knew it would be a challenging transition. Learn how he went on to forge a successful career in finance, discover which transferable skills he brings to his role and the advice he has for anyone seeking to follow in his footsteps.

Tell us about your current role
I’m a Director in the Mergers & Acquisitions team at a Big Four firm, advising shareholders on selling their business. My job is to maximise the value they receive for their business when it is sold. Less frequently I also work on the buyer side, advising clients on how best to buy a company and supporting them through that complex process.

What attracted you to corporate finance?
I think it’s because to sell something you need to understand it, and I have a strong understanding of the sector I specialise in. Industry knowledge allows you to offer real insights – you understand how best to position it. You need to get to know the business, be able to forecast, be critical of the business and its strategy and help your client get the business ready for sale so that it attracts the right buyer pool. There’s some science behind it, but what I enjoy most is working with the client and making sure the message they send to buyers strikes the right chord.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part is when you get a good result for an entrepreneur or private shareholder who has invested a large part of their professional career, and probably quite a lot of their personal life and savings, in a business and then you see them rewarded for that effort. The other is building relationships with clients over a period of time so that you become a trusted advisor. I enjoy it when clients turn to me on an informal basis to get my advice on aspects of their business – it’s all part of the relationship I’m building with them.

How did you come to work where you are now? Tell us a little about the path that brought you here.
I joined the Army after university in the Green Jackets regiment. My last role was with the infantry, doing a staff job in HQ, focused on intelligence. When I left the Army I wasn’t sure what to do, and decided to do an MBA at INSEAD to better understand which area of business interested me, and what I was good at. I enjoyed the corporate finance modules, but it was 2009 and the financial markets were not the best place to find a job. Instead, I went into a well-known global corporation in their business development team. There, I made sure I became involved in M&A work so I could gain some experience, which I then decided I wanted to do in an advisory firm.

What skills and knowledge are you still using from your military experience?
Having transitioned from the forces to finance I can see that in both it fundamentally comes down to relationships and communication. In the Army you are taught to address issues head on, and you spend a lot of time in your formative years about how to communicate those issues properly. The experience served me well in M&A, where I have to give powerful messages, and the way I deliver them is important. I also find that in my current role I’m dealing with a constant input of new information which I must use to make decisions. It was a similar situation in my military role, and you have to accept the decision you make might not be perfect, but you have to think of the best outcome based on the information you have. It’s really all about communication, agility and being able to step back from problems and frame them in context.

How was the transition from army to civilian life for you?
Coming out of the Army is tricky. I think I mitigated some of the challenges by doing structured learning – I had a goal to aim for, which was really helpful, but it was still hard going. After eight years with the Army I had friends and colleagues I’d grown close to and the sense of what I was doing there was very clear.

The downside of having spent all that time after university in the Army is that I wasn’t forging the long-term career path that I wanted to pursue, I wasn’t taking a professional qualification. That meant when I came out, and I wanted to work in a company where a certain level of education and experience was needed, I had to work hard. The Army stands you in very good stead, but you still need to learn the new business or sector you’re in. It’s unnerving in three ways:

  1. You’re not quite sure what you want to do, or if you do, you’re not sure how to get there
  2. You have to learn very quickly. You’re being thrust into an environment where your colleagues may be much younger than you but they have more experience, and you have to show what you can offer.
  3. You miss the structure and support that the Army can offer

What additional training have you pursued to help you with that move?
I did the MBA through INSEAD, and I also did the first two parts of the CIMA qualification to get up to speed with a basic level of understanding of accountancy. Once in work, I’ve taken on whatever training courses the firm had to offer that I thought I could benefit from, such as modelling and evaluations. I’ve also done some training in business development. I think BD probably comes very naturally to many people moving from the forces to finance, because they’re used to engaging with people they don’t know, but there’s a knack to selling in a non obtrusive, non aggressive way that has to be learned.

How does working for a Big 4 company compare to working for the British Army?
In many respects they’re more similar than you’d think, because they are fundamentally people businesses – the key assets in both are people. This is in stark contrast to the engineering company where I worked before, where the focus was much more on the products and the IP in them.

They are also similar in that they are very large organisations, but within each there are smaller teams. My immediate team in M&A has ten of us, then there are 60 more across the wider business. In that respect, I can relate to the platoon and company structure in the Army – it’s just lots of small teams working within one bigger one.

