We first met Rob during the 2018 Yorkshire Finance Leaders Awards – a process that resulted in Rob being one of the ‘Outstanding’ nominations, and a stand-out winner. He had just under a year of experience at Burberry at the time; and with seven years under his belt now, we were delighted to take the opportunity to reflect on the team and successes he has built there.

Burberry has c.400 stores globally, employs nearly 11,000 people, and generates revenue in excess of £3 billion. At the time of our recent meeting, Burberry was ranked at number 79 in the FTSE 100 index.

Rob runs the Global Business Service team with offices in Leeds and Hong Kong (alongside a smaller presence in New York). With approaching 400 people in his team, there are few Finance Leaders in our region with this scale and scope.


2000-2004: CIMA Training Contract at Marks and Spencer

2004-2006: Finance Management Consultant at IBM

2006-2013: Consulting Manager – Director at EY

2013-2017: Consulting Director at PwC

2017 – to date: VP Finance and then Head of Global Business Services at Burberry

From starting his career in accounts payable, progressing through some outstanding businesses and working with many blue chip clients, he is now responsible for the Global Business Services of a £3bn turnover business; Rob has made every move in his career through his own network and whilst we have forgiven him for bypassing the recruitment industry, the lessons that we now pass on can inspire many in how to build relationships, networks, and above all take on new opportunities.

Please can you tell us what it means to be the Head of Global Business Services at Burberry?

My role carries the responsibility for leading diverse groups of people every day and for activities that influence every part of the business – for example, ensuring that all colleagues and suppliers globally are paid on time, period end accounts are produced, and non-stock procurement category teams are maximising value for the business. No one day is the same and it is the variety and breadth of scope that I really enjoy.

I joined the business following a career in consulting which gave me the perfect foundation. Burberry is a fast moving, creatively driven business and we continue to be on a transformation journey. This means we are always looking at how to improve our processes and our efficiency. All things I focused on whilst working with clients as a consultant.

Whilst many leaders will tell you that it is its’ people who make a business unique and special - and I am no different - I also believe it is the culture and values of an organisation that enable people to thrive. I am proud of our team, and pleased that we support and develop individuals. Having a supportive and progressive culture enables us to invest even more in our Learning & Development Strategy, from apprenticeship schemes to mentoring and coaching programmes and ultimately to grow our talent through helping individuals make the most of the opportunities that working for a business such as Burberry provides.

Tell us some more about your own personal experience at Burberry

I had decided to leave consulting in 2017 due to the pressures of traveling and balancing the needs of a young family. Coincidently, one of my old PwC clients approached me to tell me that he had joined Burberry to set up their global business services group (essentially the job I am now doing) and asked if I would like to set up and run the finance function. I was delighted to accept. I was Burberry’s first finance employee in Leeds and within 6 months, I had recruited a team of c.80 people. Since then, the finance team in Leeds alone has grown to c.140.

My initial remit was to establish the basic finance shared services function made up of accounts payable, accounts receivable and core financial accounting teams. It was incredibly rewarding to build up these functions from scratch, but it certainly was not without its’ challenges - recruitment, induction, transition, implementation and delivering services quickly to the business was demanding and complex. Within 12 months however we had also consolidated further services from New York and additional scope was brought in from London, as well as further consolidation of finance support into our Hong Kong office.

Following the set up and delivery of the finance function, I was asked to become the Head of Global Business Services in 2021 – adding HR operations and non-stock procurement (category management), as well as overall management of the Leeds office (landlording IT, and customer services), in addition to reflective operations in Hong Kong.

Along the way we encountered Covid, which leads on nicely to the next question.

You have achieved a lot in a short period, and also during ‘the Covid-19 years’ which presented so many challenges to employers. Have we finally settled down into the ‘new normal’?

Circumstances presented by Covid created some real positives for the shared services model. All too often, SSCs can be on the edge of a business, but Covid brought everybody together and on an equal footing.

