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Cobham CFO calls on government to back graduate and apprentice sponsorship schemes

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

Simon Nicholls, chief financial officer at FTSE 250 defence business Cobham: The biggest challenge our business has faced in the past year is coping with volatility in underlying demand in our shorter-cycle businesses, and then predicting the impact changes in demand patterns will have on our financial performance. The finance function plays a key role in pulling together inputs from the business and translating this into an integrated financial forecast that we can rely on in order to communicate effectively with the City. This is not an easy task.

What is your position on whether the UK should leave or remain within the EU, and what impact will the outcome of the referendum have on your business?

The UK will be much stronger as an integrated member of the EU. I don’t see that the outcome of a referendum, whichever way the vote went, would make a significant difference to our business, which is much more dependent on global macroeconomics.

Which capex projects will you be focusing on in 2016, and how will these be financed?

We are not a particularly capital-intensive business. Our biggest capex requirements are in our aviation services business based in Australia where we are mobilising four aircraft for a long-term search-and-rescue contract for the Australian government. The purchase of these aircraft, and associated modifications, are being funded from the group’s existing bank borrowing facilities.

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

Graduate and apprentice sponsorship schemes would be very helpful. We need to encourage and develop the next generation of design engineers.

What is the biggest project the finance function will undertake to support your business’s strategic aims in the year ahead?

It’s tough to nail a single project. The top priorities in the finance function, to support delivery of the group’s strategy, are to provide a more robust and reliable monthly financial forecast, perform a comprehensive capabilities assessment across the function, and improve the accountability within the business for monetisation of benefits from continuous improvement activities.

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