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

CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, was where I started my working life. I completed a doctorate in nuclear physics at Bath University and as part of that study was based at the site near Geneva for 16 months. It just at the point at which point the Electron Collider was being decommissioned to make way for what everyone knows as the Large Hadron Collider- the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. It was an interesting time to be there.

But then I decided I didn’t want to do physics any more, as the scientific environment wasn’t really me. I came back to university to do my finals thinking if I don’t want to do physics what do I do next, I was never going to do it for the rest of my life after working on my PhD.

I really liked the idea of going into business. I was a 22-year old not really knowing what that meant, but I was going around to a number of ‘milk round’ events at the time, where you got free feed and drinks. I went to quite a lot of them and ‘ultimately came across KPMG, and decided I liked their pitch a lot.

Like most things in life it was a little bit accidental. I applied to join the firm and was accepted. I also signed up for another three years of exams that I was adamant I wasn’t going to do. I was at KPMG for eight years, but unlike a lot of people who were there I didn’t just leave when I qualified.

A lot of my time was in audit. I was largely based at the Gatwick office, what they call the markets practice- referring to any clients outside of London that needed servicing-so £50m businesses that were showing strong growth and going through big change as well.

Everything from pension schemes to charities, were my clients at KPMG, including the disability charity Scope and the International Planned Parent Federation (IPPF). Among the corporates I worked on for several years was electrical equipment group Philips UK.

I also worked with a lot of SMEs that no-one will ever have heard of. That set me up for my time at McLaren Automotive, the sports car maker, where I initially joined as financial controller.

One of the things that needed to happen at McLaren Automotive was for it to develop its own finance function. Until the time I started it had been largely managed by a group function, as Automotive had just been spun out of the McLaren Group.

The sports car maker was about to go through a massive growth curve with sales rising from £6m a year to over annual revenues of over £600m. I went on to become CFO of McLaren Automotive and acting CFO of McLaren Group. I do remember thinking along the way I had seen these growing pains before, at my time at KPMG.