Jun 5, 2024
CFO Interviews
CFO Network

James Wenninger

Jun 5, 2024
CFO Interviews

James Wenninger

James Wenninger is the UK General Manager for Commercial Finance at Insight in Sheffield. He oversees all commercial finance operations for a business that employs 13,500 teammates globally across 25 countries, generating over $9bn in revenue. He passed his tenth anniversary at Insight in 2023 and can reflect on a successful tenure that has included promotions and a wealth of different responsibilities and experiences.

His career history before joining Insight:

TNS – Head of UK Finance

Stanley Black & Decker – Head of Finance

InHealth Group – Management Accountant

Hawsons Chartered Accountants - Audit

I visited James in the impressive new Insight offices in St Pauls’ Place, Sheffield this month. It is always great to catch up with him. We have known each other for over twenty years – during which time, I have helped both him and his wife Emma secure successful roles.

There are so many valuable insights about career planning, building great teams, diversifying into commercial roles and taking on voluntary roles. A fabulous interview to share.

Tell us about your career at Insight

I have loved my time so far at Insight, I am now in my eleventh year and still have the same passion for the business and the industry that I did when I joined. Our business is in constant change and aggressive growth and we have shifted during the last decade to maximise our heritage within technology whilst also accelerating our solutions offerings, really partnering with our clients

My role as UK General Manager of Commercial Finance encompasses two main things. Firstly a traditional FD role, with responsibility for all financial matters for the UK business and secondly as the key support to our UK MD. Both things are important, maintaining excellence within our core financial function is key, whilst the business support is where I am delivering commercial projects, engaging in client opportunities, exec sponsorship of one of our key partners, driving our quarter closing and guiding our long-term strategy.

There are many things that I love about our business, we are extremely fast-paced and challenging and our pace is relentless. We are a constant change and constant growth business and successful teammates love the environment, we share a quote from Benjamin Disraeli within Insight, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant”. We want teammates to embrace the opportunities that come with change and be part of driving the business forwards.

Insight has been based out at Don Valley for many years – what difference has it made to be in new offices in Sheffield city centre?

The desire for Insight was to move to a city centre environment and take advantage of more collaborative working conditions and space. Within the hybrid working culture, we talk a great deal about “earning the commute”, to us this means giving people a reason to travel. We wanted to find a space and location that would drive this and deliver a space for our teammates that made them proud to work for a large global business and where we could bring clients to tell our story about being a leading global solutions integrator

There are genuine signs of progress across the City Centre and we feel we have moved into a central location at a great time. With other large employers like Henry Boot also making this decision and HSBC and DLA being among other large businesses to be located in the City Centre, we feel in a great position to take advantage of being somewhere where we can both retain and attract talent

What we’ve seen since we moved is a complete sea change in our teammates' desire to be in the office. We have delivered a fantastic, collaborative space where people want to spend their time, attendance in the office has hugely increased and the buzz and atmosphere in the office are incredible!

From a personal point of view I’ve been very fortunate to have a 50% reduction in my commute, but my hope is that people who have a longer commute see the value in travelling further, the collaboration impact and working in a high-quality space makes additional journey time worthwhile

There are only a very few FDs who have taken control of sales functions as well as finance – you are part of that minority statistic! How was that experience and what did you learn from it?

I have been fortunate enough to run sales teams on two occasions during my Insight career and also run the overall business as part of a management team during our previous MD’s maternity leave. I am incredibly grateful to have had these opportunities and exposure to different parts of the business.

Leading sales divisions was a particularly rewarding experience. Sales teammates are a critical part of our organisation so having the opportunity to lead these groups gave me a fantastic opportunity to see and be part of driving towards a number. From setting targets to looking at account plans, closing plans and managing a large volume of business with many component and complex parts gave me an insight into the management and motivation required

This definitely gave me a far better understanding of the complexity of managing clients and positioning our offerings. Insight’s ambition to become the leading Solutions Integrator means working closely and collaborating with both our clients and our partners, particularly as we engage in more complex engagements. Every function within Insight has a role to play, so much so, that it becomes a bit like a team sport: we need teammates from all of our functions to maximise our opportunities and help organisations digitally transform.

