Since working with SRM Recruitment as a candidate when we placed him in his current role three years ago, this Head of Group Reporting has partnered successfully with us on multiple roles. We asked him for his review of our service, and what keeps bringing him back to SRM Recruitment.
Why did you choose to work with SRM Recruitment? When I was a candidate looking for a new role, SRM stood out from the other recruiters straight away. Stewart Robertson and David Kingston really treated me with respect, they were professional, straightforward and honest. I remember Stewart called me at 10pm to tell me I’d got the job. That was a good call! They’re clearly people who care. When I joined my company and started to hire, I knew I wanted to work with them. It’s fantastic in itself that they believe in their candidates, but it also benefits me as a hiring manager because I think they surprise their clients with people who may not be the obvious choice.
From your perspective as a hiring manager, how else would you review SRM Recruitment? David and the team at SRM Recruitment work harder. With other recruiters, they’ll send you two CVs, three at a push, insisting that ‘these are the best people we know in the market, they’re perfect’, and if you don’t like them, they can be reluctant to present alternatives. With SRM, it’s totally different. They share five or six profiles, and if you feel as though an avenue hasn’t been explored, they’re very open to trying – it’s an iterative process. When you’re trying to find the perfect match for your company, that’s important.
I can also see that David’s approach to looking after his candidates hasn’t changed since he placed me three years ago. Some of the candidates I see may have been out of work for some time, yet I can see David has supported them to ensure their CV is presentable and their interview skills are sharp. He has invested time in people with potential, rather than blacklisting them.
I don’t mind if people are young or old, what they look like or where they come from, I just want someone who will work hard, have the right competencies and skills, and fit well with the company. David sees people for who they really are, which means he presents me with some fantastic candidates. I remember one appointment was handled by SRM and another recruiter, and I chose David’s candidate. The other agency asked who the successful candidate was, and they were disappointed to learn it was someone they knew, but that they’d overlooked for the role.
David is very hardworking on all the assignments I give him. I remember one search where the salary wasn’t huge – it was a junior role, and the fee to SRM was relatively small. David presented us with the same wide range of profiles as he would on a larger search. We interviewed a range of candidates, and gave a lot of feedback on them all but were not 100% sure about any of them. Instead of just pushing these candidates, David kept working, he didn’t give up, and in the end, he found us someone who fitted in really well.
Would you recommend their services to other hiring managers? Yes, I do, very often. David is very responsive and he sends over good profiles. He tends to know great people, and I think that’s partly because he’s proactive and meets with good candidates even when there might not be something for them straight away.
What advice do you have for other hiring managers? Take your time with your recruitment. It is a very difficult situation when you hire someone that turns out to be wrong for the job to the extent that you need to replace them, or even that you need to spend a long time training to meet the task. Finding the perfect match takes longer, but it’s worth the wait. This is their life, and it’s also yours – if they fail, so will you. Don’t worry about missing out on a candidate by taking too long – the right person will be someone who wants the job enough to wait.
If you do choose to partner with a recruiter to help you source the right talent, look for someone like SRM Recruitment who are persistent and who will go the extra mile, not only for you and your company but for their candidates too.
To read other SRM Recruitment reviews with our clients, please visit our insights page. If you have a role that you would like us to help with, or for a more general discussion about your hiring strategy, please get in touch.
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:
You’re not quite sure what you want to do, or if you do, you’re not sure how to get there
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.
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.
We join John Wilson, Finance Director at Morrison Utilities to learn how hiring finance roles through Luke Higgs saves his company time.
Tell us how long you have you worked with Luke and the roles he’s worked on?
I’ve known Luke for 10 years on and off and he’s recruited many different roles for me during that time. All the way from transactional finance people to management accountants and latterly a senior finance manager. I’ve lost count of the number of roles he’s placed for me.
Were any of the roles particularly challenging to fill?
He has filled some very niche roles, for instance, a Sub Contract Ledger Manager role that is quite specific to construction. In fact, the person he found for that role is still here five or six years later.
What sets the candidates apart that he sends you?
