One of the main challenges our mid-level finance candidates face, is the dreaded glass ceiling! They have reached a point in their careers where progressing to the next level is much more challenging than their previous steps up the professional ladder. But why is this the case and what can be done to combat it?
Climbing the career ladder within the Media & Creative industry serves up unique challenges. We reached out to industry leading FD’s & CFO’s to get their top tips on how to become a Finance Director.
You’re no longer looking exclusively at the financial element of the business, you’re taking a comprehensive view of the business and becoming more operational in your approach. You need to be able to demonstrate an appetite towards this.
“The role of CFO has changed significantly. You’re no longer restricted to the numbers, are more strategic and work very closely everyday with the CEO. Aspiring accountants should always be looking to develop their commercial acumen in order to reach their true potential. It’s not just about being good at adding up sums.” - Steven Forrest, CFO @ Start.
“Cash is king. It is very easy for companies to be profitable but you need to be able to generate cash.” – Ross Cree, Finance Director @ Cinelab London.
“Be commercially aware & push the company in different directions. Look for sources of secondary revenue from your current business in order to get the most out of your product. Understand your business & product from the bottom up. Keep your eyes open”. – Allan Handley, Head of Production Finance @ Whisper Films.
In a Finance Director position, your role will advance to becoming more focused on developing the business, being able to analyse and assess future opportunities will play a vital role here.
“It’s sometimes about being away from all the detail and looking forward (with a prospective mindset). Having the ability to not only manage a group of teams, but to manage all the different areas they look after as well. Planning certainly is a large part of the role, and with this, you must be able to analyse the data you have but do it with the purpose of business development. Being able to manage growth is also key, handling growth in a team or company is pretty much necessary.” - Robert Gorle, Finance Director @ Perkbox.
As your role develops, moving away from the hands-on finances and into a more operational position, having a complete understanding of the business and where it could develop is crucial. This knowledge will help you become a trusted business partner, which truly is the role of a Finance Director.
“Becoming an FD is all about moving from that accounting role to a business partnering one. Your goal should be to become a trusted adviser to the people you work alongside, whether that is the MD or the CEO. It is about, not just reporting your data, but analysing it and being able to show and highlight the trends of the company and how they / you will help the business to move forward.” - Ruth Kirby, Finance Director @ Vmware.
“An aspiring FD needs to understand the business. They would have to have the capacity to roll their sleeves up and get involved. Once you have mastered the business then you are ready.” - Andy Bowling, Finance Director @ David Ian Productions.
“The difference between an FC and becoming an FD is knowing the business inside out, not just knowing the finances. Having overall business knowledge is crucial and allows you to become that influential person that the business needs, almost as if to become a business director, not just a finance director. Knowing how the sales, marketing, finance and all the other teams work is imperative, but also how they work together is just as important”. – Shaun Jackson, Director of Finance @ Fixnetix.
In a Finance Director position, you will be a key decision maker, which means people wanting, even demanding, things from you and your time will become even more precious. The importance of managing your time and keeping your eyes on the bigger picture cannot be underestimated, a prerequisite is having the ability to say no.
“You need to be disciplined with your time and be able to say no. Everybody wants everything yesterday, but you have to sacrifice certain things to achieve a certain goal. In the creative market, you need to understand creative people tend to be more demanding and you have to give allowance to creativity.” - Judy Greenaway, Finance Manager @ MD Studio Limited (formerly Finance Manager @ LSDM).
An integral part of the Finance Director role is being able to inspire and lead people. You are helping to push forward the aspirations of the company and need to get the buy-in from your team to be able to facilitate this. No Finance Director is an island.
“The top tip I would give an aspiring FD in a media and creative company is the ability to manage their time and communicate with everyone in the company not just in the finance team. There is the opportunity to work on projects and produce budgets which producers and developers need to have an input in also to help the company grow.” - Zabih Safdari, Head of Finance @ Spectrecom.
“An FD would need to broaden their commercial growth and be involved in a business' growth. It is important to develop relationships and at the same time posses a commercial skill set.” - Kym Kingwill, CFO @ Metropolis/EMAP.
“You need to see yourself as a genuine part of the business and build relationships in the business. You need to be able to approach people and think how can you influence decision making. I have been an FC, FP & A Manager and an FD which has contributed to me learning different types of business, not just the industry.” – James Davey, CFO @ Vision Nine.
If you are to make the next step and become a Finance Director, you need to be showing all of the capabilities of performing that role before you move into it. Transitioning, rather than being promoted to a Finance Director position is key. The devil is in the detail. The best way to make the step up is to be perceived as a ready-made Finance Director. Moving from a Financial Controller to a Finance Director is not a given. Taking a step away from overseeing the transactional financial aspects of a business and taking a more birds eye perspective of financial decisions made, requires a new skill-set.