What has been the benefit of your international experience on your career?

Working across American corporate businesses over most of my career has given me a great opportunity to work with people across the globe. Whilst teammates all receive consistent messaging about business goals and objectives, we all have local nuances and it’s important to work around language barriers and different working approaches.

At Insight, we increasingly collaborate globally so considering time zones and local versus international customs is critical for us to work together efficiently and drive the business forwards

You have been a part of and have built some great teams in your career. What has been the secret formula to this?

I have been lucky enough to work for some fantastic leaders across my career and I have tried to learn and see the best elements of them to take into my leadership philosophy. For me, leading people absolutely aligns to Insight’s core values of hunger, heart and harmony and as a leader and leadership team, we try and live these values across everything we do. From a personal point of view, I love working with people from all functions, not just my own team, and I believe that my job is to inspire people and enable them to bring the best of themselves every day. Being able to collaborate with people who are great to be around and give you both fun and challenge is one of the main parts of my role that I love.

As well as working for great leaders, I’ve also had fantastic people working for me. Being able to see people keep growing and being able to take on new roles both within and outside of Insight has been fantastic. We try and build a team that loves the pace and change environment that Insight provides. We also want people to have fun and enjoy being at work!

You gave three years of your time to a voluntary role when you were a Trustee at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice. We respect every Finance Leader who gives their time to charitable causes and encourage as many as possible to do the same. Tell us about your experience, what you were able to contribute and what you gained from it.

Being able to be involved at Bluebell Wood was a fantastic experience. The organisation and what it provides to the community is amazing and to go and see the care provided by the incredible staff was a humbling experience. As Bluebell Wood is a business that employs over 100 people and must drive profitability and positive cash flow to be able to provide the vital services that they do, I tried to bring a corporate mentality to the organisation. I wanted to ensure that the organisation would be able to continue supporting and recruiting staff and maintain the critical hospice facility itself – driving income and controlling expenditure are therefore critical. I definitely kept reminding myself though of the balance between that corporate and business excellence side without forgetting the core ethos and mission of the charity

Overall, the experience was amazing and felt incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to give back some of the experience and training that I have had and it is something I would love to do again in the future

Many young accountants are encouraged to start their careers at Russell Group universities and Big 4 firms. Your career has arrived at a financial leadership role in one of the largest international companies in the region and has seen consistent success from the outset – all built on a different platform of training contract with an outstanding local firm of accountants. What advantages did this give you and what would be your advice to school leavers and graduates today?

My career definitely got off to a “far-from-inspiring start”! Poor A-level results, (in which I got exactly what I deserved!) did lead to University, from which I started my professional career at Hawsons Chartered Accountants. This gave me a great start in finance and a wide experience with different clients across varying industries, complexity and size. To be honest, I still had not really found my drive at this point and going to Stanley Black and Decker and working for Stratton Brock was where I really found my passion and started to believe in myself.

The appeal of a career in Finance for me I the broad range of options and experiences that it gives. Whether you start your career in practice or industry, you can really find the niche that works for you and whatever your level of ambition there will be a role that can give you the best opportunity to be fulfilled within your working life.

In the post-COVID environment, our focus as a team is output-based and we look way more at what people are doing and how they can progress rather than where they are working or whether they are working in the old world of office hours. Teammates work really hard in a fast-paced business and we want them to get the right work/life balance

Tell us about James outside of work

I am really passionate about mental health and mental wellness and this is an area that I work with teammates to provide support. I think men’s mental health is still an area where there are many challenges and it’s great to be involved in this area within the business.

Outside work is dominated by my two teenage daughters – everything everyone ever said about teenage girls is true, they can be very hard work! We love travel and are trying to get to as many amazing places as possible while we are still travelling together as a family.

Sheffield Wednesday is a lifelong passion and pain – as I approach 50 this year I’m thinking about what comes first – retirement or the Owls back in the Premier League!

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