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FDYP: Five finance professionals who became CFO before 35

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BECOMING a CFO can take years of hard work and dedication, working your way up the executive ladder all the way to the C-suite pinnacle.

But for some landing the job of finance director is a relatively quick process, as the technological revolution allows people to set up their own company at an extremely young age, emphasised by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Jack Dorsey at Twitter.

To celebrate Financial Director’s annual 35 under 35 list, here are five influential CFOs who entered the C-suite lounge before their 35th birthday.

/IMG/380/276380/dylan-smith-2Dylan Smith – CFO, Box (20)

What were you doing when you were 20 years old? In the UK, many will still be in their second year at university, but 20-year old American Dylan Smith decided to take a year off from his studies to establish cloud-based content management company Box with his college roommate Aaron Levine.

Smith has never gambled with his impressive reputation as Box co-founder and CFO, but at the beginning of his C-suite career he invested $20,000 (£13,800) in seed money himself paid by winnings from playing online poker.

“The World Series of Poker was becoming popular and there were a lot of really bad poker players out there. The misperception was that I was really good, but I just ground it out. It was a good way to make money for Box,” Smith said in an interview with Financial Director in November 2013.

Without an accounting background, Smith did not take a typical CFO career path. But an economics degree from Duke University, a natural flair for maths and a keen entrepreneurial spirit have arguably been just as important as an accounting qualification in building Box from a dorm room project to a multi-national business with an estimated value of $1.5bn (£930m), 20 million users and 97% of the Fortune 500 as customers.

Mitesh Velani – Finance Director, Saracens (33)

In a sport yet to fully embrace the moneybags culture one sees regularly in Premier League football, Mitesh can lay claim to turning around the financial fortunes of a rugby club once riddled with £40m worth of debt, into a club which is English Premiership champions and, according to Velani, in a ‘profit-making position’.

Mitesh first entered the professional services industry with Deloitte, and then went on to start his own business from the ground up, a character-building exercise which equipped him with the experience to take on the role as FD at the Premiership club, five years after serving as Saracens’ group financial controller.

“We invested in something great and we can take the club forward, and then you’ve got to start to take revenue from the investment,” Vitesh told Financial Director last year about the club’s Barnet-based new stadium. “That’s where we are now. We’ve settled in nicely.”

/IMG/199/222199/divinia-knowles-moshiDivinia Knowles – Finance Director, Moshi Monsters, (32)

Chances are that if you have children, you know exactly what  a Moshi Monster is.

The jewel in the crown of British entertainment company Mind Candy, the kiddy-focused social network boasts a user base of over 50 million children, a figure that former FD Knowles is very proud of.

Once wryly suggesting to Financial Director that she ‘was the finance department’, Knowles spent six years building Moshi Monster’s finance function from scratch, serving as COO, CFO and director of the company.

“I used to do all the accounts and be that business advisory function. I have also built a finance team, structured it, put in our financial systems, and budgeted across the company – but in different steering committees to finance. All those things I have done from scratch,” Knowles told Financial Director in May 2012.

In July 2014 Knowles became president of Mind Candy, and has since gone on to become COO and director of Fairtrade coffee firm Pact.

Eduardo Luiz Saverin – CFO, Facebook (22)

From the Brazilian city of São Paulo to the intellectual hotspot of Silicon Valley, Eduardo Saverin made his name as CFO of social media giant Facebook.

Like Box co-founder Smith, Saverin became CFO of a tech firm while at University, being named co-founder, CFO and business manager of Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg while studying economics at Harvard.

However Saverin and Zuckerberg’s professional relationship took a turn for the worse, as Zuckerberg severely diluted Saverin’s stake in the company and ultimately froze him out, a saga which was well documented in the Oscar-winning film The Social Network.

Despite this, Saverin is still worth a cool $5.9bn, much of that coming from his Facebook shares. Now the former CFO is a prominent investor, placing his money in a number of companies including airport car rental firm Silvercar.

Paul Connor – Finance Director, Inspired Energy (30)

Paul Connor was appointed FD of Inspired Energy, a leading UK energy procurement consultant to UK corporates and SMEs, in November 2014.

He joined as head of finance in September 2013, during a period in which the company successfully doubled turnover of £5.3m to £10.6m, and grown EBITDA from £2.6m to £4.5m.

During his time as FD the business has acquired Energisave Online Limited, as well as integrating two acquisitions into the Group in 2014, KWH Consulting Limited and Simply Business Energy Limited. The future’s bright for this young energy FD.

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