One of the key differences you see when moving from the forces to finance, or likely most civilian organisations, is the management culture. The military is a lot more hierarchical than my company, which is a partnership and has a lot flatter structure. Decision making is very different too – you get a lot more communal input here, which has obvious upsides and downsides.

What advice would you give to someone considering a move from the forces to finance?
The key thing is to work out what technical qualification is going to get you through the door and enhance your capability as well as your credibility. The military serves you well and the things you learn will be useful, but you need to demonstrate your technical understanding of the sector to make yourself credible to the company hiring you.

You also need to understand what part of finance you want to go into and how you can best serve that area. It’s a broad church, and some sectors will be more challenging than others to transition from the forces to finance. M&A is actually probably not a very sensible choice for someone a little older with family commitments, because your peers will be 23 year old qualified accountants who can work 15 hour days!

Other areas of finance have a better work life balance and might not require you to have such a deep technical knowledge in the early years. Be realistic about what you want and what the employer wants from you, and frame that in the context of you, your age and situation, your experience and your background.

If you are considering a career transition such as a move from the forces to finance, please do get in touch to have a chat about your options.

Moving between in-house and practice

More London moving between in-house and practice

How has Chris McCandless, Associate Partner at EY, moved between in-house roles and practice and what can fellow tax professionals learn from his career? We spoke to Chris about the naysayers who questioned his focus on tax process and technology, the importance of mentors and the changing skills needed for a successful career in tax.

More London switching between in-house and practice

Top career tips for tax professionals

“Like a lot of career moves, my first big break was about being in the right place. I was offered a secondment into Barclays whilst still working in profession: focusing on tax process, technology and compliance.  

Lesson one:
Being well networked is key, many opportunities are random, the more people you know the more likely you’ll get those chances.
 

In many ways, it was a natural shift from practice and there were similarities between working at a practice firm and Barclays in terms of the challenge, people and size of the team. However, it’s impossible to understand what it’s like to navigate the complexities of working in industry, from politics to navigating how you actually get things done, unless you actually try it!

Lesson two:
Create an opportunity to work in industry, it will enable you to better solve clients’ problems.
 

My first stint at Barclays gave me the chance to basically rebuild part of the department. It was a huge motivator to me, using what I knew but learning new skills at the same time. I’ve never forgotten the tax director who gave me that opportunity.

In practice, I did enjoy tax advisory and the legal side of things but I was really drawn to the process. People thought I was mad! 

A lot of people I know who work in practice see themselves as ‘the tax law guy’ or the ‘technology person’ but in industry, it’s harder to separate out.

What tax professionals do in industry every day as part of the tax process is a combination of looking at the law, sourcing data and using technology. I liked that fusion of both law and tech. It’s still a relatively unique set of skills having that blended, holistic approach to tax. That has underpinned my career.

Lesson three:
Be a rounded tax professional not just the ‘tax law person’

After we developed the tax team at Barclays and the transformation element eased off, I wasn’t quite ready to focus on a business as usual role and went back to Deloitte to apply my learning to other clients.

Four years later I had the opportunity to meet the new tax director at Barclays. He’d just moved from GE and was very focused on tech, process, controls and risk management. He gave me the opportunity to set up a change and technology function to serve Barclays globally. It was one of the most enjoyable roles in my career.

Lesson four:
Make friends, Chris met the tax director through one of his friends from his first stint at Barclays 

The role was very similar to working in professions as I had to sell ideas, present a vision, convince people to spend money and get projects delivered. I moved away from tax during that time. 

I had the opportunity to work on an operating model transformation project – bringing teams together and centralising functions. At the end of that project, the then head of tax said why don’t you lead both the tax and change teams? I thought about it over the weekend and threw myself into it feet first!

On paper, I’d never have got this job. He recognised my blend of technology and tax skills when people were saying: “I didn’t even know you were a tax person Chris!”

Lesson five:
Be bold – take a business risk with your career and give stretch opportunities to people in your teams.

That role was a validation of the skills required in a 21st-century tax department. The last ten years have really seen a shift from tax planning to tax professionals becoming managers of risk and it’s also become incredibly data-driven and tech-focused.

So the people you need to staff a tax department changed and is still changing. My blend of skills were suddenly really in demand. The naysayers definitely thought the decisions I was making were odd but this job really brought everything full circle.

This role took me back into practising tax at a time of huge cost pressures. I was constantly challenging how things were done and using technology and data to help us survive when headcount was reducing but work was increasing.