We were able to transition to remote working relatively easily and this brought the value of our work to the fore. We brought more work into the SSC and grew the size of the finance team in Leeds by c.30% during the pandemic.

‘Hybrid vs Office vs Remote Working’ has been a hot topic over recent years, and fuelled by the societal changes brought about by COVID – my personal position is to trust people, but to be clear on the purpose of being in the office or at home… I believe both have a place and if correctly blended, can each be powerful motivators. I do believe that teams are better when they spend time together, but this does not necessarily work best when it is forced upon them and/or it is too rigid. Employees rightly value a balance, and this could be 5 days in the office at month end and 1 day the following week – there are so many situations where flexibility works better than a fixed rule; that said, I think ‘3 days a week in the office’ as a guide feels about right.

The key to making working patterns effective is mutual respect – the employee needs to respect the needs of the employer and the team with benefits of coming together, and every employer needs to respect the changing needs of its’ people.

Furthermore, looking at working patterns can be a positive factor in recruitment, retention and employee engagement, however for me it is really important to remember that at Burberry, the majority of our people work in stores. Without the work that these colleagues deliver, there would be no office culture for us to maintain in the shared service centre. We therefore need to respect that at all times, and remember our primary function is to support and enable the rest of the business and our working patterns need to reflect this.

Tell us about more about career journeys in Financial Shared Services.

I would encourage anyone considering a career in finance to look at starting in shared services, as the bedrock of any strong financial career starts with understanding the inputs and outputs.

I understand why people aspire to be a Finance Business Partner and ultimately a CFO, but in order to do that you have to have a solid understanding of what goes through the books – the financial flowchart of the business. If you have no idea how the AP process operates or the systems around the creditor book, how can you fully understand what is actually in the management reports? This extends to some more technical areas like tax, statutory accounts, fixed asset leases and inventory reporting – all the rudimentary requirements of understanding how a business works. I cannot over-emphasise how important this is and how this provides a strong foundation to any career.

A career in Shared Services offers a clear focus on the processes of the business and variety. It can also create a career path to specialist leadership roles. It exposes you to a wide stakeholder group and can be a foundation for a career that moves into commercial finance, group finance, or a route to CFO. We are seeing more and more of our people recruited internally into these roles, having started their careers in our shared service centres. I am proud to consider our team as the recruitment engine-room for other parts of the Burberry finance team.

Some advice I would give is to embrace opportunities and experiences. I was once told “There is no such thing as a bad experience in your career. There are just experiences that you may choose not to repeat again.” That was some advice that I was given at the start of my consulting career, and it really resonated with me.

No longer is it the case that there is a job for life and therefore accumulating skills, experiences and ultimately options are important no matter what stage of your career you are at.

The earliest foundations of your career were in a placement year at M&S and then a CIMA training contract that gave you the chance to undertake several roles. How much benefit did this give you?

Joining M&S was in part luck. I was not initially attracted by a career in finance and I had applied to be a Buyer. My interview went well, but my presentation exposed how bad a potential Buyer I was! Far from being bad news, the feedback on my interview was positive in my ability to communicate and interact with senior people in the room. They were impressed with how I was talking directly to them and instructing them to move around the room to accommodate my presentation (the reality was that I was pretty naïve, it was my first big interview and I was just doing what felt natural). The end result was that they offered me a placement working in the stores and I was delighted to accept.

My placement introduced me to retail and I loved it. I enjoyed the pace, the energy, and the people. I was subsequently offered a graduate training role and was encouraged to take a finance role in Head Office in London. I started to study CIMA alongside my first rotation role in AP.

The M&S training scheme was excellent, and it cemented in me a belief about learning the basics of an organisation, always being keen and eager, being prepared to stretch yourself and others, and above all, keep learning – ultimately it makes work much more interesting. We moved departments every six months on my training scheme, rotating into different teams and learning different styles and pace from the variety of people. As well as learning, this puts you in the right place to be spotted when the right opportunity comes along – my great opportunity was to become the Project Accountant for Simply Foods – great experience and a move from technical accounting into commercial, and with it the responsibility of presenting to the Food Board (the board was chaired by Justin King who went on to become CEO of Sainsburys).

