UGI is one of the largest distributors of gas across Europe. He relocated to Chesterfield in 2018, after working with PwC in audit and M&A, and for the University of Oxford as Head of FP&A for the Said Business School. He was promoted to Finance Director within a year and is a very welcome addition to our regional Finance Director community.
There are always plenty of insights from individuals who have reached FD status by their early 30s and James is no exception to this.
What led you to choose a career in finance?
What I have always enjoyed about Finance is that you see how the whole business fits together. You get an great view of which parts of the business make or cost money, better than anyone else in the organisation. And really, this is what led me to move out of audit, because whilst it gave me a good technical accounting foundation, I missed this broader commercial view.
You became a Finance Director at the age of 32. How were you successful and was this always an objective?
It was my goal to become a Finance Director after I left practice. I didn’t have a particular plan to achieve this but in my career I found I gathered a good mixture of technical skills (through audit, and working in a Financial Controller role) and commercial awareness (through M&A at PwC, and FP&A roles). That meant that when the opportunity arose at UGI I was in a good position to step up. Personally, I’ve also found it easier to advance internally rather than through leaving for a new role. But of course, this relies on being in organisations where there are enough opportunities.
What I think has served me well is that I have always taken an interest in the commercial and operational parts of businesses outside of Finance, and not been afraid to offer opinions. Never be afraid of stating the obvious: it’s often what everyone else in the room is thinking.
We see so many hires where relevant sector experience is a dominant influence. Having moved from the Higher Education sector to a multinational fuel distributor, what are your views on this?
I think the step from Education back into the private sector was a difficult one, in convincing employers that I had the required commercial skills. When I am recruiting, I generally think that experience in similar sized or types of organisations is more important for Finance roles than sector experience.
What have been the additional challenges that you have faced as an FD during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Of course, the first few months were a huge learning curve for all of us. Firstly, there was the switch to remote working, managing the team at a distance and ensuring all the critical processes were still running with staff at home. At the same time, there was a huge focus with the business on forward-looking analysis of potential (and then actual) impacts on profit and liquidity. However, I was fortunate to be in an industry where demand was not fundamentally affected, and at an organisation which had the balance sheet to ride it out.
What does the future hold for you?
I really enjoy the Finance Director role – the huge variety of different issues and projects which come across my desk, and being a key part of management teams. At UGI we have a busy portfolio of M&A and finance improvement projects across Europe right now which is very rewarding to be a part of. On top of that, there is the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables, which will fundamentally shakeup our industry.
I’ve always worked in organisations where there is plenty going on – such as M&A/system projects/regulatory changes - which over time I’ve realised is what keeps me motivated.
Tell us about James when he is not being a Finance Director
I have two children under five who keep me on my toes when I’m not working. I can probably recite Frozen word for word. Aside from that, I enjoy running out in the Peak District and travelling when Covid allows.
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We are delighted to welcome Charlotte Morgan-Smith to the team today
Rob Jobbins is the Finance Director at twentysix in Leeds and an FD of the Year winner in 2019.
Kirstie is one of the region’s leading Group Financial Controllers and is known for her outstanding work ethic, being a brilliant accountant as well as fantastic business leader, who is currently looking after a team of circa 80 staff!
So many employers and recruiters are adapting to a market where there are fewer candidates available for opportunities and so much has been written about it.