Mark started his career in finance at a two-partner firm of Chartered Accountants in Barnsley on a modern apprenticeship scheme studying the AAT. The firm then merged with a larger local firm where he studied and successfully completed his ICAEW qualifications. After 17 years in practice Mark decided a career change was necessary to pursue the next stage of his career with the overriding objective of becoming a finance director.
What made you choose a career in accounting?
When I was studying my A-Levels I really had not decided what I wanted to do for a career. One of my chosen subjects was Business Studies and it was the only one of my A-Levels I would say I enjoyed. The finance module was the only part that resonated with me and my belief was that working in finance would give me exposure to all areas of a business instead of not just being isolated to one area - and how correct that turned out to be.
How did you make the jump from Financial Controller to Finance Director?
My first Financial Controller role was in a manufacturing SME. Once I had settled in it soon became apparent that the role was - in my opinion - very narrow and I could not see any added value to it, so I changed it to what I believed it should be by getting involved with the rest of the business, project implementations and leading non-finance based projects. Being the no. 1 in finance on site reporting into a global organisation that knew little of UK compliance, legislation or how that subsidiary ran day to day, I was able to transform the finance reporting and function as a whole, and influence the structure of the company, which included recruitment to ensure a stable leadership team. I was effectively behaving as a Finance Director without having been appointed as such, whilst waiting for the right opportunity to come along.
The opportunity at Beatson Clark came by with a speculative enquiry as to whether I was open to a move. The opportunity was with a long-established, well-run organisation within manufacturing - a similar market to what is now my previous employer - and I was motivated and fully prepared to progress. The existing Finance Director was looking to retire in a couple of years, and so a Financial Controller role was available reporting into the experienced FD. This was an opportunity for me to understand the transition required from FC to FD. Just one week after the successful completion of my 3-month probation in April this year, I was advised by the now former FD that in his opinion I was already capable of doing his job. He retired in the middle of August.
The time spent in my previous role as FC (self-appointed FD in my head!), had been the perfect opportunity to look beyond the numbers and into the business, just like my A-Level Business Studies had suggested. The role here is very broad, there is no chance of getting bored, and I am enjoying it immensely. As well as finance and the stereotypical additional responsibilities of payroll and IT, I am also directly responsible for both our recycling plant and our warehousing and distribution, yet I still get to crunch some numbers whilst worrying about energy prices, carbon reduction, supply chains and pricing in between. I feel like the transition from FC to FD has been natural, but maybe that is just me - not wanting to get bored and looking past what I am doing and what the numbers appear to be saying to what the numbers are actually saying and what I could be doing to improve not only those numbers and the business but also myself professionally.
What have been some of the biggest challenges and successes in your career so far?
Brexit planning was definitely a challenge - three times I had planned for it, the third was the charm as it actually happened! My first FC role was at a business that did a lot of importing and exporting, which of course pre-Brexit was very straight forward. I had no experience of import/export procedures, incoterms etc, and the business had no internal expertise to deal with what was coming, so in I stepped. After many, many webinars, seminars, meetings, hours of research, leaning on my professional network, Brexit happened. And a success it was too, for the business anyway. No delays at the borders for goods either in or out, no disruptions to the supply chain. It was a real success.
My latest challenge, of course, is taking my seat in the senior leadership team at Beatson Clark as not only the newest, but also the youngest member of that team. With a wealth of expertise in the glass industry sat around the table, I find that although it’s a new industry for me, the transferable skills being a qualified finance professional has equipped me with have put me in good stead to fit in and carry my own weight. Putting across my ideas as an industry outsider, and a motivation to enhance and improve a very long well established successful business, will no doubt bring some challenges, however improvements are already being made which of course led me to my appointment to the team after such a short time here.
What advice would you give to young accountants starting out their career?
Start in practice, it's a good way to get the basics and get you through your exams. You will cover a lot of industries in a short period of time and will lay down good disciplines that you will use throughout your career. Once you have qualified, you can then decide what area of finance you wish to focus on, whatever that may be.
If you could give your 21-year-old self one piece of advice what would it be?
Work out what it is you really would like to achieve in your career and go for it.
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