I subsequently became a financial controller looking after c.40 stores as part of the divisional senior management team, looking at everything from monthly performance to store expansions, coffee shops, and decisions around floorspace. A fascinating role that was in the middle of commercial decisions.

I loved my career at M&S and was not actively looking to move on, but I was intrigued by the work of the numerous consultants engaged in the business. This led to me asking lots of questions, liking the answers, and I  decided to apply for a career in consulting.

13 years in Consulting followed M&S (initially at IBM and then at EY & PwC). Tell us about the plan to move into consulting, and how did it help you move into an ‘in-house’ role?

It was initially the variety of consulting that hooked me in. I remember looking at all the various consultants coming into M&S and the exposure they got to the senior management was fantastic. It looked like an interesting and potentially rewarding career. I liked all the consultants I spoke to and related to them – that was really important to me. I was impressed with what they did and felt that I could step up into a similar role.

I applied to two organisations, but it was the people at PwC that made them the only offer that I would accept. From the people at the reception and all through the interview process I was made to feel welcome and relaxed – this is a lesson I have learnt when I am interviewing candidates – I am at pains to put them at ease and make every interview a two-way conversation.

I was 27 at the time and thought that I had nothing to lose. Thinking I would probably stay in consulting for two to three years, I did not expect it to last thirteen years.

In between applying to PwC and starting work, the consulting business was sold to IBM. So I started working for a business I had never applied to, this was in itself an interesting experience. My first assignment was unexpectedly in Blackpool – a brilliant experience but one that had me questioning the ‘glamour’ that had initially attracted me to the career! (That is a different story for another day!)

In hindsight, going into consulting was not the ‘traditional route’ for where my career has subsequently gone, but at the time I never questioned it. I was less fixated on the long term and more interested in looking at the opportunities that were immediately in front of me. M&S was a great opportunity, IBM equally so, and then the opportunities found their way to me from the people I had met and the reputation I had built. One of the partners from IBM went to EY and asked me to join him with two others.

The next phase of my career was one of the most rewarding: I loved EY, the culture and people were fantastic. I was fortunate to work with some of the world’s biggest brands and travelled (and worked!) in Africa, America, and Europe. I was incredibly lucky to have some great opportunities and grow both personally and professionally. The decision to leave EY for PwC was a hard one, but it also felt right as my wife and I were starting a family and were looking to leave London where we had been based up until this point. PwC is another fantastic organisation and I once again had the opportunity to work with some great people. Sadly one of the biggest challenges in consultancy is the level of travel which ultimately was not sustainable for me with a young family, and I decided to make the move from consulting. This move was ultimately facilitated by an ex-client from my time at PwC who became my boss at Burberry.

What advice can you offer to candidates in their interviews based on your experience?

My story I think shows the importance of personal relationships and that ultimately ‘people buy people.’ The organisation and the role are important, but it is the impression that you make or leave that matters most. Now when it comes to interviewing candidates, I take as read that they can do the job (assuming they meet the minimum requirements), I then look for two things that are more difficult to measure:

  • Sparkle in the eye – do they demonstrate energy / enthusiasm?
  • Fire in the belly – how much do they want this role… is there passion for the business/

Sadly, I see candidates who have too many insecurities about specific areas on their CVs without good reason. Things can go wrong – exams can be failed, and job moves may not work out. Do not shy away from the reasons - you can own the decisions and the outcomes. There is likely to be a good explanation for anything and importantly, one that need not hold you back in the future. If you can learn from those situations and use the experience to make you stronger, then you have turned your perceived weakness into a strength.

As I said earlier in this interview ‘There is no such thing as a bad experience, just an experience that you choose not to repeat.’ In summary, demonstrate how you have learnt from your experiences and moved forward - this makes you a much better candidate.

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