The ACA training provided an excellent platform and solid grounding. It’s a practical qualification – especially coming out of the University of Cambridge – and it gives you a suite of options. I trained at Arthur Andersen in London, which was very fast-paced. They were ambitious and winning market share from the other big boys in the UK. Dealing with work pressures and the exams was unchartered territory but a challenge that sets you up for life.
I realised public practice was not for me so joined Atlas Copco, a highly acquisitive Swedish multinational. I initially covered the Iberian sales companies as financial controller followed by a period in the Benelux region. Naturally there was a lot of travel, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a multilinguist, but more important was the opportunity to work with and understand different cultures and work ethics in Europe.
By chance, I was offered a CFO position at a tech company about to float on AIM. I was only 27 so I jumped at it. I remember flogging ourselves across City institutions during results time as well as the fundraising. The company was bought by a strategic investor and I then joined IDT Telecom as its CFO for Europe. It had just gone public on NASDAQ and wanted to grow worldwide. We grew across 27 countries in the EMEA region. That was great fun at a time of deregulation and disruption in the sector. You need to adapt your style to changing stakeholder communities and market conditions. As CFO you have to lead the function robustly, with integrity, and make sure there are no surprises.
But the key to success in a high-growth business is the partnership with the CEO, to provide a seamless interface with the shareholders. The rhythm of the budgeting and forecasting period is a good time to gain insight. After eight years in telecoms I moved into pharmaceuticals and joined Takeda Europe as EMEA CFO. It was a huge listed Japanese business and that was a phenomenal experience, not only because it was a much more institutionalised environment but it had a great CEO – an ex-McKinsey partner – who taught me the art of thinking strategically. Then, at the start of the financial crisis, PwC saw the value of giving a CFO a job in its bank-restructuring arm and I spent five years advising banks across Europe to devise and implement strategies to split their core from non-core operations.
While doing this I realised that banks were divesting from specialist lending despite it being lucrative. It was at this point I met my partner and co-founder Darren Selig, who had a brokerage in the prestige vehicle lending space. We formulated a plan to raise funding to start our own business as a specialist lender to individuals wanting to purchase prestige, sports and classic cars.
It took the best part of nine months raising senior funding from HSBC follwed by equity funding from Cabot Square Capital. My previous fundraising experience was fundamental because you need to put yourself in the funder’s situation.
Shalom Benaim is co-founder of JBR Capital.