I was then able to hire more tech people and systems administrators which was a different dynamic. Now you need tax people who understand tech, that is key. A balanced team with a variety of perspectives is crucial.

You will see a lot of things like this through your career that make you think “I never understand why we do it this way.” Call those things out. That’s career-defining.

Lesson six:
Challenge the status quo, most careers are made on the 5% that was exceptional and that takes a different way of thinking. 

I then took some time off when my wife was unwell and when I started looking for new opportunities I saw that EY had just made a £1bn investment in tech and artificial intelligence (AI). This was very appealing to me – I’ve been there 10 months now as a partner focusing on tax and transformation.

Client needs are shifting and the tax skills of old are no longer enough. One of the things I’ve done is work with our data analytics team to bring together the skills within tax and AI. It’s a different approach to just leaving tax people to figure out AI! This is a new recruitment focus for us.

Tax is changing and the world of today is not what it will be in five or ten years. Embrace the opportunity to learn. Be open-minded – our job is to help clients so don’t worry about where the line sits between tech and tax.

Lesson seven
Be open to change, whether you’re looking for a role or hiring for your tax team

I’m in formal mentoring schemes at EY now – but actually it doesn’t have to be a formal relationship for you to get that much needed sounding board. I have several mentors – although none of those people might recognise that officially.

I go for a drink with a work friend and that’s a mentor relationship to me. Almost without exception, everyone says yes to going for a drink or to formal mentoring. It’s important not to have a self-imposed barrier, thinking you aren’t good enough to talk to senior people. Everyone is there to do a great job and you have permission to do a great job too.

Reverse mentoring with those at an earlier career stage can also be extremely valuable. I had an 18-year-old colleague who I supposedly mentor but her perspective is so different to mine that she’s actually been an amazing mentor to me.

Lesson eight
Draw on an eclectic mix of mentors – don’t get lost in the Canary Wharf bubble

Despite tech being at the heart of tax now, it’s important not to forget the impact on people. There’s such high competition to recruit the best graduates and the best tax professionals that being able to use tech to improve the employee proposition is critical. Even down to taking out some of the less enjoyable parts of the role – this really helps with retention. No one wants to sweat over a spreadsheet anymore.

In summary, the key thing I’ve learnt through my career is that it’s our job as tax professionals to solve problems – it could be data or legal. Keep that focus and put people and relationships at the heart of what you do and you’ll be successful.

I would also say embrace tech and data – it’s not going away. Using AI to drive things like tax classifications is reducing risks for clients and we’ll see more of this. The opportunities are endless.”

Read more about successful leaders – follow Chand Chadasuma’s advice on rising to partnership level in corporate finance.  Or if you feel ready to discuss your next career opportunity in Tax, or you’re looking for talent to fill a role in your organisation, please get in touch with Rory MacSween, Director, Tax Recruitment today on +44 (0) 20 3637 7808 or connect with him on Linkedin.

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The role of a CFO

Richard Francis talks to SRM Recruitment about the role of the CFO
Richard Francis talks to SRM Recruitment about the role of the CFO
Richard Francis, CFO at Netcentric

While some leaders have a clear career path mapped out from the outset, for others the journey evolves. We speak to Richard Francis, CFO at global digital service provider Netcentric, to hear what lessons the twists and turns in his career path have offered him, the changing role of a CFO and the future of the finance team.

Did you always know you’d work in finance, Richard?

Not at all. At university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went to a careers fair, got chatting to someone from Deloitte and they persuaded me to consider audit. After I graduated, I joined their audit team in Crawley. It was a good experience, getting to work with lots of big clients, like GM, but I realised quite quickly that I wasn’t interested in staying in practice. The main issue I had was that the decisions I made were for other people – I wanted to be in on the action. 

What was your first role in industry?

I joined Duracell in their finance and tax team. The real breakthrough for me was when Gillette acquired Duracell. I got to see the systems integrate and my eyes were opened to a whole new area of finance. Instead of just looking backwards at tax returns, I was involved in forward-looking trends, standing up in front of the Managing Director to say why the business was going left or right.

How did you find working for a large corporation?

