I am excited to post my first Finance Director interview, as part of the ‘Your Career in Finance’ series.

I’m focusing on the different qualifications within finance such as ACA, ACCA, and CIMA.

Each week I’ll be sharing insights from an FD who has taken each different qualification path - covering why they chose that qualification, their specific career path, and what advice they would give someone starting their career in finance. Golden information for any aspiring FDs!

Up first, the brilliant Liam Cartledge, Finance Director at Castings Technology International in Sheffield.

I have known Liam for a few years now and I wanted to pick Liam's brains because he is ACA qualified and has had an exciting career, particularly within the manufacturing sector.

Why did you choose ACA as your qualification?

Probably a little bit of an old-fashioned viewpoint these days but ACA was always seen as the top accounting qualification to hold when I started out and most of the top companies in the FTSE 100 still have ACAs as either CFO or CEO or both. My journey started doing Accounting and Finance at university, rather than in an industry role, and so the next logical step was to apply for an ACA training contract and that was my first job. Must be honest though, I didn’t realise just how much auditing would be involved and that is definitely not my bag at all!! I also always aspired to be a company CFO or FD one day and felt going the ACA route would be the most likely way to achieve that.

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

As I mentioned, my first job out of university was a 3-year ACA training contract at a small boutique practice in Manchester but I quickly realised the audit/practice/aim for partner life was not for me at all. It became a means to an end, so I got the ACA qualification and headed straight out into industry and landed a finance manager role within a huge multi-national plc (£6bn turnover and 40,000 employees).

I stayed in that PLC for 16 years, gaining regular promotions every 2-3 years until I was about to become a Divisional FD. However, one well-documented and publicised administration later meant I was forced to move into what turned out to be something a lot more akin to what I always wanted to do, I just didn’t realise it until then. PLCs are great, lots of good people and you learn loads about how to do things the right way, but sadly you are sometimes just a name and a number and never too far away from a corporate restructure or being placed at risk of redundancy, especially if said PLC is struggling, as the one I worked for spectacularly was at the end.

I then moved into manufacturing in Sheffield and become Group FC of a £70m muti-national manufacturer based in Sheffield. Within a year that Group doubled in size via an acquisition, and I was promoted to Group Financial Reporting Manager, where I remained for 4 more years before making the step to my current role as FD in a small, niche manufacturer in Sheffield.

With hindsight, I probably stayed in the PLC for too long and should have made the move to manufacturing and the smaller Group/company earlier but at the same time, my personal circumstance meant I probably wasn’t ready to move to FD until I did and so you must always do what feels right at the time for you.

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

Try and have a plan of where you want to be in 5 or 10 or even 15-years’ time and work backwards from there. Try and decide what type of organisation you want to be in. Numbers are numbers and finance is one of the few skills that is basically transferrable across all businesses in all industries but for example, in Sheffield/South Yorkshire, there are loads of manufacturing businesses and once you are in/understand manufacturing, you will always have an advantage over others who do not have that experience.

I would also say, always do what you think is right for you/your career/your personal life at the time - go with your gut feel, even if you later think that was a wrong choice!! There’s no such thing as a wrong decision, there’s right decisions and learning experiences.

I would also say job title and experience in a role is more important than salary. Don’t take a role because it pays say £5k more if it’s not going to give you the experience you want/need.

Also, again possibly a bit old-fashioned but I’d not move around roles/companies every 1-2 years, unless it is clearly demonstrable that the moves were promotions and part of a longer-term plan to get to where you want to be.

Final point, and by far the most important when in any job/organisation, work somewhere that values and respects you, and above all, have fun and work with people who do the same. We are at work for a large portion of our lives so don’t waste that time being miserable. It’s important to do a good job obviously but life’s too short to be serious all the time!! Accountants are well known for their exciting personalities remember….

The takeaway from this interview is that if you choose to do the ACA qualification it doesn’t mean your career path needs to be audit or practice.

I am always open to discussions around your long-term career, contact with me doesn't always have to be about your next job or current role. Don't hesitate to get in touch.

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