In November our Finance team held our first event since opening our new Leeds office in April 2022. The event was hosted by our Executive, Finance & HR Director, Richard Morgan, and C-suite & private equity lead, Nick Green.
The Path to CFO event was arranged to enable managers and leaders within the Yorkshire finance community to gain professional and personal insights that can help them develop their careers. The delegates heard from four Chief Financial Officers in different sectors who shared their career journeys, challenges and achievements that they faced along the way.
The panel included Paul Cogan, Group Finance & Resources Director for Bettys & Taylors Group, Cielo Cartwright, Group Finance Director at Braime Group, Adnan Velic, CFO at The Airedale Group, and Charmaine Day, CFO & Company Secretary at Surgical Innovations Group PLC.
We outline their insights below.
Paul joined Bettys & Taylors group in 2012 and is a member of the Bettys & Taylors Group Board and one of five directors who form the collaborative CEO. Paul leads business transformation projects, which focus on the sustainable, long-term growth of the group.
Paul’s finance career began at Price Waterhouse. Paul left accountancy practice in 1997 to join Stadium PLC. There, he undertook a range of commercial finance roles, which included the acquisition and operation of Stadium Asia. Paul then joined NG Bailey in 2002, assuming responsibility for commercial aspects of operations in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Paul then concentrated on their UK business in a variety of roles, including Finance Director, Divisional Managing Director and CFO.
Paul explained how he could have stayed at NG Bailey for the rest of his career, as he had previously worked with some of the management team at Stadium PLC. However, he knew that he would be too comfortable and wanted his next challenge, so moved to Bettys & Taylors. Paul advised: “Take the opportunity. Walk through the door.”
Paul suggested that you don’t always have to know the answer.: “When we start careers, people feel like we need to know everything and to be a director or CFO. You feel that you need to be an expert in everything.” Paul added that sometimes people respect you more when they realise you don’t know everything, and this is why the importance of a good team of experts comes in because they can provide you with some of the answers you seek.
‘You don’t always have to know the answer’ – Paul Cogan
Paul also spoke about how some of his failures turned out to be better lessons than his successes. He stated that no one’s career is perfect nor a straight line to the top or their goal. Everyone faces failures. But it’s how you deal with them which separates you from everyone. Paul suggested that the lessons you can learn from your failures are more valuable than your successes, as your failures provide better lessons. But you must learn from those failures and don’t repeat them.
Cielo started her career in science by completing a Masters in Animal Behaviour, which served her surprisingly well as she went into Audit. Celio started her career at EY where she trained as a chartered accountant and took a traditional approach to her career starting in Audit. She stayed at EY for several years before moving into industry.
Cielo has worked in diverse industries such as food manufacturing, telco, outsourcing and financial services and held Finance Director roles in various publicly listed businesses including KCOM, Next and Exova.
Cielo joined Froneri, a joint venture of Nestle, in 2015 as Group Finance Director; moving to Braime Group PLC in 2018. Braime Group PLC is an international engineering manufacturer listed on AIM. In addition to her executive roles, Cielo is currently on the board of Leeds Becketts University and a member of the Regional Advisory Board of Make UK In Yorkshire and Humber.
Cielo Spoke about how important resilience was to her and how it enabled her to get to her current position. Explaining that being tested at different stages of her career showed her that resilience looked and felt like different things depending on what she was facing.
‘The importance of resilience is fundamental’ – Cielo Cartwright
Another key point from Cielo was diversity. When Cielo approached her boss and told him she was pregnant he responded with: “I’m sorry to hear that.” Cielo stated that times have changed but we still need to focus on females in finance. It’s a cycle, we need to see change. Cielo suggested that we can’t praise ourselves for getting this far. We need to pick up the pace, talk about it often and keep moving forward with this progression.
‘We can’t give our selves a pat on the back for taking a step forward in terms of diversity. We need to pick up the pace’ – Cielo Cartwright
We should be providing role models for young girls in school, encouraging them to pursue a career in finance and to strive to progress. Cielo suggested that, as with all characteristics of diversity, we need to pick up the pace, talk about it often and keep moving forward.
Adan believes he took a traditional approach to his career, beginning with a graduate scheme at Hallmark Cards. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant and has worked in SMEs through to large corporates such as Nobia and Magnet Ltd, in the UK and abroad.