I realised quite quickly that it wasn’t for me. It seemed as though there were meetings about meetings, you had to ask your boss to ask their boss a question. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. At the time there was a lot of buzz about technology, the internet was just starting off, so I decided on a complete change of industry and moved into a software company. It wasn’t great timing – I arrived just before the dot com explosion. The share price went down about 75% the week after I joined. It wasn’t my fault I hasten to add! But it was a big wake-up call – you have to make quick changes to survive. I also learned that you shouldn’t make lots of little restructures, otherwise people are constantly looking over their shoulder. You have to make big changes, quickly.

What are the advantages of working for a smaller firm?

I’d say there are three main upsides of working for a smaller organisation:

  1. You can make things happen. You’ll be given accountability to get on and do something, such as setting up an office, which in a larger company would be reserved for more senior colleagues.
  2. You’ll see a quicker impact from your actions. Once you make things happen, for better or worse you’ll see the results more quickly than in a bigger organisation where risk aversion is rife and decision making is slower or doesn’t happen at all.
  3. There’s a lot more variety. Only in a smaller company can you be talking to a customer in the morning then reviewing a lease in the afternoon. The role of a CFO in a smaller organisation spreads across wider functions, including sales, HR, IT as well as the wider aspects of finance. In a big corporate you’ll be more limited to the finance department, and you’ll have to specialise, such as forecasting, or tax.

What has been the biggest project you’ve worked on?

When I joined Day Software (a web content management company) which was listed on the Swiss Stock Exchange, the share price was going down, like everyone else’s, thanks to the financial crisis. It was a good chance to restructure the company. After we restructured the business, it grew by 50% a year. In 2009, it became the best performing stock on the Swiss stock exchange. 

In 2010 Adobe wanted to buy us. At that point between March and July of that year, I lost my life! I was that dad doing conference calls whilst pushing my children on swings and arguing with lawyers in Sainsbury’s. Marrying a listed Silicon Valley company with a listed Swiss company was very rare and very difficult – it was a big deal at the time. Lining the financial reporting up forced us to have a strict deadline, which helped. The deal went through for US$240m and, after a long process, Adobe took control in October 2010. I stayed on in the role of CFO for a year, to help with the transition.

Where are you working now? 

In 2015 I moved to Netcentric, which at the time was a Swiss private company. We maintain global websites for the likes of UBS, Miles & More and Daimler. The company was growing extremely fast. It started in 2012 and when I came on board, I was employee #299. In 2017 we accepted an offer from Cognizant in which I had been working on the transaction, alongside our CEO. Since then I’ve taken responsibility for both the finance and operations at the firm. We now have 550 people at Netcentric – it’s a very ambitious company. The company has a very different culture, particularly as it uses the holacracy organisational model.

What is it like to work in a holacracy?

The holacracy model is based on running a business in a non-hierarchical way. No one is working for anybody else, and the best ideas come forward. There’s no monopoly whereby only the senior people have good ideas. Projects are run in ‘circles’, and there are leaders of those circles. We never have to discuss or learn organisation charts, as the company reorganises itself on a daily basis. It’s an Agile method, which has allowed us to grow massively.

What is your biggest regret?

My biggest regret is not doing my due diligence properly when I joined a start-up some years ago. I didn’t ask the right questions about the business’ viability, which I regretted at the time. However, you learn from those experiences and mistakes.

Most of my regrets are around bad hiring decisions. I’ve made a few, and the common trait is that I recruited too quickly. One thing I’ve learned is to hire slow and fire fast – the chaos from a bad hire is not worth the time saved at the recruitment stage. 

Hiring managers should try to avoid a ‘shopping list’ approach where people look for candidates with an exact match of skills and experience. People generally want a change of role, and why would they want to move into a job that is exactly the same as their last one? Also, take the plunge and put your shortlisted candidates in front of your colleagues so they have the opportunities to point out any potential problems – it will pay off in the long run. 

You mentioned that you believe giving employees a better understanding of company financials is important.

How are you doing that, and why?

I’m a great believer in openness and often find that people can handle the truth better than you expect. It’s far better to tell people how things are, as well as what you are and aren’t able to share. For example, at Myriad, we were facing a difficult financial situation and I told the staff I wasn’t sure if we’d have jobs in three months’ time, but I could promise an amazing experience that would be great for their CV. They loved this approach, and everyone stayed.

At the moment I’m working on a project that involves next year’s budget. I have to be open and explain that I can’t share everything. As long as people trust you to have the right judgement, the role of a CFO has to be a buffer at times – you can’t share all the pain (you don’t want to unnecessarily panic people), but you can give insight.

