Peter Taylor-Whiffen 4 Apr 2018 03:40pm

Striking a chord

Music-lover Deborah Stanbury was a finance director in the record industry. Now she’s calling the tune as a business mentor, she tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen

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Caption: Deborah Stanbury. Photography: Richard Ansett
To say Deborah Stanbury enjoys music is an understatement. She sings in seven choirs, plays the flute, saxophone and piano, and her tastes range from classical to indie. “There’s something about music that puts you in the moment,” she says. “You can get lost in listening to it, but also in performing. Making music is an intellectual challenge if you’re concentrating, or sight-reading, but it’s a very mindful, relaxing activity.”

Music has played a large part in her working life, too – she looked after Ernst & Young’s entertainment industry clients before becoming UK finance director of Universal Music, regularly rubbing shoulders with a slew of musicians.

“I oversaw royalties, copyright and the financial areas of contracts,” she says. “So I would be working out a deal to renegotiate, say, Van Morrison’s contract, but we also had a recording studio in the basement, where I’d bump into Fatboy Slim or Jarvis Cocker. And I also worked with the A&R guys, looking at investments in new artists. I went to the Brits, the Ivor Novellos, after-show parties, and backstage with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was fantastic.”

It’s a life Stanbury couldn’t have imagined when she initially trained as an engineer, before switching to accountancy. “I worked in the planning department for an engineering company. I was the most junior so they gave me discounted cashflow to work on. I came to realise it wasn’t load flows, or engineering, that determined exactly how the bridge would be built, but money – and that fascinated me.”

EY trained her in accountancy, and after leaving Universal she branched out into consultancy, with clients including Enrique Iglesias. Now, following a career break, she is finding her own voice as a business mentor and strategy consultant. “I enjoy sharing the benefit of my experience,” says Stanbury, who is also a mum to two teenage boys, a business advisor for Young Enterprise UK and a non-executive director of the River Learning Trust in her home city of Oxford. “I have coaching qualifications but the basis of good business practice goes all the way back to my chartered accountancy training – business law, commercial law, and organisational psychology.”

Stanbury, who recently turned 50, loves the outdoors and has trekked in the Andes, the Himalayas, Borneo and New Zealand, and climbed Mount Kenya, all with her accountant husband Tim. But her favourite escape remains music.

“Music is a wonderful leveller, enjoyed by everyone. I love listening to a beautiful piece of classical music, but I equally appreciate the craft of, say, rap or grime. I sing with some wonderful professional choirs and musicians, but get every bit as much enjoyment with my local Vox Steady Community Choir. Whoever you are, music has the power to bring such pleasure, in so many ways.”