Lindsey Hall

Deputy Group Financial Controller at MJ GLEESON PLC

We have known Lindsey since she moved to Yorkshire and have built up a great relationship as her reputation has grown. It was great to spend some time with her and to find out what pulled her from the United States to South Yorkshire.

Jul 21, 2021
CFO Interviews

Lindsey is one of the first people we think of when we  think of modern, female finance leaders – She is a top-class professional that  has a fantastic story to share and an in-depth understanding of the modern  world of finance.

Originally from Wisconsin, Lindsey moved to the UK in 2010,  working in Leeds & Nottingham, but settling in Sheffield. The plan was to  relocate back to the States in 2015, but she made the very wise decision to  stay in Yorkshire!

She has found her home in Sheffield, where she lives with  her two young daughters. She loves being near the Peak District and describes  Sheffield as “Cool & vibrant, good university feel, lots of outdoor opportunities  and perhaps most importantly….. people who have made me feel very welcome.”

Lindsey also highlights the right work / life balance that  we have achieved in the UK: “It feels like the UK has the strongest work  ethic in Europe, but is significantly more focussed on life  than corporate America.”

 It was great to spend some time with Lindsey as she shared  some of her thoughts, experiences and influences.

Talk us through your career journey – especially around the moves from America to Sheffield.

 

I am a US Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – which can be classified as “ACA equivalent”. The process for qualifying in the States is somewhat different to the UK – I have both an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree in accounting and then I sat4 professional exams to complete my qualification. Having completed an internship with KPMG in Minneapolis, I was offered a role with KPMG in Leeds. Iwas then in the strange circumstances of joining in a trainee role, but havingcompleted all of the exams already – luckily the Head of Audit stepped in toget me out of the exams so I didn’t have to start from scratch!

The fact I am CPA and not ACA qualified has never held me back in my career. The only difference I can see is that I cannot sign an audit opinion for accounts (which I do not mind!)

After 4 years with KPMG Leeds, I started thinking about moving back to the States. I moved to Nottingham to work for Boots as it was being bought by Walgreens in the US in order to get more practical US GAAP experience before moving back. I worked with the Group finance team to transition the reporting from IFRS to US GAAP ,as well as working on new accounting policies and leading the training for the UK finance team – which was over 300 people at the time!

 This was exactly the experience I was looking for, but my plans changed and we decided to stay in the UK – which meant moving back to Sheffield, of course! I was very quickly offered two great opportunities around Sheffield – I opted for Gleeson as it was a fantastic role with an interesting and fast-growing company, and a very impressive CFO.

I started as Group Accountant in 2016, and I have had two promotions in the past five years and am now the Deputy Group Financial Controller. In that time, I have also had two maternity leaves and seen the business double in size (we built 904 houses in2016 and have just reported 1,812 for the past year!)

 How have you been successful in working in a rapidly  growing business, achieving two promotions and starting a family?

I will also add to that list that I am a single mum now as  well!

The main reason I have been able to do everything I’ve  done is that I have had the support of a great company and a superb finance  leadership team. The two divisional Finance Directors both started at Gleeson  within my first year, so we have had a consistent senior finance team for  almost five years now. I know that I am valued for my skills and strengths  and the business is very mindful of how I manage my time – they get 100% from  me when I am in work, but they respect my time off out-of-hours or on leave.

I learned a lot of lessons from my first maternity leave  and applied them better for my second. For one thing, on my second maternity  leave I timed my return to work to allow me to come back and lead the  year-end reporting as I didn’t want to try to pick it up partway through! I  was on a phased return and the business kept my maternity cover during this  period to manage all day-to-day activities, which allowed me to focus on the  year-end and Annual Report – no small feat for a listed Plc. This helped me  transition back into work at the busiest time of year after having 8 months  off, and was right for the business as the year-end is a very demanding time  and the extra hands were needed.

Even though the business has grown so rapidly, I have been  able to deliver on my responsibilities throughout all of this time, without  feeling like my daughters miss out on me either because when I am with them,  I focus on being fully present with them. This experience has definitely  influenced (and improved!) my management style - I strongly encourage my team  to be their full selves at work, and to turn off their emails when they are  on leave and strike the right work / life balance for them – and I certainly  lead by example with this! It has helped me build up a great team who I am  really proud of, who all work well together, and who can meet the demands of producing  high quality work in a demanding, Plc environment.

 

Strong technical accounting and reporting skills are  in increasing demand right now at all levels from NQ to senior management.  Tell us why you have been so successful in these skills. What is your advice  to those accountants leaving practice and planning their careers now with  this in mind?

 

I’ve been drawn to technical accounting/reporting since I  first studied it in high school – because it’s “proper accounting”! I was  particularly drawn to the black and white nature of financial accounting  (although I have since learned that there are a few shades of grey!). There is  less ambiguity when you are reading accounting standards, looking for a right  or wrong answer. I do understand why so many accountants are attracted to  commercial finance and FP&A, and that they may want to be “closer to the  decision-making” of the business, but none of these decisions could be made  if the business did not have a solid foundation of financial controls and  reporting.

Financial accounting is where most of the rules of  accounting are applied and without these, the whole accountancy profession  would fall apart. These roles may not always appear to be the sexiest (and  the individuals may not always be the most popular within the business), but us  “accounting nerds” keep the directors out of jail, out of the bad press and  sleeping well in their beds at night! I’d say that’s a pretty crucial role,  and I know my CFO is grateful that I like right answers so much!