How is the role of a CFO changing?

The role of a CFO is to be a true business partner to the CEO – long gone are the days of being locked in a room with board reports. You have to challenge the CEO and be their sounding board (privately, of course). The CFO can’t sit in a bubble, they have to collaborate with other departments, such as sales and marketing, to get a feel of what’s going on in the business. That requires you to be approachable. If people are scared of you, you’ll miss out on ideas.

Regulations are changing the landscape too. Financial stewardship and technological advances mean you need to be on top of the latest developments.

What are your top three predictions for how finance teams of the future will look?

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take over an increasing number of tasks like sales invoicing
  2. Teams will need more analytical skills to better understand the business and will need to connect more effectively with the business managers to gain insights.
  3. The pace of change will increase and it will be our job to observe trends and adapt. We’ll need to think outside the box to keep up.

And finally, what advice would you give now to that 18-year-old Richard, heading to the university career fair?

Keep educating yourself, it’s never enough. The world is changing and adapting to it is key. As jobs disappear, new ones will come, so be ready…

If you want to learn from Richard’s experience in finance, take a look at this article on ‘how to grow and sell a business’, or check out our other insights. If you’re looking for your next career move within finance, or you have an opportunity at your company that you’d like to discuss, get in touch on + 44 (0) 020 3637 7808.

 

 

A successful career in tax

“The work I’m doing around sales and building the business is very different to anything I’ve done before.”

Drew Wardrope – Head of Tax Insurance at Howden

Public speaking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re listing a tax professional’s required skills. It certainly wasn’t something Drew Wardrope gave much thought to whilst he was heading up M&A tax at Barclays. A lot has changed for him over the last 18 months – his public speaking responsibilities included. We spoke to Drew about the early days of his career, his impressive rise through Deloitte, RBS and Barclays and how a call from Rory MacSween at SRM Recruitment set him on a new and exciting path to insurance specialists Howden.

What attracted you to a career in tax?

I’d love to say I have this amazing story about how I always wanted a career in tax… but I didn’t. I basically fell into it. I was studying maths at Nottingham university and I got a job mid-way through my third year – I was going to be an actuary. That was great, I was set up, I could relax a bit. I deferred and took a year off to go travelling. I taught football in the States, toured Brazil in a campervan and then went to Asia. I was getting into a bit of debt, but I wasn’t worried as I knew I had a job to go back to in September and I’d be able to pay it off.

I’m sensing something’s about to go wrong…

This was 2003, way before smartphones, and I was checking my emails in an internet café in a railway station in Cambodia. The actuary company in London had emailed, asking me call them urgently. I found a payphone and was told that the company was laying off all its graduates. I remember sitting outside the internet café almost laughing to myself and thinking, ‘What the hell do I do now?’ I needed to find a new job pretty sharpish but when I got back to the UK in August, most decent firms had already hired for the year.

You secured a graduate role with Deloitte – how did you manage that so late in the day?

Deloitte had just gone through a big merger with Arthur Anderson, so they’d put their recruitment on hold for six months. I was living with my mum in Newcastle and I went down to London for a graduate fair expecting to speak to the Deloitte actuary guy. But I was told, ‘Sorry – all the actuary jobs were filled yesterday. But you can speak to the tax guy – he’s still got jobs available.’ So, I did and that’s how I fell into a career in tax.

You clearly settled into tax well because by year four, you were rated in the top five percent of the population at Deloitte. Then you left for a job at RBS. What made you go in-house rather than pursuing the partner track at Deloitte?

I saw moving in-house as a stepping stone to the partner track. Working for a big accountancy firm, you’re advising businesses all the time, telling them what to do and how to do it. I thought, how am I supposed to give this advice when I don’t really know what it’s like to implement it? In the real world, does this stuff actually work? Is it practical? Is it realistic? So my plan was to go in-house, get some commercial business experience and then effectively go back to Deloitte.

How was life in-house?

It was nerve wracking but exhilarating. When you work for an accountancy firm at a junior level, typically in client meetings you just listen in because you’ve got at least two people more senior than you doing the talking. I went from that sheltered environment to being told by my new boss in my first week, ‘You’re going to a meeting on funds. Do you know anything about funds? No? Well, you had better learn fast because you’re our funds expert now.’ I had a morning to read up on everything and then I went to this meeting with the front office and 10 or so other infrastructure groups and was asked, ‘So, what’s your opinion on tax?’ It was very steep learning curve, but I learned quickly.

