EARLY ON in my career in finance, I recognised there was much more to being an FD than number crunching. That suited me. I’ve always been in the tech sector and that has provided many opportunities to extend my role – and it’s clear there has been a definite shift over the years in what the FD role means to business.
Since joining Access in 2011, my main focus has been broader business strategy, including the extension of our product suite and M&A activity. This is exactly what an FD’s role should entail. Financial control and compliance should be a given, and this means having a great finance team in place, underpinned by effective business systems. And we’re not just talking about accounting systems here – we’re talking about integrated software across the company.
Most of my time is spent interrogating and analysing data from around the business. This includes reviewing all aspects of sales and prospecting activity, and keeping an eye on each key process within the business and the associated cost. I can influence corrective actions at any stage as required because I have full visibility; from ensuring we have the financial commitment in place, through to improving collections and reducing errors on invoices.
It’s interesting that many companies still operate with disparate systems, when integrating the different functions will result in a connected business and improved efficiency. It has a positive impact on profitability because it acts as the foundation for the whole organisation. Suddenly, departments are working effectively together. They’re all working with the same data, and having access to that data means I can focus on asking how we are going to improve on X rather than what – or where – the information is.
As an FD, you’re a core part of the management team and must be in sync with your colleagues on the strategy and what is required to deliver it, rather than taking an isolated position. A genuine interest in all areas of the business and close working relationships make a significant impact on achieving business success. I work with the CTO and CEO on our product roadmap to agree the strategic direction. This feeds into agreeing our sales and marketing plans and the key metrics with our chief marketing officer and sales director. By understanding the main drivers for each area of the business, and having the systems to report the metrics, I can work with the team on making the changes and taking the actions required to deliver on the top and bottom line.
To avoid a blinkered view, I try to get as close to our customers as possible. After all, they are the reason we’re in business and are a great source of feedback on what we’re doing right – but also what needs to be improved. Our customers’ success will lead to our success – that has been proven many times in my career.
At Harpur, I helped to grow UK market share by 40%, through acquisition and organic growth, and I increased annual gross margin for Avid by $5m (£3.2m), through integration of systems and processes to improve product and service delivery. This wouldn’t have been possible without understanding the customer base and addressing their needs; the results reflect that.
The fact of the matter is there’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing the outcome of all the hard work. The payback can be huge if you understand the business, put in place detailed plans and KPIs to measure success, take corrective action where necessary, improve customer experience, and ultimately deliver the numbers. By immersing yourself fully, there’s an opportunity to see how far you can stretch your capabilities and you can enjoy the shared experiences and value you can bring to the business. There’s no greater sense of satisfaction than that. ?
Adam Brown is CFO for business solutions provider The Access Group
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