The demand on our Group team and technical accounting has  grown so much over recent years due to a number of changes:

-          ESG (Environmental,  Social and Governance) reporting is becoming more important and sits within  the financial reporting responsibilities.

-          The Corporate Governance  Code has changed and brought increased reporting requirements.

-          As a result, annual reports  are growing in size each year.

-          Audit requirements  increase year-on-year as the audit firms face increasing pressure, which gets  passed down as additional work for finance teams.

-          This is before we even  consider the potential impact of UK SOX in the next couple of years!

 

As a result, our Group finance team has grown from a team  of two when I started to a team of five right now, but our workload is not  getting any lighter! UK businesses need more accountants to remain in  financial accounting and meet these positive challenges as I certainly don’t  see the requirements decreasing anytime soon.

My advice to candidates in the profession is to build  their own foundations as strong as they can. In the same way everyone following  an accounting qualification starts by grasping the concepts of debits and  credits, I see financial reporting as being the key foundations to a career  in accounting and finance. You can keep building these skills a long way  beyond your qualification.

 My qualification taught me to have a strong “ethical  muscle” and to keep training it and strengthening every day. This is so  important as it teaches you how to say “no”. I am not talking about being a  “blocker of change”, but being the strength for the decision-making of the  whole business. It is a really rewarding place to be!

 

Women have accounted for less that 20% of the FD  appointments we have seen in Yorkshire over the past year. Why do you think  this is?

Oooh, I really don’t like the statistic of 20% of FD  appointments being women! I would certainly like it to be around 50%, but I  do think it will still take some time to get there because I think the  reasons for the disparity are complicated, and therefore there isn’t a quick  or easy fix to it.

 I agree with people who say “but many women choose not to  go for the top jobs”, but while it is true that individual women make choices  based on their individual circumstances and it’s not uncommon for women to  choose to “tap out” at a level below FD, these choices are made against the  backdrop of systemic prejudice going back generations. One of the factors in  this (amongst many – I could talk about this for hours!) is that our culture  and businesses are built on values that reflect the “masculine” leadership style,  which is more assertive, task-based, single-focused. There is simply not  enough value placed on the importance of the “feminine” leadership style,  which is more intuitive, empathetic, interpersonal. Both men and women can embody  both styles, and I think the big shift that is needed, and is starting to  happen, is embracing the balance of these different styles. Placing as much  value on “feminine” leadership traits as we do “masculine” feminine traits,  regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman displaying them, is the key to  seeing gains, not just in the number of female FD appointments, but in  business results and gains across society as a whole.  

I have talked through my experiences of building a career  through two maternity leaves in the questions above, and I strongly believe  that this experience strengthens you as a leader and an operator. Gleeson now  has an improved version of me and I will always be grateful to them for  supporting me through this season of my life. I have really stepped in to my  own leadership style over this time, and I embrace the fact that empathy and  connection are some of my key strengths, and I encourage them in my team. I  want them to not only feel confident about their abilities at work, but also confident  and safe within themselves.

 

 

Who have been the most important influencers in your  career?

During the course of our interview, one name came up three  times – Stefan Allanson, CFO of Gleeson plc. It was little surprise that  Lindsey mentioned Stefan as being her key influencer;

I’ve worked with and had the pleasure of knowing a lot of  inspiring people in my career so far, and I’ve had the privilege of working  with a really great senior finance team for the past five years, but  ultimately I have to say my biggest influencer has been Stefan. He was the reason  I joined Gleeson in the first place, and I have never regretted that  decision.  I have learned so much from  him it would be impossible to try to name everything, but two things that  really stand out are his drive for constant improvement and the fact that he  holds his high standards and does not apologise for them. Stefan and I have  different styles in a lot of things, but a lot of our values are the same and  I really respect what he does. I am so grateful for everything I’ve learned  working with him.

 

 What do you love most about your job?

I love being part of a team that is both supportive and  dynamic in equal doses – we get the balance right. Everyone feels that they  can be who they actually are and not pretend to be someone else. We also have  the right balance of taking things seriously and producing really  high-quality work and living with a lot of demands on our time, and having a  lot of fun – like when we start our morning catch ups by putting our hands  into a circle (virtually) and yelling “Go Team!”

 I also take a lot of pride in being one of the experts in  the team on all technical accounting knowledge. Being the “go to person” for questions  keeps me on my toes and contributes in a major way to my feeling respected  and valued in the business.

 

Tell us about Lindsey outside of work

 

I live in Sheffield with my two daughters of 1 ½ and 4  years old – which keeps me very busy!

In the past year and a half I’ve really been investing in  my personal growth and self-awareness, and it’s been life changing! I have been  working with “life coaches” who have really helped me dig deep into  understanding myself, trusting myself, and identifying areas for continuous  expansion. I have been specifically influenced by Brené Brown’s work  on vulnerability, shame, empathy, and wholehearted living – I can’t get  enough of her books! I have experienced such a transformation myself that I  have started my own coaching business (alongside my role at Gleeson and  parenting!) for women who are looking for “more” in their lives, so I can  support them in being their authentic selves and shining their lights  brighter and brighter! I know there are many professional women out there who  could benefit from these messages, and I’m excited to do this work alongside  them! (Connect with me on Instagram if you’re interested – @lindsey.hall.rises)

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