You joined RBS in 2007, a year before it went into government ownership. How did that play out for you?

I look back now and think I lived through the eye of the storm. Senior management weren’t saying much – we got most of our information from Robert Peston on the BBC. We saw Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin in the treasury effectively pleading for money from Gordon Brown to keep the bank afloat. We watched other banks collapsing and people walking out of Lehman Brothers with their possessions in boxes. There were pay cuts and lots of extra work and day to day I’d go into the office not knowing if the bank would still be functioning. But we just got on with it. There was a real sense of camaraderie – we were all in the same boat and none of us had a clue about what was going to happen. You get rich, interesting experiences from something like that.

You stayed with RBS for two more years and moved to Barclays, which in 2012 found itself in its own media spotlight…

Yes, I somehow chose to work at two companies at the centre of some of the biggest corporate scandals in UK history! At Barclays it wasn’t our financial stability that was in question, it was our reputation. I think it changed the bank for good in that pre-financial crisis, banks were participating in tax schemes that were legal but morally questionable. Post financial crisis, people started thinking about the wider effects of aggressive tax planning – it’s legal, but is it the right thing to do?

After seven years at Barclays, what made you decide to move on?

My last three years at Barclays were amazing. I became head of M&A Tax at a time when Barclays was massively downsizing and selling about a third of the bank. I built a tax team to support that and we did loads of interesting transactions in a very short space of time. It was really fun, but it had a shelf life – the role was only so interesting so long as there was stuff to sell or buy. I could see that by the end of 2017, Barclays would have sold all it wanted to sell and my role would be coming to an end. So I started thinking about my next steps.

Was going back to Deloitte an option, as per the plan you’d had ten years earlier? And where do SRM Recruitment and Howden fit in?

I was talking to various firms about roles in M&A tax, including Deloitte. I was working on a deal in Johannesburg when Rory from SRM Recruitment popped up – he reached out to me on LinkedIn and told me he had a role that he thought was perfect for me. Ultimately he was right, because here I am at Howden! What interested me about the role was the opportunity to go out there and try to grow a business, which I’d never done before.

How fast did things move after that first email from Rory?

Unbelievably fast. It was in huge contrast to the bureaucratic, red tape environment I’d come from, where you can have six rounds of interviews and still no final answer. I had an interview with Howden’s MD on the Friday, met his colleague on the Monday morning and by Monday afternoon I had a job offer.

So you’re now Head of Tax Insurance at Howden – congratulations! Tell us about the workplace culture there.

It’s completely different to anywhere I’ve worked before. We’re majority owned by a bigger organisation but minority owned by employees, and there’s 40 of us globally in M&A. The team was created six years ago and it’s grown exponentially year on year. There’s a start-up feel to the place – it’s a really fun, exciting place to work. There are yoga sessions in the morning and everyone walks around in their sports gear. So it’s not your typical corporate world, but that’s not to mistake the fun for lack of professionalism. When we’ve got client meetings we’re all suited and booted and everybody works very hard, if not harder than in places I’ve worked in before.

Can you give us an overview of what you’re doing at Howden?

I sell tax insurance products. Let’s say a buyer puts £500 million on the table for a new business which has a £100 million tax risk. The next day that tax risk crystallises – the business is now worth £400 million and the buyer is out of pocket. I sell the tax insurance products to the buyer to protect them from that risk. Without insurance, the deal might not happen because the buyer and seller can’t agree how to share that risk. If you transfer that risk to the insurance market and both parties are happy to pay the cost of the insurance policy, which is a percentage of the total overall risk, the deal gets done.

What’s it like applying your technical tax skills in such a different environment?

As far as the technical tax skills go, the application isn’t that different from my previous roles. When you work in M&A you have to become a generalist – one day you might be looking at VAT risk in Singapore, the next it’s transfer tax in Italy. That part of my work hasn’t really changed.

So what is different around your current role – and what new skills have you developed as a result?

The work I’m doing around sales and building the business is very different to anything I’ve done before and I find it really interesting. The workload is intense: I’m working on deals, servicing existing clients and all the time trying to grow the business and make new contacts. There are lots plates spinning and you need energy and mental resilience to take all that on and not get too stressed by it. Work trips can be exhausting: we’ll do seven meetings in a day, from sitting around a table having coffee to presentations to 100 people.

