Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » “More FDs should spend time outside finance”: Steve Clayton, Fujitsu UK & Ireland CFO

As someone who had his eye set on the finance director role since first training as a management accountant at cable and construction company BICC Cables and supermarket chain Asda, Steve Clayton, CFO at Fujitsu UK and Ireland, says he took an “awful risk” to move outside of finance for seven years to work in other managerial roles during his time at the IT provider.

A stint heading up Fujitsu’s business assurance division led to a role as its director for mergers and acquisitions, and spending three years working solely to source and integrate target companies.

During that time, Clayton secured the successful acquisitions of TDS InformationsTechnologie, Mandator and supported Fujitsu Limited in Japan on the recent acquisition of Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC), now a subsidiary.

He saw it as a risk, but believes in the wisdom of doing so and laments how few finance managers follow his lead to obtain experience outside finance, where they might gain a fresh perspective on the role and a greater appreciation of how a business operates.

“Working in the finance team, people often think that they have to stay there to move up the ladder. But I don’t think that’s true anymore,” he tells Financial Director. “More finance managers should spend time outside finance to reappraise the risks and challenges it faces, and how its operations are run on a daily basis. They need to understand the business as well as experience it, and I don’t think enough FDs have had that experience outside of their own departments.”

This background may prepare Clayton for the business challenges that lie ahead as government cuts start to take effect. The most pressing of these challenges is how to win more private sector clients and how to operate more efficiently. UK government contracts account for about 60 percent of Fujitsu’s UK business, but the company wants to decrease its exposure to the potential of losing government contracts.

“Back when Labour came into power in 1997, the government started offering huge contracts for IT infrastructure projects in public sector organisations. Obviously, we wanted to win this new business and this became our core area of focus,” he explains. “But over the past couple of years, we have re-thought this strategy and we are making a renewed attempt to win more private sector business.”

And Fujitsu has already announced some wins. It recently developed and launched a new smartphone app with Premier Inns, the UK’s biggest budget hotel chain, which allows customers to check availability and book rooms. It has refreshed its contracts with travel company Stagecoach to provide technical support for rail ticketing systems on South West Trains and East Midlands Trains, and it is supporting Virgin Media in the installation of residential and business services, as well as also providing engineering services.

Fujitsu is also exploring commercial opportunities for cloud computing services. Clayton says the company wants to offer clients a shared-service platform that cuts their capital expenditure on IT equipment and infrastructure, and reduces Fujitsu’s costs.

Clayton took up the appointment as CFO of Fujitsu UK and Ireland in in April 2009, returning to the finance job after 8 years. Today, he heads up a finance function that encompasses five divisions: government, private sector, Fujitsu Technology Solutions (formerly FSC), the Republic of Ireland, and core service delivery units. The business turns over more than £2bn every year, and the UK & Ireland is its second-largest business.

But it was his time outside of finance that makes Clayton stand out from other FDs and attracted the attention of the company’s chief executive, he says.

“It was a tough decision to come out of finance to spend two years heading up business assurance, as the predominant route to becoming CFO is to stay in finance,” says Clayton. “But it turned out to be the right move for me. It gave me a direct reporting line to the chief executive, and it also provided a much broader perspective on the business, its operations and ambitions.”

And being in M&A put him in the spotlight. “It was an intense workload but a great experience. It was also fortunate timing: I became M&A director in 2006 when deal-making was at its height, and left in 2009 – just as the market dropped,” he adds. “I felt it was one of the company’s core strategic goals at the time, and it provided a very steep learning curve. Not only was I looking at the financials of the target companies that we wanted to acquire; I also had to examine due diligence work, consider legal risks, and ensure that the company would be a good commercial fit for the business and its operations for the future.”

While Clayton has achieved his ambition of becoming a CFO, he has no plans to move further up the C-suite. “Becoming CFO is a dream job, but a CEO is a totally different ball game,” he says.

CV: Steve Clayton, CFO Fujitsu UK & Ireland

CFO, Fujitsu UK and Ireland

Director for M&A, Fujitsu

Business assurance director, Fujitsu

Finance director for service delivery, Fujitsu Services

Management accountant, ICL

Trainee accountant, BICC Cables; Asda

Click here to read Steve Clayton’s thoughts on supply chain risk and Fujitsu’s response to the Japan earthquake and tsunami