How I became a Chief Financial Officer for Fibrus Networks Ltd
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
My career started at home in Canada at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) where I worked for seven years in Toronto, Ontario, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. I was lucky enough to achieve the highest score on my accountancy exams in PwC Canada – 10th highest out of 4,000 in Canada – and that helped me to secure an 18 month stint in PwC London, working in the Corporate Finance team.
I spent the next 10 years at British Telecom in England and Ireland, where I was put on the High Potential programme and given various finance roles across all parts of the business.
My first job as the Financial Controller of the Access Division was an eye opener. As a young, female ‘American’ amongst a senior management team of middle-aged males, it took a little while to be accepted.
Prior to joining Fibrus, I spent seven years in BDUK as part of the team responsible for telecoms infrastructure rollout within the Department of Culture, Media and Sports. Here I led the Value for Money team. I had to develop and implement the strategy from scratch – ensuring that the £2billion of public money invested with telecoms suppliers was spent wisely and delivered superfast broadband to as many people as possible. This included developing a standardised reporting and assurance approach for over 100 contracts and training over 40 Local Authorities in how to manage the telco contracts and assure the costs and deliverables. I travelled to the farthest corners of the UK in my job and loved working with Local Authority teams.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I liked the structure and black and white approach to Maths.
Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?
I gained an honours degree in Business Administration at the Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario. My studies continued whilst at PwC as I worked towards gaining my accountancy qualification. After eight years of studying in university and at PwC, I never wanted to sit another exam again.
How did you get into your area of work?
Strangely, I actually enjoyed my accountancy course at university so I jumped at the chance of a summer job at PwC in Toronto. By the end of summer I was offered a permanent job at the firm and never looked back.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
Not really. I initially wanted to be a doctor but I don’t think I would have got in to medical school. Thankfully I went a different direction because I love what I do now.
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
A degree in finance or accounting is normally required, but that must be paired with a willingness to work hard. I was always happy to work long hours – especially in the early years before I had kids – as I saw this as an opportunity to learn on the job.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
It is quite difficult to work in finance at a senior level without an accounting qualification. However, you can join an accounting department without an accounting qualification and work towards gaining one on the job.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
Inquisitiveness, determination, persistence and patience – I may not have them all! A good sense of humour always helps too.
What does a typical day entail?
No day is typical and no day is boring. My to do list seems to grow rather than ever get smaller.
Initially I was involved in some bid work that took up the majority of my time but life is getting back to normal now and my focus is on managing the finances of our Commercial plan. This involves recruiting the right people, making sure the Senior Management Team understands the plan and buy in to their targets, getting a reporting system in place that runs efficiently.
Fibrus is a small but a rapidly growing company. I am really enjoying rolling up my sleeves and being part of building something from the ground up.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The Fibrus team is one of the best bunch of people I’ve ever worked with. I’ve been really impressed with the energy and enthusiasm, and the collaborative working relationships we have developed.
Pressure can be a challenge. Investors rightly expect us to deliver the returns that we have committed to and this requires tremendous team effort and focus to make it happen.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business/role?
Like most businesses, we had to close the office, move to home working and temporarily halt our network build programme for the safety of our customers, employees and suppliers. We had a lot of work to do at the beginning of the outbreak to adjust our business plan and figure out ways to tighten our belts during the lockdown.
What adjustments have you had to make?
Since then, I’ve been really pleased with the effectiveness of the Fibrus team as we adapt to working from home. Our COO holds regular online ‘coffee and chats’ with his team and we have all quickly got to grips with Teams, Zoom and all the ways that help us stay connected.
The only problem is I still have to wear make up for the video conferences! Our build programme is back on track as of this week and I think the team is delighted to be back on site.
Why is what you do important?
I think it is more about what Fibrus is doing that is important. I am extremely proud to be part of a company that is helping to deliver full fibre to smaller towns in Northern Ireland that currently do not have great connectivity. I have no doubt that our network deployment will transform lives in these towns and help businesses to be established and to grow. We are one of the fortunate businesses who won’t be adversely impacted by Covid 19 – with more people working from home, great connectivity will be more important now than ever.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Only go down this path if you really enjoy accounting. If you don’t have a passion for what you do, your working life will seem very very long.
If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?
If I wasn’t in my current job, I’d love to be in a position to give something back. My dad passed away in a beautiful hospice last year, an incredible place run primarily on donations and by amazing volunteers. Perhaps I would use my piano skills to bring some musical enjoyment to a special place like that.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Be patient – listen more and talk less.
Describe your ideal day off.
A long hike with my family and our dog, followed by a pub lunch and perhaps a game of cards. Hearts is a family favourite.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
Using your contacts – however tenuous. Network, network, network. Persistence. And when you do get an interview, do a bit of research about the company beforehand. Prepare a few questions to show that you really are interested.