And how have you embraced your new public speaking responsibilities?

Turning up at a conference and speaking for an hour to 100 delegates wasn’t something I’d done before. I do get a bit nervous beforehand, but generally I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my public speaking abilities!

What advice would you have for tax accountants in the early stages of their careers – or what would you tell your 22-year-old self starting out at Deloitte?

I’d say that it’s really important to make your own luck. There are so many things you can’t have a hand in – it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. But what you can do is try to make as many opportunities arise as you can. Do this by putting yourself out there and meeting people. The more you’re getting out there, the more opportunities will arise and when they do, you can grab them. The book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell was eye-opening for me. He writes about Bill Gates and how he happened to have regular access to a computer in the 1960s, way before computers became mainstream. So many moments are about luck, and it’s about recognising those moments and seizing them.

Discover more stories in our ‘Lessons From Leaders’ series in our blog. If you’d like to discuss your next career change, we’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch on + 44 (0) 20 3637 7808. Or submit your CV here.

The path to partner – essential advice

Chand Chudasama the path to partner
Chand Chudasama the path to partner

When your heart is set on a career path and it doesn’t work out, it can be devastating. Turning that setback into an opportunity and making a success of it takes skill. As part of our ‘Lessons from Leaders’ series, we join Chand Chudasama, Strategy & Corporate Finance Partner at Price Bailey to hear his top ten lessons learned on the path to Partner.

10 Tips For A Successful Career In Corporate Finance and Strategy

1.    Pursue a career you’re passionate about

When I was a kid, I hated jigsaws as I found them too easy to solve once you realised all you had to do was start from the corners and edges. I’ve always preferred puzzles without set ways of solving them.

As I grew up, I continued to look for those challenging puzzles and decided to join the army. I was in the Army Reserves and Cadets and flew through the ranks but when I was 17, I was so surprised when I failed the medical for the regular Army at selection; it really knocked me back.

I knew that I had to find another type of job where I could solve complex, unstructured problems. I learned that corporate finance and strategy advisory offers that kind of work – one side is very technical and numbers-driven, the other side is highly strategic.

Putting the two together is a great challenge. Even now, I describe my job as like doing three jigsaw puzzles at the same time, where all the pieces are all mixed up, there’s an unknown number of missing pieces and the pictures are changing at different speeds and against the clock! It wouldn’t be for everyone, but I find it really engaging. 

10 Tips For A Successful Career In Corporate Finance and Strategy

2.  Build up your technical knowledge quickly

Get the right qualifications… and then remember that it’s not enough on its own!

At the beginning of my career, my goal was to bank at least 300 hours of self-initiated study a year to build up my technical knowledge. In my 20s I probably spent more like 400 hours a year studying. Strategy & corporate finance isn’t like other roles where you might need to have a deep knowledge of a narrow area that you draw upon repetitively every day.

You’ll be required to have a good understanding of a vast range of topics. You might only need a piece of information once a year, but you need to be able to recall it at a moment’s notice. That ability only comes from hard study and thorough understanding of its practical application to solve a company’s problems or create value, and even then, study alone won’t be enough to do your job well. It’s quite tough to match theory with practice.

3. Be around good people

A big turning point in my career was undertaking my MBA at Newcastle University. I met a lot of great people there. The people who taught me and who learned alongside me expanded my understanding, as well as giving me the tools I needed to succeed in my job.

What I realised between the MBA and my first job afterwards, is that it’s all about the people. If the work is interesting, it’s the people you work alongside who make or break a job. Every career decision I’ve made since then has been because of the people I’ve worked with – both colleagues and clients. I’m lucky that I work for a great firm with incredible people; I wouldn’t want to work in an environment that didn’t prioritise that.

4. Ask for help

Promotions have challenged me to step up in terms of people management. Being made manager was the toughest change – it took me six months to understand what a manager was meant to be, and I’m still figuring out the shift I’ve made to Partner.

I’ve had to be honest with my team and ask for leeway as I learn the ropes. I’ve never been shy about asking questions, and I’ve been fortunate to work with peers who are never reluctant to give advice and support. It’s important to know your weaknesses as well as your strengths and not to pretend to have all the answers when you don’t. Nothing is more uninspiring to a team than a young leader without humility.