It’s always high calibre people that are sent through. Not just that, they are the right people for the job. He takes the time to figure out who is a good fit for our company and the culture.
Why do you partner with Luke?
The key reason is that he’s taken the time to get to know me and the business. I’ve used other recruiters but all that’s happens is I get sent so many CVs. When I phone Luke he will come and see me and bring the best few CVs. It goes back to the fact that he knows what’s going on in the business.
I appreciate his honesty and he will say if he doesn’t feel he has the right person. He’s also not afraid to just put one person forward either and I appreciate that. He understands how each role fits with the business. It saves me time, no one these days has time to interview six people.
Otherwise, we may as well as look for the candidates ourselves!
“The one thing that stands out about Luke is the time he takes to understand you and the business. You can’t underestimate the time that saves. We know the CVs will be right, I’m not spending weeks interviewing and it puts us ahead of the game. ”
John Wilson, FD, Morrison Utilities
Is there anything, in particular, you think that Luke does differently to other recruiters?
He listens. If we won’t have any new roles for 6 months he won’t constantly ring us, but if he gets a CV he will drop me a line and say this is a good person to bear in mind. Actually, he did that for the management accountant role and I dug out the CV further down the line. I know that if we get a CV it will be someone good and there will be a reason for it.
Would you recommend his services to other Finance Directors?
Yes, for sure, I know others FD’s who use him too so I have no qualms about recommending him to those hiring finance roles.
Corporate Finance professionals must be able to keep up with emerging trends to best advise their clients. But what lies ahead for the sector itself and how are skillsets changing? Here to shed some light on the future of corporate finance is Chand Chudasama, Strategy & Corporate Finance Partner at Price Bailey.
How has technology and data changed Corporate Finance and Strategy?
Undoubtedly there’s a huge amount of data out there, and most corporate finance and strategy outfits have bought access to it through aggregators. It’s inexcusable to ignore the data that’s there. However, it’s not enough.
Whilst the quantity and quality of the data available is increasing, the clients themselves are gaining their own commercial rigour. Many have come from industry and, armed with this easily-accessible data, in many cases their insight is better than the consultants’.
Combine this trend with the fact that many corporate finance forecasts are still based on optimistic growth assumptions that lack data-driven evidence – you see projections of revenue and margin going up, which looks great, but isn’t an accurate picture.
To keep pace, and to stand out in a competitive market, we need to do something different. When I took over the strategy team at Price Bailey, I wanted to create an insights and research team that took an innovative approach. We now focus on building primary market research into how a business could grow in different markets, and how it could be valued as a result. For example, we do price and market testing around the world, turning that evidence into projections that have a real rationale behind them. It’s a combination of qualitative and quantitative data that offers a far more credible and useful picture to the client.
What about further into the future of corporate finance, what might be three things to look out for?
It’s a continuation of what we just discussed:
The amount of data will increase but the number of people who can connect that to value creation will fall. Data will proliferate but people will focus too much on that and forget to ask the ‘so what’ questions.
As clients become savvier about corporate finance, consultants will need to expand their knowledge to stay one step ahead and continue adding value. Traditional advisors who have only ever worked in finance will struggle to command premium fees, as we see a rise in recruits joining the business from outside the industry and bringing skills such as sales, marketing and increasingly, technology. We’ll still need lots of ACAs, but the expectation will shift and people will need to demonstrate complementary skills.
If advisors can’t think on a global scale, they will struggle. If I think of the international deals we do now, compared to six years ago, the number has increased exponentially. We have embraced that, and we use technology and support teams to facilitate our work. If you can’t think globally, you’ll be limited in your growth and miss out on huge opportunities.
What has been the impact of alternate finance, and how do you keep up with this?
I’m excited to see what the alternative lenders are going to provide in the near and long term future, because I really believe that alternative finance is the right thing for the growth of the British economy and for our businesses. For early-stage companies, alternative financiers can be very effective on the debt and equity side to provide funding.
