A life in finance teaches you some valuable skills about how to present yourself, how to grasp development opportunities, and how to know where your strengths are and what you should avoid. I have never regarded myself as a stereotypical accountant but still find myself unable to escape from a bulleted list to share my personal five-point plan to making your way in the FD world. Here goes:
- Try to find the role and surroundings where you are most comfortable
Some people claim to enjoy their work. I feel most are happy enough just to minimise the pain of having to perform for money. I have to admit that I fell into a Big Four financial accounting training contract partly because I enjoyed economics, but frankly it was a growing market and the money was good; how’s that for career planning? It’s probably a bit late for most readers, but do your children a favour and help them find the right career path. Retrospectively, if either I or anyone helping me had considered the type of roles that would really suit me and suit my personality (and those that wouldn’t), I might have moved into management accounting earlier in my career. So don’t be afraid to do a little bit of personality testing on your kids; with guidance they will find themselves drawn to a role they may actually enjoy, but shouldn’t hate. Trust me, they will thank you in the end.
- You don’t really change people’s personality or character, so don’t even try
When building or joining a team, don’t think that you can change yourself or other team members to fit in. The correct makeup of a team is crucial; you need the right skills and in the right balance. Thinking that you can mould a character into something that the individual concerned is not will be an expensive disaster and you will spend more time dealing with people issues than running the business (you know the feeling: “I am fed up with all the politics….”) So again, check the personalities. You can use a little of the carrot or the stick, but only to tinker with motivation: you won’t change it. Get the balance right.
As an example, I worked in a business that had a good team mix – a sales-driven MD and a great finance guy who looked at all the many and varied new sales opportunities and divided them into three groups – ‘great’, ‘okay’ and ‘dire’. Simple but very effective. The FD left and was replaced with a sales-driven FD, a very excitable character who said yes to everything. The business ran out of money and collapsed. You’ve got to fine-tune the balance of those skills.
- Financial accountants are from Venus; management accountants, Mars
I am convinced of this point, which is to say that the roles and the personalities are entirely different, I’ve no doubt in my mind. What makes a good financial accountant (accuracy, determination to balance, compliance-driven) does not make a good management accountant (forward-looking, strategic view). As I said, make sure you get the right one for the role. And whatever you do, if you are good at one discipline, don’t ever think you can engage in interplanetary travel to the other.
- Good finance people get involved in the business and do not hide away in ivory towers
You cannot be a trusted partner – and that’s what you should aim to be – without getting your hands dirty. Go out and see clients with the sales director; go on the shop floor and ask what happens if you turn up the speed of the machines (earplugs may be useful). Seriously, modern finance is a service provider. Get involved and you will be taken seriously.
Try being a number one, if only for a bit
I have always viewed the FD role as being the natural number two to the MD, and the trusted advisor to the board. If you get the chance to be the MD for a subsidiary for a period, take it. It’s probably not the job for you, but as the advisor to the MD you will be so much better at it after being in their shoes. And who knows, it may well turn out to be the role for you. Nothing is impossible.
Where has that sort of experience left me? Eventually – accounting for trial and error, which is fine but not necessarily quick – I have found a role that I enjoy, that suits my character, is based on Mars (my preference), gets me out and about and is based around the “trusted advisor” role. I only wish I had worked out my list earlier.
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