Adnan won the Yorkshire Finance Leader of the Year Award 2019 and joined Airedale Group as CFO in 2021. He has international board-level experience and a proven track record of developing and executing strategy. Adnan prides himself on building high-performing teams and developing talent into FD and MD roles.
Adnan believes we should remove our ego from decisions and that one of the most important qualities as a leader is to get to know yourself first.
‘The most important thing for me was to get to know your self first and take your ego out of it’ – Adan Velic
Adnan discussed his journey of self-reflection and felt he was holding himself back from success, stating it helped to have a wife as a psychologist! He stated that at 21 he thought he was ready to be a CFO. He said it is good to be confident, but you need to withdraw your ego from situations. He explained this self-awareness journey involved completing a test to understand his level of emotional intelligence and said he wishes he had done this sooner. Adnan invested time to understand others and their needs and how he can become a great leader.
The importance of references was also discussed; and not just from the new employers’ point of view as part of the application process. Adnan stated that when you apply for a role, you should find out about your potential new employer too. Call or email current employees, to ask it’s like to work there, what your boss is like, what the management team is like, etc. To really understand what your new role would look like. It is a big decision to change roles and companies, so you need to make sure that you know what your move will look like.
‘if you are going to work for someone make sure you reference them heavily’ – Adnan Velic
Charmaine took a different approach to her finance career. She started as a purchase ledger clerk at Eville & Jones. Here she worked her way up to a qualified accounting technician; qualifying as a Charted accountant in 2012.
Charmaine progressed in various roles, moving to Ellis Fairbank PLC as Management Accountant and then to Surgical Innovations as Financial Controller in 2012, later taking on the role of Company Secretary in 2017. In November 2021, Charmaine was appointed Chief Finance Officer and is responsible for all Group finance matters.
Charmaine discussed wanting to start a family and how she felt doing so would have to put her career on hold. But with the support of her mentor, she managed to combine family life with achieving her goals. She openly stated she wouldn’t be where she is today without her mentor’s support. During her maternity leave, Charmaine attended multiple sessions at Deloitte about becoming a CFO. The key learning Charmaine took from this was how important it is to have a strong team around you; it always comes back to the people.
‘It is really important to have a strong team around you; it always goes back to the people’ – Charmaine Day
Charmaine voiced how important having a good mentor is in the finance industry, as without her mentor’s support she wouldn’t have pushed herself to become CFO whilst having a family. She spoke about how we need to show successful females with families as role models and mentors in finance.
Charmaine also spoke about how important self-confidence is. Charmaine wished she had more confidence in her younger self. Through years of lessons and successes Charmaine began to gain confidence by pushing herself out of her comfort zone.
After the panel had discussed their journeys, the delegates discussed many points that were raised. One recurring theme of the discussion was about diversity in finance; the key points of which, are shared below.
Statistics state that 46% of employees in finance are female, yet only 15% progress to executive positions. What are the challenges you think women still face to be seen and recognised?
Paul Cogan explained that they remove all names and genders from CVs during the recruitment process, to minimising any bias during the recruitment process. Allowing for all types of diversity.
Nigel Wright Group’s Director, Richard Morgan, gave an insight into this issue in terms of his recruitment experience. Richard stated that organisations need to stop looking at the obvious pool of candidates. Organisations must be willing to give someone a chance but that creating diversity in their workplace isn’t a quick fix. It takes time, willingness and openness to listen to create diversity through the correct process. It is our job as recruiters to help candidates apply to roles that suit them and guide them into the right role. Sometimes this involves supporting the candidate and encouraging them to apply where they don’t feel confident enough to but would be a great fit for the role, helping create diversity.
Adnan Velic suggested there can be a difference between how males and females view their capabilities. Suggesting that males would apply for roles because they think they could do all of it, when in reality they could only do half. Whereas, females wouldn’t apply for the role if they couldn’t do one of the requirements but could do 90% of the job spec. Adnan stated this is where we need to encourage and support females in Finance.
On behalf of the Leeds Finance Team at Nigel Wright Group, we would like to thank our panel speakers for being so open and allowing us to learn from their experiences. We would also like to thank everyone who attended the Path To CFO event.
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