Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Q&A: Keith Butcher, FD, Optimal Payments

Rise early or work late?
I generally tend to work late as I’m based in London but over half of our 650 staff is in North America, including many of the senior executives, so I do a lot of late nights. Optimal Payments is now in the top 15 companies on AIM by market cap, so investor relations takes up an increasing amount of my time. When we have a major news item, like our recent US acquisition, the calls start at 7am. It can be a full day.

Training preferences: on the job or formal?
On the job. I’m not convinced that accountancy training really prepares you for being a FD when suddenly it’s all about looking forward and using the numbers to make key strategic decisions, like headcount cuts or major acquisitions. They can’t really teach you that in class – you have to learn it over the years.

What’s your management style?
Relaxed but organised so everyone knows what is expected of them and by when. I have a good personal relationship with all of the senior staff in my finance team of 60 and a good working relationship with our board and the senior executives.

Does delegation come easy?
Yes and increasingly so, as we have put into place numerous additional financial and reporting processes as the business has grown rapidly in the last 18 months – adding over 250 heads. It’s important to have the right team to delegate to, so you can focus more on strategic goals of the company. My job isn’t to produce the accounts but it’s to ensure that the information that we provide to the board and executive team highlights the key areas that require focus.

Who do you rely on most?
My two heads of finance that run our finance teams for our two products, NETELLER and NETBANX, along with our CEO, COO, company secretary and in-house counsel.

Boardroom or restaurant?
It’s a bit of both, the boardroom is really there to approve the strategy set out by the CEO and CFO and monitor progress, while the restaurant is a lot more informal and conducive to blue sky thinking.

What technology would you never be without?
My iPhone is an essential tool, as I travel so much internationally as we have seven offices around the world which I visit regularly. I also do an increasing amount of travel for investor relations around Europe and the US so having email on the move is essential – and Google Maps to find the next location.

Are you an FD for life?
I expect so…I have 12 years’ experience in turning around AIM-listed technology companies and have created substantial shareholder value in doing so – over $1.5bn (£0.93bn). I think my strengths lie in being the right hand man to the CEO helping them to make the key decisions.

What keeps you awake at night?
I always sleep soundly. Over the years I’ve learned to accept that things will go wrong from time to time and not to panic about them. Lying awake at night doesn’t solve the problems. The up-front planning to try to ensure things go smoothly is the key. We have in place robust financial and operational processes and we have a clear vision of our growth strategy in the payments solution industry. So I’m comfortable we are in control of our own destiny.

Critical advice to aspiring FDs?
It’s important to understand the whole business, not just the numbers, and to have a two/three year view on the strategy and potential pitfalls. Never get pressured into telling the market what you think it wants to hear rather than what you are 99% certain you can actually deliver. It’s amazing how many companies fail in that simple task – and once you miss the numbers fund managers have another 1,000 companies to look at who are delivering on their promises. That mantra has served me well since I’ve been on AIM.

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Leadership & Management
Leadership & Management
Leadership & Management
Leadership & Management
Leadership & Management
Leadership & Management