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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