Amy Reeve 7 Mar 2018 01:34pm

Fast-paced finance: Penny Scott-Bayfield

Penny Scott-Bayfield has worked for household names including Deloitte, lastminute.com and Sky. Now at Condé Nast Britain as FD, she talks about the challenges facing the publishing industry

Caption: Photography: Andy Loo Po
I was reading maths at Durham when I started thinking about accountancy. I’m numerical and comfortable in that space and eventually got a first so it was natural for me. I felt the ACA would give me a strong foundation in as broad a range of business as I could be interested in. I got an internship at Deloitte – I liked the people, the work, the clients. My enduring memory from my first year in the profession is the sense of support and also competition – you need to start developing much wider skills so it becomes about relationships, communication, organisation.

I went on a secondment to M&S, which partly triggered my move into industry. It was the first time I’d experienced preparing the interim results, the analysts’ presentations, and I enjoyed immersing myself in one business. So when the opportunity [financial controller, group reporting] at Sky came up, an incredibly dynamic business, I was probably going to learn at an even faster pace.

The pride you feel working for a strong company and brand is important. Sky had gone from launch to FTSE 100 in 10 years, so was aggressive, ambitious. And lastminute.com had only taken five years to go from an idea to a FTSE250 company, and that was an extraordinarily entrepreneurial environment. You can absorb all sorts of things wherever you are and they were disruptors with clear goals. They were energetic, people-based environments, and that’s where I really thrive.

I came in as financial controller at Condé Nast Britain and have been there 14 years now. I’ve seen a huge amount of change, which is part of the reason it’s so interesting. I’m a naturally fairly impatient person so things have to be moving at a fair old pace for me to be happy with it. As I came in I was looking after the delivery of the finance side: the management accounts, forecasts, finance operations and the statutory and tax side. The promotion to the finance director role means I take complete ownership of the finance side and sit on the main board. We work closely with the international head office in the US. And I’ve just finished the Deloitte CFO Next Generation programme where one can learn a huge amount about new areas to take on and be involved in.

Our technology decisions are based on understanding how people engage with and consume content. So with the younger audience, for example, Snapchat Discover is an extremely good platform at the moment. People using that can then graduate to other social media platforms, then the brand’s website, then potentially on to the print product. The huge developing area has been around data: the insight is incredibly valuable. We’re seeing great and profitable growth in digital revenues. In terms of paying for digital content and how, Condé Nast in the US has begun exploring that and we’re watching what it does.

The challenge for print is about people’s time; the portability and accessibility of content. Having said that, print remains the beating heart of everything we do. Our brands remain strong because we’re in this luxury space – there’s the point around trust, uniqueness, authority and understanding of the market – so print advertising remains strong. In terms of the less happy story, the mass market is very tough indeed. There are challenges for some of the more mass market brands out there.

We’re looking at events: we run the Glamour Beauty Festival, and House & Garden festivals, and we do Wired conferences and consulting, working with clients to deliver insight and innovation from the Wired world. We have Vogue cafés and lounges and GQ bars. So there’s interesting brand diversification on several levels.

Condé Nast College is part of Condé Nast Britain but it’s also a model that has been successful in China and Spain. The range of courses we offer, from a 10-week course to a fashion communication degree and a fashion foundation diploma, are proving attractive. It helps that there are diverse options for training now: you see much greater opportunity and access. Equally, we’re well aware there are some huge challenges and you can study anything but you’ve still got to pay for it. It’s tough, and that’s a great shame because it’s limiting access to some extremely bright young people.