Kirstie Waugh

Group Financial Controller, Zenith

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!

October 19, 2021
Oct 19, 2021
Women in Finance

We have known Kirstie for a number of years and are delighted to have a great relationship with her. Kirstie is definitely not your typical accountant! On the surface, Kirstie is a friendly, warm and engaging personality, but beneath that, there is also a very driven and ambitious finance leader with a passion for what she does. Kirstie began her career in professional services, gaining the ACA qualification, before beginning her career in industry, first working for Thomas Cook, then beginning what was a successful ten year career with Yorkshire Building Society. In 2018 Kirstie was in a highly competitive search process for a Group Financial Controller to join Zenith, a well-known Private Equity backed business in Leeds.

Kirstie has now been Group FC for Zenith for just over 3.5 years and is an integral leader within the business and will play an important role in the next stages of growth for the business. We have no doubt that Kirstie would make a brilliant finance director in the future!

I take it you didn’t dream of being an accountant?

Well, sadly, when I was at junior school I did actually want to be an accountant. I’ve always loved maths, my favourite toy when I was small was my speak ‘n’ maths game (showing my age there!). I did work experience at one of the large accountancy firms when at school, in their insolvency department, and then worked for them during the school holidays. It was good fun and very varied, so following a maths degree at university, being an accountant just seemed to be the obvious move. My working life has continued to be very varied, being in finance you get involved in most things that happen in the business, which is great for me as I like variety.

My ultimate dream job however was always Davina McColl’s role as presenter on Streetmate (or Scarlett Moffatt’s if you are younger than me). I love meeting new people and as my daughter pointed out to me the other day, I’ll talk to anyone, so I think I’d be great at grabbing members of the public and encouraging them to go on a date with the contestants.

What makes you different from other finance leaders  and makes you stand out?

The obvious one, I am female. I am a huge supporter of diversity in the workplace, and whilst there has definitely been a positive shift in businesses on the gender front and more opportunities for women, according to government statistics, while women make up one-third of all board positions in the UK’s FTSE 100 companies, just 15% of finance directors in these companies are women.

Less obviously, I am unashamedly a down to earth northerner. I am very straight forward, speak my mind, what you see is what you get and you always know where you stand with me. I am very loyal and always look to do the best for the business rather than myself. I am passionate about whatever I do and throw myself in fully. All or nothing.

Having surveyed the team on this question, they have said I am also very approachable, fun, get to know everyone and am part of the team rather than being distant.

What have been  the biggest challenges and or successes in your career so far?

I’ll go with an obvious challenge – working full time with three kids – add to that a pandemic and a lockdown just as you are going into the year end audit, and you’re left with little to no sleep or sanity. Being a working parent is hard at any time though. Juggling all of the different demands on your time can sometimes seem impossible and you don’t feel like you are doing a good job at work or at home. My advice for anyone feeling like this is to talk to other parents, you are not alone. Even the supermom on Facebook baking rainbow cakes and crafting with the kids is rocking in a corner at times.

In terms of successes, I’ll pick the one where I was most out of my comfort zone as these times are always the most rewarding. I was working in insolvency and was sent to North Wales to trade a company who were making towers for windfarms. I had never done anything like it before and was, for the most part, the most senior team member on site. I was dealing with employees, customers, suppliers, potential purchasers of the business and trying to keep everything ticking over whilst complying with the insolvency requirements and providing up to the minute cash forecasts to the bank. It was pretty terrifying at times but when it was over, and the business was successfully sold I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

What advice would  you give to young accountants starting out their career?

Be open, positive  and flexible, say yes to any opportunities, you don’t know where they might  lead.

Think about what you  are doing, why you are doing it and what it means.  Don’t just follow a process.

Make your boss a  cuppa and always have chocolate!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been told?

I love receiving feedback and advice. I have been fortunate to be part of several training programs which have introduced me to different ideas and models which help you to understand yourself and colleagues. It is always useful.

The one I refer back to the most is the concept of unconditional positive regard, which, for me means detaching how you feel about a person’s actions from how you feel about them as a person. It is a bit like always loving your kids even when you want to throttle them. It really helps to take the emotion out of difficult situations.

Oh, and breathe – that’s a good one.

What is the funniest thing to ever happen to you in the workplace? – don’t holdback!

In my second week as GFC at Zenith, it was sports relief and the business was doing a sports dress up day, £1 if you were in fancy dress, £2 if not and prize for best outfit. So, assuming that everyone would be dressed up to avoid the extra donation, I threw myself into it and turned up in my wetsuit, wet shoes, canoeing cagoule and buoyancy aid. Unfortunately, my assumption was slightly off and everyone else was just in football t-shirts and trainers – I felt like Delboy and Rodney when they burst into the funeral as Batman & Robin. Suffice to say I won the prize and lost about a stone in sweat after sitting in it all day.



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