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Should FDs be dynamic or dull?

By 3rd April 2016Blog

By Phil Morris, group chief financial officer at Servest

The stereotype of the boring accountant caricature, frankly, bores me. True, we do sometimes talk about provisional and contingent tax liabilities. But what professional doesn’t use jargon-heavy language at times? We also wear grey suits. But wasn’t grey the official colour of this year’s New York Fashion Week? And we work in offices and cubicles. But, honestly, many of us would probably rather be working from a beach in Hawaii.

Accountants who work for the big accounting firms and my fellow CFOs, especially, have to have certain characteristics. We have to have a positive attitude, we have to be full of energy, we have to be constantly coming up with new ideas and we have to be prepared to move fast on decisions.

I am the group CFO of Servest, a high-growth and fast-paced facilities management provider. Our sales have soared from £30m in 2009 to £250m in 2015, while our workforce has grown from 15,271 to around 18,000 in just one year.

Since 2011, we have acquired several businesses across a range of service-related areas, from pest control to security. With our latest acquisition of the energy efficiency business Llewellyn Smith we are looking to further expand our offering in the exciting, high-growth energy industry.

If I were a ‘typical accountant’ in this kind of environment, I wouldn’t last a week.

Then there’s the other caricature of the FD who eyes the world in terms of profit and loss. He is penny pinching, lacking in empathy, and prone to saying no to everything.

Again, he wouldn’t last a minute at Servest. Our people are our biggest asset, and Servest’s CEO Rob Legge wouldn’t put up with an FD who lacks real commercial understanding and the ability to consider the bigger picture in everything that Servest does.

So what should a dynamic FD have in her or his DNA? I have boiled it down to five characteristics: creativity, approachability, tenacity, adaptability and commerciality.

There’s a big difference between creative accounting and an FD who brings a creative approach to their work. If the CEO wants to go in one direction, the FD should be looking at how it can be done, rather than saying no because it’s risky. Often it’s about considering the substance of a request over the form of it.

An FD should also be approachable and have an open door policy for everyone, from the CEO to the junior on the team. How can the FD truly understand the business if they don’t engage with the teams in it? How can they be the go-to person for financial advice if everyone is avoiding them?

Tenacity is another important characteristic. Senior managers in the business world are strong characters. And sometimes an FD does have to say no, and when we do, we have to be able to stand our ground. Conversely, if we say yes, we must ensure that we get what we agreed to.

FDs also have to be adaptable. Not to get too philosophical, but change is the only constant in life, as well as death and, of course, taxes. We have to be ready for change. And, as a situation develops, we shouldn’t be afraid to change our own approach or mindset.

And, finally, a modern FD must be commercially minded. We have to know the business we work for, and we have to be a driver for that business through the power of the interactions and information we provide.

Some might say that I doth protest too much about being dynamic. But in a progressive, growing and challenging business, you have to be. Dynamism rather than dullness is the order of the day. And, at the end of the day, maybe I do go home and rearrange my sock drawer. Or maybe I go skydiving.

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