THE ANNUAL 35 under 35 accountancy talent charts are imminent, and I am taking more interest this year because I am currently undertaking a recruitment campaign and am keen to benchmark the young and talented accountants looking to join my business.
Recruiting these people is certainly not a one-sided endeavour because the best talented finance professionals are very choosy, they know they are good, and they are currently in high demand across many sectors. So it is less about what I am looking for in the candidates in my battle for talent, it is more about what these candidates expect of the various suitors and it is a seller’s market.
From CVs and interviews, it is interesting how much the most talented individuals differ from their predecessors, and what their expectations are.
Early in my professional career technical excellence was the prominent feature, but I was proud and smug about predicting the sociological and business effects of the technology revolution.
However, I did not know then how limited my understanding was about the significance of that revolution. My early naive underestimation of the impact on the FD role is embarrassing, and therein lies a warning for wrongly predicting the future of our profession today.
The current crop of up and coming FDs are so well connected in all forms of social media, they each have a visible personal brand and are unashamedly fluent at online self promotion. There are no secrets, and their access to all forms of information is comprehensive and instantaneous.
They are experts in managing ‘big data’ resources to a frightening level, and are focused on marshalling those resources for continuously better decision-making. They have all gone paperless and into the cloud, rarely needing the help of a PA, and are increasingly ‘in command’ because information is power.
However, I do question the cases of overconfidence that I have encountered, and the occasional overly-simplistic discussions about strategy, leadership, management and commercial development. It takes years of practice, experience, successes, failures, howlers and bruises to acquire these instincts to a competition standard and to a credible level, and I believe that certain things cannot be taught and must be learned the hard way. Impatience is not always a virtue, and I refute the dinosaur factor that some of them accuse us of.
Empathetic and strategic skills
Nevertheless, I seek out any evidenced ability to drive strategic opportunities, to see the wider context, to challenge the traditional thinking and to take advice with good grace. Fitting in and cultural empathy are key requisites. Strong accounting and financial management skills have become merely the entry tickets, although impressive educational credentials are always highly valued and I am fascinated by the wide variety of university degrees that accountants hold. One of my most promising, but wild card, corporate financial analyst recruits has a PhD in materials used in military aircraft engine turbines.
Accountants have not traditionally been at the forefront with soft skills, but this is changing. I meet candidates whose outside of work activities are impressive and many are excellent at making presentations, bursting with personality, and keen to discuss an eclectic mix of subjects which far exceed my own experience.
Their CPD reaches into areas well beyond the minimum technical requirements, and they involve themselves in all kinds of mind-enhancing knowledge pursuits. For entertainment and enlightenment I often ask candidates about their reading lists.
My personal views about FDs of the future and career ladder pitfalls have been aired in this column previously, and this latest recruitment campaign brings the career issue into sharp focus once again. Most candidates that I have met recently have strong views on the direction that our profession is travelling and they recognise that their own career paths will bear little resemblance to those of the past.
Learning, doing, teaching
I am keen to encourage my senior colleagues not to get in their way or to hold them back. A previous chairman of mine (aged 98) once suggested that careers should contain three overlapping phases of Learning, Doing, and Teaching. His mantra, and one I agree with, was that we all owe an obligation to each other in this regard and there is no one single owner of the truth. He also coined the expression that the accountancy profession is a form of ‘University for Business’.
I take the view that my staff are in my care, and it is my duty to ensure that their careers are nurtured and protected rather than screwed up by the organisation – and so all finance appointments and moves must have my personal approval. However, the challenges that I face with today’s high potential finance professionals is becoming more demanding almost by the day.
Last month the SFD saw Paul Simon and Sting playing at the O2. They were each born with their exceptional talent but it took them a working lifetime to develop it to perfection.