I came into accounting and finance through quite an unusual route. I studied English literature at university and was trying to decide if I wanted to go to music college to train as a classical singer or go into law. While training and getting some relevant experience, I started working part-time at Kedge Capital, now the Waypoint Group (B-Flexion).
There were only 15 people in London and Jersey at that point, so I was working very closely with the CIO, the CFO, and the Head of the Investment team. After offering to support my accounting studies and training, I decided to stay. The company grew to around 150 people while I was there, growing from a family office investing in fund-of-funds, to multiple businesses including direct real estate, private equity, asset management, and healthcare/biotech-focused funds. I was involved in the set-up of most of the businesses and therefore was fortunate to get a lot of experience very quickly.
With accounting, often you follow one of two streams; financial accounting or FP&A (financial planning and analysis). During the time I worked at Waypoint, I covered both sides at different times and was lucky to be able to grow as the business did. The role that really gave me the confidence and experience to progress was Group Valuation Manager. I set up the Valuation Committee at Waypoint and was responsible for reviewing the valuations of all the underlying business assets across the Group and the ultimate fund-holding accounts.
I then got the opportunity to work on the merger between Stallergenes and Greer and manage all the financial aspects of the de-listing, merger, and relisting on the Euronext Paris of the two companies. From there I moved to Stallergenes Greer as their Accounting Director and took the newly formed Group through its first audit and annual reporting process. This was a fantastic learning experience within a listed company environment.
After a couple of years in that role, I moved across to become Group Finance Director, where I was in charge of FP&A and corporate finance. I was no.2 to the CFO, and having a broad experience meant the CFO could throw me into most things. ‘Growing up’ in the financial services sector, I got exposed to various tax topics and restructuring projects and worked closely with the tax and legal teams.
I think a bit of both. My first CFO, Darius Berendji, has been a mentor throughout my career. He was my first boss and, although he moved to become Partner at Northill Capital shortly after I qualified, he’s always been incredibly supportive and someone I can call if I ever need advice. Also, Stefan Meister – COO of Waypoint while I worked there – understood I needed new opportunities for growth and created the valuation director role just as I was starting to look for the next step. My last CFO, Matthias Vogt at Stallergenes Greer, was also a strong advocate for me and really encouraged me to take the step up to CFO.
I joined Surgical Intelligence Holdings as CFO two years ago when it was still the majority shareholder of Caresyntax. As well as managing the segregation and restructuring of the entity, I have also established more transparent reporting for our investors. I initially worked on implementing a robust governance framework, including establishing board committees and Investor relations.
I joined Caresyntax as we were just kicking off our Series C fundraising, which we did in-house with a small team. I had to learn about the business incredibly fast; within a few weeks, I was joining fundraising calls with potential investors. However, we were extremely successful and raised $130m of new capital from investors including Partner Fund Management, Blackrock, Intel, Optum Ventures, and Lauxera. Given that we started the raise at the start of the pandemic, we were unable to meet most of our investors in person, making the raise even more challenging. One of our investors told me we were their first-ever remote investment, which is a testament to our team being able to build trust under those circumstances. Following the fundraising, I stepped into the interim CFO role for Caresyntax, building out a finance team in the US and Germany, managing its move to US GAAP reporting, and ensuring the finance team was well placed to support the business going forward.
Although in many ways it felt like a natural progression (I’d already had some experience at Stallergenes when we didn’t have a CFO for several months), it still felt as though a safety net had been removed to an extent. I have had to have the courage of my convictions and take the right decisions for my team and the business.
I think generally, my advice to someone who is moving up is that the CFO is stretched very thinly across so many projects and deliverables and therefore can’t be in the detail on everything. As a junior accountant, you can reconcile every number, but as CFO, you just don’t have the time to do that. As such, it is essential to build and develop a team that you can really trust and then learn to delegate to them. But also, to be an effective CFO, you need to have a gut instinct for the numbers so you can identify quickly when something does not align with expectations. You need to really understand the business and what’s driving those numbers. That’s where accountants can struggle to take the next step: it is not just about producing the numbers, but about translating the numbers into something that is valuable for the CEO, executive team, and the board.
I have always had a propensity for saying ‘yes’ when asked to do things, to the extent that I have made the mistake of taking on way too much. However, it is the same willingness to get involved with things outside of my immediate remit that has also given me the opportunity for growth.
For example, I took on the role of Company Secretary for several of the Group’s businesses (including on the boards of some of the underlying assets) when I was more junior in my career. Although this involved a lot of extra work, including preparing agendas and board packs and writing minutes, I got a seat at the table early on and a huge amount of experience within the boardroom setting. Inevitably as the financial controller, I would be asked to contribute to the discussion or present the financial statements to board members, as I was already in attendance at every meeting. I got to understand how the financial information we compiled was being utilised to support the business, which accountants don’t always get the opportunity to see. It was also great to gain a broader understanding of HR, legal, and commercial matters.
I would definitely advise someone wanting to progress in their career to volunteer for things no matter how small they may seem – it may just lead to a fantastic opportunity.
It can be very helpful to step outside of your own remit. It is not unusual for accountants to progress through a narrow path focused either on FP&A, financial accounting, or commercial finance. On reaching senior roles, they realise they don’t know much about audit or financial accounting standards, or they haven’t established solid commercial and management reporting acumen.
As a good CFO, you don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you do need to have some appreciation and understanding of the broader function. Having the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of all these aspects is not an opportunity everyone will get, but if you can participate in a project or move into a role where you can gain skills outside of your core role it can be valuable.
My advice for anybody that wants to progress quickly? If you want to progress ahead of the curve, then you must be brave.