The next guest for the qualification interviews in the ‘Your Career in Finance’ series is James Orton. He is ACCA-qualified and has experience working at one of the "Big Four" accounting firms. Now, he's a Finance Director at Superior Wellness. His career path is intriguing, moving from A-levels to PwC, and taking part in some exciting projects early on in his career. He also explains the move from practice to industry and the differences between the two.

This interview offers valuable insights into how someone became a top finance professional and provides advice on building a successful career in finance. If you're interested in following a similar path, this is a must-read.

Why did you choose ACCA as your qualification?

I made the decision not to go to University and then had to weigh up the alternatives to the University route and what would work for me.

I wanted to ensure that my career path had a professional qualification and training throughout - it wasn’t just about the salary.

Finance was the cleanest industry that matched what I was looking for and there were so many options to start my career in finance. I applied for top 4, small practices and industry apprenticeships. I was accepted at PWC, and the ACCA qualification route matched my aspirations the best.

Could you outline your career path leading up to your current role as an FD?

I interviewed at PWC and was blown away by the quality of their corporate model and they offered me the role before I finished my A levels. I was fully ACCA qualified by the time I was 22 following starting my career when I was 18 years old.  

To my mind, this gave me an advantage over the graduates coming in as I was already qualified with experience. I therefore didn’t rush out of practice, and I went into audit for around 7 years, then into an advisory role working with projects for 3 to 4 years.

Whilst at PWC, I worked with a company called Rigby Group on an 18-month project to help them through a complex project. This was such an exciting project for me as I was flown to France and Holland it was a fantastic business to be a part of. This made me realise that I wanted to have a commercial role where I could analyse performance and really feel like I was adding value to businesses.

The Rigby Group was happy with the work that I'd done for them and offered me a position. During my time at Rigby Group, I was involved with some amazing projects which included some exciting acquisitions. I was still young in my career and I was working with several senior people which gave me the opportunity to learn from them.

I really enjoyed the project work but I didn’t want to go down the consultive route as I was too young. So, for the next two years I ended up with some of the trading businesses as board support, working with the directors on how to improve these businesses. Then an opportunity came up with one of the businesses called Nuvias UC who needed a new CFO.

This was technically my first role within industry. It was a difficult move, it was during Covid and there was a lot of change happening within the business. I had to learn a lot very quickly and learn about all the different departments – which I wasn’t used to.

I was now responsible for lots of people which I found difficult. I'm a perfectionist – with the projects, there was a beginning, middle, and end. You can do the work you need to do and give yourself a high five. Two main reasons why this move was difficult:

  • In industry – every day there are external challenges and it's never going to be perfect.
  • Empathy – you need to have an understanding of what the team does, and as I’ve never done the transactional role before, this was difficult.

I am now working with Rob Carling at Superior Wellness where I am the FD, also overseeing IT and HR. This company has an exciting future and I want to be able to guide them forward. I feel that I can really help the Team here as I have a great experience across many different situations of what good looks like, and I have seen what bad looks like – this is where I can really add value for them.

What guidance would you offer to someone who is just beginning their career in finance?

If you’re ambitious, it's crucial to commit to earning your professional qualifications. They play a significant role in advancing your career.

Try to complete them early in your career, as responsibilities at work and in your personal life tend to grow over time.

Additionally, choose a company that supports your studies—both financially and with flexible time off for classes or exams.

I'm always happy to discuss your career in finance, you can contact me here.

Nik Pratap
Lorraine Pratap
Elise Walsh
Gillian McBride
Nicola Worrow
Amanda O’Neill
Karen Caswell
Dale Spink
Charlotte Morgan-Smith
Gemma Hutchinson
Jess Lister
Alex Mostyn-Jones
Alex Mostyn-Jones
Claire Screeton
Claire Screeton
Euan Begbie
Euan Begbie
Marie Carroll
Marie Carroll
Lucy Miles
Nicola Beach
Leighton Thomas

Other articles