5. Treat your job like your own business

The hard yards in learning how to run a professional services business are done at grades where you are in the thick of the action – it is tough but you learn an awful lot and building strong relationships along the way, both in the firm and with externals is key. However, one of the biggest hurdles to progression is the shift in mindset, to go from working hard but still in the mindset of having a job, to having more of an ownership mentality and treating the business like it is your own.

I grew up in a small family business environment so, to an extent I never knew anything different, but I certainly now see those values and that attitude as key to progression.

6. Make friends and influence people

You’ve got to be able to deliver, and when you’re starting out, you can’t afford to make enemies. If you aspire to make Partner, try your hardest to deliver without being a git! You can do a good job whilst making friends.

A client recently said to me that when they reflect on the most successful people in their circle, every one of them had relationship building skills as one of their top assets.

As an advisor, you can’t be trusted to guide and influence decision making unless you are trusted – technical competence is part of that but lots of people are technically strong, what really matters is being trusted to be the voice guiding good decision making, especially when times are tough.

7. Work/life balance is a team effort

I count the times I manage to get home before 7pm. If I can manage it twice a week, I’m happy. I remember the impact hiring a new manager in my team had – there was probably a 4 month period where I only made it home three times before 7pm and then I was able to stop working at the weekend; it was incredible. As the firm grows that balance will always ebb and flow and, if I’m being honest, a lot of the time I’m working late because I just absolutely love what I do and time gets away from me!

Work/life balance means different things to different people. For me, time with my family and friends, adventurous holidays and time to go to the gym or for a swim give me that balance. However, I think the balance can only be struck if you have a great team around you who care about one another, who understand what’s going on and who share the workload. If the capacity and team ethos aren’t there, you can’t have work/life balance. Culturally, I think organisations should be encouraging all their staff to find ways to get the balance right, as Price Bailey has done.

8. Build strong relationships

The sign of a strong relationship is being able to have a tough conversation. If you want to work at a senior level, you need to build positive relationships with your colleagues to achieve this. Get to know people so you can work well together. It isn’t enough to be clever or make sales targets – it’s a given that you can do your job. Two characters have to get on, so focus on relationships that can collectively grow a company. If you can be honest about your individual and collective strengths and weaknesses, and find a constructive way forward, everyone will win – the clients, the staff, the firm and the Partners.

9. Focus on strategy, rather than transactions

Too often, people are focused on the next corporate transaction, and it’s usually because they’re working in a fee-driven culture or because of a lack of experience in higher-level advisory work. We have found that it’s far better to help a client create their strategy and to help them deliver it, joining them on their journey and helping to guide them.

Partnering strategically enables you to be braver and to point out when an idea doesn’t fit with the plan. It helps build credibility, particularly when you can walk away from a project if it’s the wrong thing to do, despite the value of the transaction. Focusing on strategy has benefitted our clients, it’s allowed the team to progress quickly, and it has underpinned my own career development.

10. Create client value to build your personal brand

First things first, if you live in the UK, don’t call it your personal brand! It’s not how we do things here – it exists, but it is not very British to talk about it! For me, it’s about knowing your unique role as a partner or senior individual and understanding what makes you different.

The best way to rise through the ranks is to create value for your clients. Find solutions for their problems. It’s beyond cross-selling. It’s about meeting client’s personal and corporate objectives that are beyond the scope of the work you’ve been asked to do; to know what’s really driving them and to deliver on that.

Corporate Finance is an incredibly competitive field, so to stand out you need to think beyond the question the client is asking. What they’re asking for may not be what they really need, or it may just be the tip of the iceberg. If you just give what they have asked for then you can’t be an adviser as you’re inherently stuck in the metaphor of the repetitive jigsaw puzzle!

This only works if the approach is supported by your firm, you have the remit to think critically and if you have a strong enough relationship with your client. It comes back to what I said about building relationships, trust, and a strategic partnership.

Keeping abreast of industry developments (see this article on the Future of Corporate Finance), market opportunities, regulatory change and the press, and bringing these insights to your conversations is also really valuable.

In summary, to be successful in Corporate Finance and Strategy, it takes hard study, strong relationships, integrity, teamwork and a strategic vision. What will make you stand out and get ahead is to do all of this in your own authentic way.

Chand Chudasama, Strategy & Corporate Finance Partner at Price Bailey


If you feel ready to discuss your next career opportunity in Corporate Finance, or you’re looking for talent to fill a role in your organisation, please get in touch on + 44 (0) 020 3637 7808.

Read more in our lessons from leaders series in our Insights blog.