Raymond Doherty 8 May 2017 10:00am

A day in the life: Alison Berry

Alison Berry decided that she needed to change career path, so made the leap to head of finance at Frog Bikes. She tells Raymond Doherty about her freewheeling work days

Caption: Photography: Gareth Iwan Jones

How I changed career

If I was out for dinner and someone asked: “What do you do for a living?” and I explained: "I work for a Company who does Risk management software" it was a conversation stopper. I needed to do something that excites me and other people. Rather than people saying: “God, that’s boring.”

Our home life is generally spent outside in a field, or in a garden, or running, playing tennis, or skiing. Outdoors full stop. I thought if I could fit my job into something related to those activities, that would be absolutely brilliant.

I did spend quite a bit of time with a career coach trying to understand how you get from knowing what you want to do to actually getting there.

The first role I took was with Hawkeye Innovations – the people who do the ball tracking at the tennis. I ended up working very hard for six months but it wasn’t the job for life that I wanted. So I resigned in June, got to spend the summer at home and got the job with Frog Bikes (which makes lightweight children’s bicycles) in September. It’s something I’m interested in: getting kids out on bikes. It’s something people can relate to. And there’s so much to do from a finance perspective, I won’t be bored for years.

My responsibilities

I’m on the board as well so I’m the point person for finance. When I was living in Australia and working at Vodafone it was all about budgeting and forecasting, commentary and expectation management. That stood me in good stead, as did the Investor Relations, that's all about having a clear, consistent message at all times. I consider the role to be about good communication with stakeholders. It is rarely about the numbers. It’s about being able to talk to either the team or the board or the bank in whatever way they need it explained to them depending on how much financial knowledge they’ve got. That’s my remit.

I work with (founders of the business) Jerry and Shelley every day. There’s never a dull moment. You hear many a horror story about owner-managed businesses, that the owner is not prepared to listen and will do it their own way, but they are very much prepared to listen, so it’s lovely.

They’ve got a clear vision. They spend a lot of time in staff interviews on cultural fit, which has always been very important to me. I’ve been in places where it’s not been great. So one question I always ask is: “Can I see where I’m going to be working and can I meet the team?” Often I’m astonished at the number who say no. Frog brought me back to meet everyone in the office.

My typical day

It’s usually a choice between getting up early to go for a run or do some exercise – my husband and I do a bootcamp – or getting up at around 7am. Our family meal of the week is breakfast.

All three of us eat together, which our son really values. When I was working further away it was clear he didn’t like not having that time together. We then go our separate ways – it’s either a school drop off and I get in at 9.15am or if not I get in at around 8.15am. That flexibility is great as work/life balance is so important to me. Once I’m in the office it’s a cup of tea and on with the day, which usually consists of sales meetings, conference calls with the US or board meetings.

I spend time with the team coaching them through things they might not have understood since the last time we managed to talk.

One thing I sit down and spend a lot of time on is cash flow in the forecasting and month-end financials, the sort of things that need the technical knowledge from my training, dealing with foreign exchanges and hedging. If I’m sat at my desk I’m usually head down in a spreadsheet. I rarely stop for lunch. I usually leave the office around 5.30pm. To relax I play tennis for the local club and I’m joint-chair of my son’s Scout group. We fundraise for that, go on camps. Because I sit at my desk a lot, if I’m not outside most of the weekend I get quite grumpy.

The challenges I’ve overcome

Realising that I’m in charge. It’s my first proper FD role. I’ve done parts of it before but it’s the first time people want my opinion and will hang everything on what I say. It’s good to know I’ve reached that point in my career. There was no one with a lot of experience in finance before I arrived – I’m much more inclined to say no. That was probably an adjustment for quite a lot of people. There are actions I’ve taken that have slowed things down.

Industry quirks

There are more people at the moment spending time on fitness and exercise. The need for people to get outside and do exercise is definitely helping us as a business. Equally children are seen as consumers now more than they ever were and are given a say in what they want in something as significant as a bike.

The business is only four years old but we have had very strong growth. We’re in 38 countries now. We recently started selling in the US and Canada as well as across Europe, with our main market still the UK.

How the ACA helped my career

Every little step I’ve made has been based upon the skills I learned. I would never have got my jobs at Vodafone or Investor Relations if I wasn’t an ACA. It was required before you got in the door. I think Frog was actually looking for the softer skills but they have confidence in me to manage the business because of my qualification and experience.

The habits of an accountant

I’m always told I’m organised. That’s my thing. Knowing what needs to be done and when, being aware of deadlines. If I have to work longer and harder in order to get things done I will, but as you get more senior you realise you set the deadlines yourself.