EXCELLENCE in the finance profession today does not just call for great technical skills, but also great leadership and strategic skills. Expense Reduction Analysts is launching the Ones to Watch initiative to celebrate the achievements of the profession and specifically those finance directors making a name for themselves in their respective companies.
The campaign will represent 20 FDs that have over the last 12 months exemplified what the profession brings to their organisations in terms of leadership; sound financial planning; innovation; decisiveness; communication skills and clear operational improvement.
The full report will be available with the November issue of Financial Director.
Finance director, Hobbs
Taking the reigns of a retailer in the teeth of a recession takes a lot of courage, but it’s not just that quality that has marked Loraine Woodhouse out from her peers.
As FD of Hobbs she faces one of the toughest challenges known to the modern FD – safeguard the bottom line in a time of stagnant growth and consumer confidence that can only be optimistically described as fragile.
But Woodhouse has the experience to tough it out. In 2004, she joined Whitbread where she held the role of Divisional CFO of Costa Coffee Liberty International Group, one of the conglomerates major recent success stories. Interestingly, she was instrumental in improving the business’s sustainability credentials, an area sometimes ignored by finance but increasingly central to operations (and perceptions).
After Costa she moved to Capital Shopping Centres in 2008 as Finance Director, before arriving at the Hobbs hotseat. At Hobbs she’ll be serving two masters: chief executive Nicky Dulieu, who used to be the FD at Hobbs and so knows the numbers better than anyone, and 3i, the PE backers with a 70% stake who will be expecting the FD to deliver consistent growth despite the challenges on the high street.
What marks Woodhouse out is her determination to take on a challenge. Named as a Woman to Watch by Cranfield, she clearly commands respect from her peers and is set for an interesting career particularly if she stays in retail, the sector having proved a happy home for many female FDs, from Stacey Cartwright at Burberry to Dulieu herself.
Finance director, Hays Recruitment
It can’t be easy being in the recruitment business in the middle of a recession. For many in the sector the collapse of Lehmans was all the proof they needed that a career change might be in order. And that was doubly true of those exposed more to the financial services end of the sector.
But Paul Venables has stuck it out and indeed has steered Hays with such confidence that some are already predicting his departure for pastures new any time soon. The reason for that is his ability to switch effortlessly between a growth agenda and ruthless cost cutting depending on the prevailing winds. In doing so, he ensured Hays had a ‘good crisis’ despite its exposure to some of the hardest hit areas.
Like many FDs and CFOs Venables seized the chance offered by the recession to start the fat trimming in earnest. Much of Hays’ antiquated systems were automated and outsourced; back office operations were rationalised and slimmed down to a more manageable and flexible size allowing Hays to grow internationally, and data collection has been beefed up to aid business intelligence.
As well as these operational improvements, what also marks Venables out is his comfort in assuming a spokesperson’s role not just for Hays but for finance executives generally. Indeed he recently told FD of his frustration with the Borders Agency’s insistence on capping the levels of non-EU workers coming to the UK.
“In a global, recovering economy, why would any government want to stop businesses hiring the best people? I just don’t understand it,” he said. Strong stuff. When too few FDs are prepared to put their heads above the parapet, seeing a consummate professional taking a stand on the issues that matter to his industry is refreshing.