It’s an area where Britain is lagging behind. In France, we see capital trusts doing a great job of leveraging alternative funding for businesses in their early stages of growth. The issue is that this is a challenging area, where the risk is high and we need more people to back alternative funding in order to reach a critical mass. I understand why alternative financiers might not want to fund that space, it’s risky so it’s hard to make it work.
To learn more about Chand’s rise to success, don’t miss his ‘10 Lessons Learned on the Path to Partner’. 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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
How is the role of a CFO
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?
(AI) will take over an increasing number of tasks like sales invoicing
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.
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
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
Richard Francis, CFO at Netcentric, shares his expertise on how to successfully sell a business, from initial growth through to post-sale integration.
Going for growth
Rapid growth might be a common business goal, but each company will require a unique approach to achieve it successfully.
Service businesses like my current organisation, Netcentric, must anticipate hiring needs early as it can take around six months to train a consultant and more like nine before revenue comes in. You also need to make sure the company is properly financed well in advance so you’re able to take the plunge swiftly.
Quick expansion also relies on a delicate balance of process versus action. You want processes to work efficiently so teams can spend their time doing what they do best, not wading through bureaucracy. The company was not created for the finance team, it was created to help customers and make sales. Remember that your role is to support the company in doing that.
Being prepared to act quickly is absolutely vital if you want to grow a business. Don’t get too bogged down spending months on business plans in spreadsheets that will soon be out of date. Instead, do something more quickly at a higher level that you can change as you need to.
A CFO needs nerves of steel to support a company through ambitious growth. When I took on my current role, the CEO explained that my predecessor didn’t sleep for a year! It’s your job to reassure people but also to ensure the senior leaders understand the risks. There’s no room for politics and blame, people need to be allowed to make mistakes if you want to grow.
Preparing for sale
This is the time to focus on doing what you do and doing it well. Don’t waste time thinking about who might buy you.
It’s critical that you protect intellectual property. You might find yourself under pressure to transfer intellectual property ownership but resist this at all costs and be very careful with the contracts you sign. Don’t take legal shortcuts. If you have to incur a potential liability in a contract, make sure you have an endpoint or have some way to show that the liability has been discharged or can be quantified.
Wherever possible, it’s better to be approached by a potential buyer than putting the company up for sale. It puts you in a far stronger negotiating position if you can say “we are not for sale”.
A successful sale
To lead a business through a successful sale, you don’t need to have everyone working on it. It’s important to keep ‘business as usual’, so you want as few people as possible caught up in the sale to allow others to concentrate on running the business. I cannot state highly enough what a massive distraction the company sale process can be and you have to remember that the sale may not go through at all and you want the business to be able to carry on and grow.
Another risk to manage is time. Open-ended timeframes will wear everyone down. Create some time pressure on the process to drive it forward, and don’t allow yourself to be dictated to on the deadlines. This can be created in a number of ways such as exclusivity periods or external reporting deadlines.
Another risk to manage is time. Open-ended timeframes will wear everyone down. Create some time pressure on the process to drive it forward, and don’t allow yourself to be dictated to on the deadlines.
A business which has recently been acquired faces many challenges during integration with the buyer. To manage the process and see the business succeed, it’s important to understand the reason for the acquisition, whether you are the acquired or the acquirer.
When Day Software was acquired by Adobe, it was clearly a software purchase, so the integration needed to be quick so that the customer only saw one ‘face’. It was difficult to do, particularly with big cultural hurdles of a Swiss and US firm coming together.
Netcentric was very different, as Cognizant couldn’t do what Netcentric did, they were buying the way we work. Cognizant has a mantra – ‘do no harm when you acquire a company’. We actually agreed to preserve our approach in pre-acquisition talks and the integration was very light. It’s been business as usual, we’re still Netcentric, only it’s better now because we have the financial security of being part of a bigger group. We’ve merged where it made sense to do so, such as the legal and finance teams, and we’ve taken advantage of Cognizant functions where possible, such as the new delivery centre in India. The aim is not to disturb staff or customers. It comes back to remembering why you bought the company and ensuring you protect that.