Raymond Doherty 2 Mar 2017 10:00am

A day in the life: Tom Rigby

Tom Rigby, financial controller of Recycling Lives, a waste management and recycling company which works to support marginalised and vulnerable people, talks to Raymond Doherty about the challenges and rewards of a business dedicated to benefitting society

Caption: Photography: Rob Whitrow

How I changed career

Steve Jackson, who had the idea behind Recycling Lives and drives it, is passionate that what you do as a business should benefit society: preventing reoffending, reducing homelessness and other various things we do. I saw him give a speech at an awards ceremony four or five years prior to me joining the company. I knew the business and when I heard the role had come up it was something I wanted to be part of. In most companies making profit is the be all and end all. We try to look at things differently. How does it affect the whole picture? If we’re going to work with a company, we look at what they’re doing in the local area, for example. It was something I’ve always tried to look for in previous roles.

Our business is a tough one to explain. It’s a commercial business that’s linked to a charity. We’re a modest sized SME but we plan to be a big company. Bigger picture, if you look at public sector funding and how charities operate – a lot of red tape – we think we can do it better. We recieve donations but don’t rely on them totally. Profits from the commercial business funnel into the charity. It’s different from a foundation in that we will take business decisions that will cost more or we will take a different tack than a purely commercial organisation would.

We do a lot of work with ex-offenders. We don’t see that as a negative. If you’ve been in prison for two years, when you come out your family have possibly disowned you, your friends have possibly lost touch with you, you’ve got no money and you probably don’t have a place to stay. Unless you’re quite lucky and you have someone to support you, it will be a struggle. That’s what we try
to provide. We’ve seen that it gets good results. The national reoffending average is 69%, with us so far it has been 6%.

We also only want to partner with other businesses that are seen to be doing the right thing. We’re the only small company on the Business in the Community taskforce. We realise we’re a drop in the ocean but if we can lead the way in getting more SMEs on board we can create a bit of a trend.

The business has attracted great people who believe in the philosophy, which feeds the momentum and gets everyone pulling in the right direction. Has the charity aspect directly grown our commercial? At this current stage probably not massively, but I think it will in the future.

My responsibilities

It massively varies in a smaller owner-managed business. We employ 218 people so there is a good-sized team but roles are not as defined as they would be in a plc. In finance you generally get involved in most things, from dropping cash off at the bank to weighing in on contract negotiations, to buying a new piece of kit. People need that insight into whether it will make money and affect the company. You’re quite privileged in finance because you have that overview – how decisions will have an impact. You need to know and understand what is going on across the business. Most people are only aware of what happens in their own departments.

My typical day

I have two young kids so it’s not really my decision what time I get up. If they’re good I’ll get a lie in until 6am or 6.30am. I don’t eat breakfast at home. I’ll usually get to the office for 8am after dropping them off at nursery. The first few hours are spent setting tasks for the team, reading reports, making sure nothing has burnt down overnight and checking deadlines. Depending on how much sleep I’ve had, between 10am and midday is my sweet spot for getting things done. That’s when I try to do the most important work.

I tend to leave at around 6pm. I get in and have tea with the kids. In the evening I’ll sit with my wife and watch TV or walk the dog. I’ll check my emails once or twice. It’s good to switch off but when you’re in a position of responsibility you have to be aware if any anything urgent needs to be done. I enjoy going to the pub and socialising with friends but our weekends tend to revolve around the kids now. When they get a bit older we hope to get some time back.

The challenges I’ve overcome

Being a fast-paced and fast-growing business it’s all about making sure everyone knows what’s going on. It’s not necessarily making the ultimate decision but ensuring everyone is informed so they can take the correct one. You’re also not restricted as you would be in a plc. If you want to do something you can go out and do it.

The competing ends of commercial and charity is a challenge. Charity moves a lot more slowly and is drawn out: things need approval from a lot of people, compliance and legislation. They are very different styles of doing things but the two cross-pollinate, which is a good thing. You add commerciality to the charity and you add fundamentals to the business, like making sure you’re protecting all the staff, doing things the right way, reporting on what we need to.

Industry quirks

Recycling and scrap metal is a difficult industry and has traditionally been a bit murky because of what it is and the people that get involved in it. The key for us is being transparent. We do things quite differently to a lot of recyclers. We have a complete audit trail. We have live streaming and photographing systems. Everyone can keep on top with the technology if they can pay for it but not everyone can be a well-run, transparent, efficient business. We’re starting to partner now with some blue chip businesses.

How the ACA helped my career

Traditionally people would have got into accountancy because they wanted to be a partner at a firm but I think that’s changing slightly. An ACA is more an entry route into a business or any sort of job. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It by no means limits you.

The habits of an accountant

Most are naturally risk averse. They ask the questions no one else would ask, which is pretty key. They like to make lists. They tend to have messy desks. It’s that inquisitive nature of wanting to understand the whole piece. Which isn’t a bad trait to have in life.