Feb 21, 2023
Aug 24, 2023
CFO Interviews
CFO Network

Phil White, CFO

Feb 21, 2023
Aug 24, 2023
CFO Interviews

Phil White, CFO

Phil has one of the most illustrious CFO CVs in Yorkshire, most recently acting as CFO at Carclo PLC in West Yorkshire. He has over 20 years’ experience of leading the finance functions of some well-known businesses such as Sheffield Forgemasters, Andrew Page, Jacuzzi and VTL.

Phil has been a VIP client at Pratap Partnership for several members of our team for many years. He has been a valuable sounding board and source of feedback for us as we have grown our business.

We were delighted that he agreed to share some of his perspectives with us (and very impressed that he was so energetic the morning after completing the Liversidge Half Marathon!). Phil has a lens of finance leadership in Yorkshire across many sectors, but especially in manufacturing and engineering. He has worked with so many of the advisers across our network and has built a career story that can inspire many of the next generation of CFOs.

We are always interested to know what pulled finance leaders into a career in finance. How did an English Literature graduate from Cambridge make the decision and the move into finance?

A string of weird coincidences found me taking up my old school friend’s intake place at Spicer & Pegler (later Deloitte) in Cambridge after he turned it down at the last minute, unbeknown to me. We had both just finished our English degree at different Cambridge colleges so the parallel world continued!

My English degree was about as much use as a wet weekend for studying accountancy, which seemed like a good route to get into the business world. And it meant I was really starting out in a very alien world at the time.

However the ability to articulate what the numbers mean to key stakeholders and business colleagues at all levels becomes increasingly important as your finance career develops, so ironically it has now become a significant differentiator.

We know how successful you have always been in finding new financial leadership positions. What is your advice to other Finance Leaders in how to plan their job search successfully?

Keep networking, especially with those in the market you feel you have an understanding with, so they have a feel for what might be of relevance to you. Keep the net wide and reasonably regular, and the law of probabilities increases of finding a match. I can scarcely remember coming into a post from a cold application. I am nearly always contacted or made aware of a role that may be of interest.

There is currently a trend for school leavers wanting to join the emerging technology industry; what can the finance industry do to encourage more school leavers and graduates to join them?

The two should not be in conflict, as finance training is invaluable whether you are attracted to emerging technologies or not – you can go for both, where the opportunity presents itself.  Emerging technology needs finance management disciplines more than established sectors due to the management of more seismic risks, opportunities, growth and setbacks. Here, a steady pair of finance hands is critical, and those who venture into more emerging sectors take the risks with the opportunities, and there is probably nowhere better than a training in finance management to understand and benefit from this.

The finance industry does not present itself well and I was never attracted to what I saw as its representatives and role models. It still appears staid. It would do better to illustrate how widely a career using finance can develop with a decent finance qualification. For the ambitious, a CEO or Chair with finance grounding is massively enabling, and it is no coincidence that we see many CFOs becoming CEO or Chancellor becoming PM. But more widely it is just such a good grounding for any involvement in business. So, I would say if any school leaver wants to get involved in business in anyway, get as good a grounding or qualification in finance as your time or funds can afford.  

Our CFO Annual Report showed that the Manufacturing and Engineering sectors were the two busiest for the recruitment of CFOs last year (representing 28% of all of the appointments). What have been the challenges for the manufacturing sector over the past few years? What are the main impacts that a strong CFO can make?

Yes, I am seeing more and more demand for manufacturing and engineering CFOs and expertise here, contrary to a few decades of focus on financial and other services and digital/tech.

The reason seems to be mainly due to the intense challenges facing these squeezed-margin businesses against lower cost global competition.  For some reason I am attracted to the challenge of fighting for the underdog, so I thrive on finding new financial solutions in challenging situations in manufacturing and engineering, B2C and B2B services, supply chain, distribution, contract management, and exceeding all key stakeholder expectations. Focusing on what drives the cash inflow is essential, as is cutting out what doesn’t. Much of the challenge is people-oriented in persuading colleagues to let go of evaluated sacred cows which no longer work and focus resources on new solutions and lines with more potential.

A strong CFO is people-oriented and can articulate situations and root cause effectively. Sounds easy? I rarely see it. As in any board position, a strong CFO has to understand and manage expectations carefully but firmly. Expectations are particularly significant for a CFO as they are backed by numbers and forecasts by which a board and the CFO succeeds or otherwise, so a firm hand on the tiller and a good understanding of the business and colleagues is essential here.

You have held CFO roles in companies that are listed, private equity and privately owned. What is the major difference between the focuses for the CFO in each? Should relevant previous experience always be a consideration for a new recruitment campaign?

Privately owned businesses are our bedrock. They demonstrate a great source of entrepreneurialism, innovation, flair and tactical resilience at its best, so it’s a must to experience and admire.  

PE is where the clever stuff comes in and involves working hard with immensely talented business-people who are very, very good at identifying and monetising high potential business models and cutting away the poor business models. They process the best of our privately owned businesses, and the skill is to keep the cream on the milk and not lose the magic ingredients of the private enterprise.

PLCs present best practice in all worlds, so you have to be spot on in corporate governance, financial reliability, and anticipating and delivering to what the market, key stakeholders, banks, pension funds and boards want. This is the place for sharpened skills and experience and the sort of 360-degree vision that’s worthy of a good footballer!

I am forever astounded at the call for previous experience. It is the great irrelevant Catch 22 like the Equity card for the actor who can’t be allowed to play Hamlet unless they have played Hamlet!

The skilled recruiter on behalf of the employer has to join the dots that they have and identify the capability of the individual; their potential flair and reliability, while allowing for some modicum of basic aptitude.

If past experience and relevance was followed assiduously by recruiters, there is no way people like me or my school and college compatriot would have been allowed to move from English to Accountancy in the blink of an eye!

This is what is so fascinating and unnerving about recruiting. You can’t do it on a conservative model of just past experience. If an ambitious and energetic candidate is re-treading the boards, I would be a little concerned.

What is the next chapter for Phil White?

Who knows?!

Nik Pratap
Lorraine Pratap
Elise Walsh
Gillian McBride
Nicola Worrow
Amanda O’Neill
Karen Caswell
Dale Spink
Charlotte Morgan-Smith
Gemma Hutchinson
Jess Lister
Alex Mostyn-Jones
Alex Mostyn-Jones
Claire Screeton
Claire Screeton
Euan Begbie
Euan Begbie
Marie Carroll
Marie Carroll
Lucy Miles
Nicola Beach
Leighton Thomas

Other articles