Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Route to the top- Coats CFO

I knew I wanted to go into industry from an early age. At Cambridge University I was chairman of the industrial society and always had a fascination with the sector.

Opening doors into industry was a big part of my accountancy training. I joined Price Waterhouse where as an auditor I spent time with an incredibly broad set of businesses, from a Saudi international bank through to pharmaceuticals giant Beechams and drinks group Guinness.

I was lured into the City just after the period of deregulation known as Big Bang. I thought it would be quite fun to go in to deal-making, which is what I did for a few years, firstly with investment bank Hill Samuel in the UK and then in Australia with Macquarie Bank.

It was a colourful period. Lots of big deals were being done including the flotation of British Airways. But I then migrated to working on smaller companies in terms of M&A, some disposals and a few capital raisings as well. They didn’t have huge expertise themselves, so you could add more value.

But I was keen to move into industry. I wanted to see things from start to finish rather than one part of the deal. I wanted to be part of something where you could see the results of what you did rather than just getting the fee, and I was prepared to forgo some of the variety and rewards that a bank offered.

I joined drinks giant Distillers, owned by Guinness. The group wanted to acquire local brands to add to big international brands like Johnnie Walker whisky. I started in a business development role, in businesses that were disposing of some brands and acquiring others, so my corporate finance experience helped.

I stepped up to finance director of the group’s international region, which was the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe- when the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Russia were opening up. I could bring some of my M&A expertise to the job, while learning mainstream finance stuff that I’d never really done day to day.

I became FD of Guinness Great Britain. It was a great role, being heavily involved with sales and marketing, at a time when Guinness was launching extra cold Guinness. What hit me was the passion of the people in Guinness. You felt like if you cut their arm in half there’d be Guinness flowing through their veins.

I was both excited and bit nervous when Diageo was formed by the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan, as there were two people for every one job. But I think my development really accelerated as a result of that merger, as I could see the opportunities available.

I then worked in sales and marketing in the supply chain visiting the breweries an distilleries around the world. There was also a lot of integration work, after the acquisition of Seagram’s spirits, especially in North America.

Every two years I seemed to move to something else. Just as it seemed to get comfortable it was time to move on. There was a huge challenge in every role that you moved into- I never thought I could just put my feet up.

I joined electronics products distributor Electrocomponents as finance director as I really wanted to do more external facing work – especially financing and investor relations. I thought it would be the complete job for me as it would be a role that allowed me to do both of those things in a leadership position.

We had a profit warning in week three of my job, we also had an SAP implementation that was ‘pretty bumpy’, so it was probably a bigger challenge when I got into it than I could have seen from the outside, but we weathered the storm.

There was huge change over 10 years I was at Electrocomponents. From being a predominantly UK business we grew internationally and e-commerce grew from 15% to about two thirds by the time I left.

Digitalisation was a big personal journey. There wasn’t really a textbook you could follow. We were very much learning as we went along. People were ordering things at home in a personal capacity and wanted as good an experience when they got to the office.

I became a non-exec director of recruiter Page Group. I wanted to keep learning and I felt that a non-exec role would be a good way of doing that, as I am by nature better at learning on the job than I am sitting in a classroom. After a few months I became the chair of Page Group’s audit committee.

It was time to move on after a decade at Electrocomponents, to go up the learning curve. When the position of CFO of industrial thread-maker Coats  came up two years ago it appealed to me because it has elements of B2B and B2C, which I’ve had in my career at both Electrocomponents and Diageo.