How I changed career
My degree was in accountancy and finance, then I trained with Coopers & Lybrand in Bristol. I wanted to get into industry rather than staying in the profession, so I moved to a life insurance company and became financial accountant for what was then London Life (later part of AMP). I then took a European CFO role with a consulting engineering business in Bristol. We had operations in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, so I began to travel. My big break came in the mid-1990s, with Serco. I became the commercial director for an aviation business they had acquired, with airfield and air traffic control operations in Africa, the Middle East and Australia.
They also provided aviation consulting and training services for customers across the world and it really opened my eyes to the international world of business, diplomacy, politics. It was a fantastic experience, working with some fascinating people and becoming confident working at the top of government and international commerce. I spent five exciting years in the aviation world, but we had young kids and relentless travel wasn’t great from a family standpoint, so I moved into business consultancy with companies including BT, PwC, Accenture and IBM, continuing to operate at the highest levels on the international stage.
I have worked in 110 countries. Last year I thought, ‘I’m done with the corporate world. I want to make a positive change and do a variety of different things in a portfolio career.’ It has been fabulous, an absolute liberation. I am now chairman of Business in the Community (BITC) for the south-west of England, so I use my networks to give something back. I am also CFO of the company behind the Bloodhound Land Speed Record project, attempting to exceed 800mph and possibly 1000mph. An old friend who’d been involved with some of the education activities around the project approached me, at first to seek some advice about how to tackle the financial challenges. Unfortunately at that stage the only option was to help the project into administration to try to find a new investor. At the very last moment a new investor was found, we established a new corporate structure and I became a director of the new company. We reorganised, relocated, rebranded and we are due to go to the South African desert in six weeks to begin testing.
My responsibilities at BITC
We have three core pillars of activity: one is future skill requirements and how we can get business better engaged in the education supply chain pipeline of talent. The second pillar is about making an impact in communities, working with third sector organisations and our corporate members. The third pillar is the environment, and how we can encourage business to find ways in which their operations can become more environmentally focused. We are also concentrating on how we can bring business, government and sports organisations together to share best practice and tackle issues around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. We are looking to help organise a national conference on the topic in 2020. Within Bloodhound it’s fun to be at the heart of the project and to lead on the political issues.
My typical day
The Bloodhound project takes up two-thirds of my time; that means getting everything in place to be robust legally and politically. The altruistic pro-bono work for BITC accounts for about 15% to 20% of my week, though some weeks it’s more, some less. And then I have a couple of private consulting projects as well. Early in the day I look at the South African press, find out what key national or provincial leaders are saying, and what key British government people are saying about South Africa or the African continent. I find out whether anything is required in relation to our project, our team and partners in the UK or South Africa. Next, I focus on what is going on in the south-west, then I move onto the financial and commercial focus of the Bloodhound project and determine what needs to be done, before getting on with the business of the day.
The challenges I’ve overcome
I’ve worked a lot in the developing world and spent time in some dangerous places, like Beirut at the end of the civil war, Bosnia, Libya, Algeria, Pakistan, Syria. I have also worked extensively in other parts of the world including Asia Pacific, China, India, Latin America and throughout Europe. I’ve met fabulous people and been to fascinating places. All that experience builds up, so when you are working on a project, you know how to navigate any challenge that comes up. Throughout my career, the key for me has been that I wanted to be an effective businessman for the long term, not just an accountant. I wanted to understand HR issues, team management, systems transformation, marketing campaigns, and build up all those aspects of good leadership, in the widest possible number of industries; I didn’t want to be stereotyped into one industry, I have always looked for new challenges.
I usually start the day consuming news, emails and checking LinkedIn. I like to be on top of what is going on in the world, particularly where there is a link to places I am focused on these days. In the evening, if I am not out and about on business matters, I will probably be found rehearsing for our next performance with my sea shanty group.
How the ACA helped my career
The reality is, it’s done everything for me. It gave me that core set of capabilities I’ve been able to apply throughout my career. That’s one of the beauties of our professional qualification in the UK: it encompasses ethics, governance, doing the right thing. It is about a sense of purpose and being totally professional in everything that you do