I am thrilled to present the final interview in our Career in Finance series. In this concluding episode, we have the pleasure of speaking with Victoria Brown. We delve into why she chose CIMA as her qualification, her fascinating career journey, and the invaluable advice she offers to those embarking on a career in finance.

Victoria's story is truly inspiring, showcasing her remarkable rise from her early days in finance to becoming a Finance Director. If you're considering starting a CIMA qualification or seeking guidance on advancing your career, this interview is an absolute must-read. Don’t miss out on the insights and inspiration Victoria has to offer.

Why did you choose CIMA as your qualification?

I should probably start by saying I never set out to be an Accountant, my Aunt was an ACA qualified Accountant and Partner in a successful practice. My older brother was all set to follow in her footsteps having spent every holiday doing work experience with her and studying Finance at University. Having listened to their “work chat” one thing of which I was certain was that audit was not for me!

I pursued my passion for Geology at University, which I absolutely loved, but didn’t lead into an obvious career path.

After a few months of bar work I found myself in a data analyst role working for a large organisation in their Head Office. My workload was light, and I don’t like being bored, so when I’d completed my weekly tasks by Wednesday I went looking for something to do for the remainder of the week. I was very fortunate to be taken under the wing of the FD who involved me in project work. He saw I had an aptitude for understanding patterns in data, spotting anomalies and errors and communicating the meaning behind the numbers.

He suggested that I study for my accounting qualifications, (paid for by the company), and whilst I was initially extremely resistant to the idea, (to say the least), he talked me through the various disciplines and encouraged me to follow the Management Accountant (CIMA) route.  

Management Accountants are a critical function of any business, because we work within the business we can truly understand the drivers of the numbers, both positive and negative, and suggest strategies to advance the companies success.

We provide the information to the Senior Leadership Team to assist them in running the business, that means we don’t just look backwards at past performance in terms of Profitability and KPIs (key performance indicators) but project forward to define where we are going to be i future, and how we are going to get there.

CIMA isn’t a straightforward discipline because it involves making assumptions and a bit of guesswork, especially with forward forecasting. There’s a lot of estimation involved, but that’s okay—you just need to be comfortable with it. For me, it’s really important to have my voice heard, and pursuing the CIMA qualification allows you to do that early in your career through the provision of valuable information to the Senior Team.

Could you outline your career path leading up to your current role as an FD?

My finance career really started as a Treasury accountant in a refractory company in Worksop, where I dealt with foreign exchange in multiple currencies. (It was so long ago I was working with Deutsche Marks and French Francs).

I progressed quickly through my accounting qualifications, but it took time for my experience to catch up. In order to ensure that I was acquiring as much diverse experience as possible, over the next five years I moved every 18 months or so, accumulating skills and knowledge.

Eventually, I joined AES Engineering Limited in Rotherham, where I stayed for nine years. At AES I worked with some truly inspiring people and learnt a huge amount, not just about finance, but also about running an agile, competitive, global business. I was finance lead for numerous acquisitions around the world including Australia, America, Russia and Finland and established a group management accounting function in India.

I left AES with to join a huge multinational organisation, and whilst I gained some useful experience it also solidified my knowledge that big corporate environments aren’t my preference, they require a level of internal controls (red tape) that inevitably slows down the decision making process. Good governance is vital, but in a smaller organisation you can tailor the control to allow agility.

After a few years I moved on to my first Director role at Distinction Doors, (an SME in Barnsley) where we did an MBO (management buy out) within three months of me joining. I stayed there 6 years, gaining some great experience, including qualifying as a Chartered Director which aligns well with the Management Accountant qualification.

Since Distinction Doors I have specialised in working with fast growth SMEs that require working capital funding and strong cashflow management. It’s really rewarding to nurture a company through a challenging phase to see it blossom until a successful entity and in the last 3 years I’ve successfully sold two businesses in different sectors to trade buyers who will fund the next stage of growth.

I thrive in an SME environment because I enjoy working with entrepreneurs. Although I’m not an entrepreneur myself—I’m quite risk-averse—I find that I complement them well. I can provide valuable support and insights that help them succeed.

What guidance would you offer to someone who is just beginning their career in finance?

Surround yourself with people that inspire you and you can learn from, get yourself a mentor and find a role in a company with a good value fit, (it’s never worth staying somewhere you don’t align with the company ethos or ethics).

However, don’t allow yourself to get comfortable in any role, always keep growing and developing. If I hadn’t gone looking for something to do on a Wednesday afternoon all those years ago I might still be a data analyst.

To become a Finance Director, identify the necessary skills and actively work on acquiring them, what makes a great Accountant does not necessarily translate to being a great FD. The more skills you develop, the more compelling your CV becomes.

I'm always happy to discuss your career in finance, you can contact me here.

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