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Year ahead Q&A: Craig Wildman, CFO, Albion

What have been the biggest challenges for your business over the past year, and what role did finance play in addressing them?

Albion’s biggest challenges in 2014 were a combination of factors arising from our stage and speed of development. The company enjoyed its biggest ever growth year, reaching double-digit top and bottom line growth. It also launched two new business propositions and had a majority stake acquired by US media group, kbs+.

Businesses should always be focused on their growth and strategy. During this busy time, finance played a key role in supporting day-to-day work and also structuring the business for its growth, helping secure a new future for Albion. Resourcing issues, capacity planning and environment challenges all had to be aligned.

Finance led the negotiation of all of the M&A discussions to the company’s desired growth potential and built a long-term development strategy. This guaranteed the company an attractive position for a buyer and created foundation blocks for the next 12 months.

What are the key political and economic risks/opportunities you face in the year ahead?

With the investment gained from our majority sale, we now have the funds and resources available to execute our forthcoming growth plans. The risk is knowing which areas of our strategy to pursue in what order, and to what extent we should invest in them.

Having shifted from an independent company to being part of a group, there are risks at both ends. Similarly, growing within that new group means that we also need to retain our agility to innovate. Our focus will be to maintain our independent culture while at the same time trying to grow not only within the group but also in a way that helps the overall conglomerate to grow.

Which capex projects will you be focusing on in 2015, and how will these be financed?

Two of our four new business units launching in 2015 will require capex investment, infrastructure and equipment for their respective business offerings – such as film studio with equipment and a green room. Being a business that operates with high margins and strong cash flow, the majority of our capex funding will be the excess working capital cash deposits, therefore making our working capital work harder for us and have a strong return on investment across the board.

What business-friendly policies do we want the next government to undertake to improve the environment for UK corporates?

Albion and its clients are largely entrepreneurial businesses that operate in the London Tech City ecosystem, so we know the importance of support from current and future governments. Schemes such as entrepreneur relief and research and development credits are critical in order to support and help innovative companies get off the ground. Stronger return to work policies from the current and future governments and support for working families in tough economic times also help keep the entrepreneur environment alive.

Advice for other FDs for the coming year?

Don’t sit still. Things have changed. finance directors are front office now and no longer a back office function. They are leaders of the business and not part of the support team.

We are moving into a new period of growth in our economy; push yourself to move outside your comfort zone and tackle the challenges in front of you. That’s how you grow and build a solid business that is agile for your employees, shareholders and client base.

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