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FD Forum 2003

The sixth annual Richmond Events Finance Directors’ Forum will take place from 11-14 June 2003 on board the P&O ship Aurora. For three nights, a top-notch list of UK finance director delegates will rub shoulders with expert speakers and supplier companies at the premier event in the FD’s calendar.

This year, the programme includes a wide range of workshops, seminars, presentations and keynote speeches to address the needs of FDs in today’s environment of legislation, regulation and economic downturn. Softer issues such as personal development and communication will also be addressed and, on a lighter note, two sessions on wine tasting are sure to wet your whistle.

This year’s event will see some familiar faces returning as guest speakers, among which is Kent Atkinson, former FD of Lloyds TSB and current chairman of Marconi’s audit committee, who will speak on communicating with the City. Steve ‘Pensions Personality of the Year’ Bee, head of pensions at Scottish Life, returns after a year’s absence to tell FDs how they stand on pensions. Broadcaster and consultant James Bellini, last year’s conference chairman, will offer FDs suggestions on how to deal with the media. And Financial Director editor Andrew Sawers is hosting a session on corporate governance, with Jane Fiona Cumming of Article 13 and Chris Hoare of BAA.

New additions to the speaker lineup include conference chairman Evan Davis (economics editor for the BBC), John Collier (former CEO of the ICAEW), who will tackle FD relationships with audit committees, and Lindsay Oram from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, who will impart her knowledge of tannins. We have categorised this year’s FD Forum under five headings – corporate strategy, corporate governance, numbers, the FD’s role and personal development.

Corporate strategy

This year, the FD Forum is being run jointly with another Richmond Events conference, the Catering Forum. So, who better than Luke Johnson from Riskcapital Partners and chairman of Signature Restaurants to address both sets of delegates before the Aurora sets sail on Wednesday, 11 June.

Johnson will speak on the subject of risk: “Risk-taking is the very essence of successful business and, indeed, the basis of human civilisation.”

Johnson will also share his experiences of buying Pizza Express and floating the company in 1993. As chairman, he grew the chain from 40 restaurants to 250 and increased the share price from 40p to over 900p. He then started Signature Restaurants, which includes The Ivy, Le Caprice, and the Strada and Belgo chains.

There will be two presentations covering strategy and business climate. Dougie Adams will address the current economic climate and aims to give an overview of how economic forces collide and cascade throughout the world. “I will be reviewing the immediate prospects for the world economy. The economists come up with lots of numbers, but what this actually means for FDs is what I will be driving at,” says Adams. “Is there a recovery coming? I am actually quite positive about the outlook for the Anglo-Saxon economies, but Europe is a different matter.”

Philip Ullah and John Whight of Catalyst Development will examine how companies react to these economic forces in restructuring their businesses.

This presentation is based on case studies and provides a list of critical things to consider when restructuring.

A workshop by Forum regular Simon Carter will address how FDs approach the issue of strategic development and how confident FDs are at arguing about strategy with other board members.

Corporate governance

In this post-Enron, WorldCom, Higgs and Smith environment, corporate governance is one of the most important issues for FDs. A workshop hosted by Andrew Sawers of Financial Director magazine and Jane Fiona Cumming of Article 13 will cover how corporate governance is a driving force in UK business and whether it will eventually stifle business creativity.

Chris Hoare will also talk about his experience reviewing BAA’s relationships with its neighbours and the importance of corporate governance in its long-term strategy.

Two discussion groups, hosted by leading lights in the corporate governance arena, will provide an opportunity for FDs to share their experience of legislation and regulation, as well as boardroom politics. Former group FD of Lloyds TSB and current Marconi audit committee chairman Kent Atkinson will team up with IoD corporate governance executive Patricia Peter to discuss the role of non-executive directors.

The Atkinson/Peter partnership will also hold a second session on non-executive directors, this time looking at how FDs can become non-execs – Atkinson should know as he holds non-exec positions at Marconi, Coca-Cola and the Cookson Group.

“Kent will be leading on the subject of non-executive directors, while I will tackle the issue of FDs and whether they should become non-execs,” says Peter. “I will address the risks and benefits of being a non-exec.”

John Collier, former chief executive of the ICAEW, will host a session on audit committees. “I will share some findings from a research report I am conducting with the FDs, senior audit partners and audit committee chairmen. I will cover different styles of audit committee, the Smith Report and the issue of finding the right people for audit committees – all from the FD’s perspective,” he says.


While much of the FD Forum is dedicated to strategy and development issues, FDs must not lose sight of the beans. This year, Steve Bee of Scottish Life returns to regale delegates with amusing stories about the current state of the pensions market and how FDs are dealing with ensuring that the pensions pot remains full.

“This is the first time we have ever had retrospective tax legislation affecting pensions. Every pension scheme in the UK will be affected. That should be enough of a reason to come along,” says Bee.

Steve Sprigens of Barclays will also work with delegates in a workshop on treasury to ensure that FDs get real returns on working capital while maintaining liquidity.

The FD’s role

This magazine stopped talking about the changing role of the FD years ago. It has always been changing and the most successful FDs have always been commercially and strategically minded. Graham Sterry of performance coaching company Inside Out knows this too.

Sterry will examine some of the latest thinking in terms of FDs’ personal development and how they can make a greater impact on their organisations.

The second of Atkinson’s discussion groups will cover how FDs communicate with investors, analysts and the media, how the City views the FD and vice versa, and when to say ‘no comment’ to the press.

On a one-to-one basis, James Bellini (last year’s conference chairman) will be available to help FDs understand how the media works. “My one-to-ones are primarily about technique and how to handle the media,” Bellini says. “But I will also talk to FDs specifically about the role of the FD, about salaries and audit – those areas that FDs will be asked about in the real world of the press. I will conduct a five-minute interview with each FD, and it won’t be an easygoing chat about their holidays. We will then go back and appraise their interview technique and talk about how the media machine operates.”

Personal development

Some of the most popular sessions on board the FD Forum in recent years have been about soft issues, such as communication, personal development and presentation. This year, a blend of serious insight and lighthearted sessions will cover personal development from how to take actions to what wine to select on board the ship.

Ullah and Whight of Catalyst Development will take some predefined principles and frameworks along with personal experiences of the delegate group to examine how to align leadership development programmes with personal and company goals – all focused on producing bottom line benefits.

“We are going to fire up the participants,” says Whight. “We’ll start with a short video on leadership and then involve delegates in a discussion about the perception of leadership and how leaders affect the whole organisation. We will draw some conclusions and create a checklist of FDs to take away with them. We will also look at some good and some not so good examples of leadership and its effect on organisations going through restructuring.”

Lindsay Oram of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust has a few words to say about what wine to drink with your meals on board the Aurora. “I will be taking two sessions. The first is on ‘anything but Cabernet’. I want to introduce people to other grape varieties. I know Cabernet makes super wine, but I will be giving FDs the opportunity to taste other grape varieties and feel confident when they are looking at a wine menu,” Oram says.

“The second session is all about Sauvignon Blanc and what happens to it when it moves around the world. It is the same grape, but it takes on different characteristics, depending where you are.”

Ian Thomas, an ex-game ranger will close the forum on the Friday night with a riveting comparison of how lions hunt in teams and how businesses operate.

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