As part of our ten year anniversary celebrations Stephen Foale, a co-founder of FinanceHeads, talks about how the group for part-time Financial Directors started. He discovered he’s neither unique or alone, working as a portfolio FD and how being a part of something bigger than just his business is so valuable.
Let me take you back ten years
I was in my late fifties and a full-time FD of an AIM (Alternative Investment Market) listed garden centre group, having been head-hunted to join them from another listed group where I had been their FD for the past ten years. I was attracted to this new business as it was about to do an IPO and thereafter embark on an acquisition trail. Eight years on, a successful float and several acquisitions under our belt, when we became the target ourselves of a takeover bid from a much larger group. After detailed negotiations, the offer looked quite attractive and one we, as a Board, had to recommend to shareholders. The personal downside, however, was that they no longer needed the Board of Directors, although the new owners did make me an interesting offer, to stay on for a while, on a part-time basis, to help with other individual acquisitions they had made, sorting out their respective accounting and reporting aspects.
At the same time the Non-executive Chairman of my old company asked me if I would be interested in joining another AIM listed company he was Chairman of, on a part-time basis, as that company had a young FD that needed guidance and nurturing to make him a more effective part of their team. From that day my new career as a Portfolio Part-Time FD was born.
Within a few months, I had formed an alliance with a small local firm of Chartered Accountants that did not have any corporate finance expertise. Recently they had lost a couple of clients, for whom they had not been able to provide assistance with proposed transactions, who had subsequently taken all of their business to another firm that could do their accounts, tax and corporate finance support. I, therefore, filled the gap in their offering, on an as and when needed basis, and soon had several assignments from them under my belt, two of which lead to an ongoing relationship.
After about a year the engagement with the larger garden centre group came to an end. I had always considered this to be my bread and butter cornerstone, so whilst looking around to find a replacement I read an advert in the Sunday Times for a Business Coach with accounting expertise to join a team based in Reading University that operated a Government Contract to provide support and guidance to early stage, high growth, high potential SMEs. I applied, got the job on a part-time basis, and work with them still to this day.
I’m the only portfolio part-time FD, right?
Wrong! It was at a Small Business Forum/Exhibition held at an empty office block at Green Park in Reading, whilst manning the stand with my University colleagues, that, over the course of an hour, I chatted to three individuals who came onto the stand, each of whom turned out to be independent part-time finance directors. I thought I was unique in providing the service that I did, but there was one other chap, and two other ladies doing exactly the same. When the third arrived on the stand, I phoned the previous two, who fortunately were still at the exhibition, and we all met up in the refreshment area, and FinanceHeads was born.
Initially, we would meet up in a pub and chat over a drink, which we all found so beneficial being able to bounce ideas, seek advice or swap intelligence, and it soon blossomed into a company with a website and by word-of-mouth others started joining us.
FinanceHeads ten years on
Today we are 18 strong, have regular members meeting with topical speakers, circulate bi-monthly newsletters and generate many job opportunities from networking with other organisations or amount ourselves, all of which are circulated to all members.
We have also formed a loose alliance with three other similar groups that operate in adjoining territories with a combined total of circa 80 competent financial experts. Although we could be seen as in competition with each other we have all found that by working as a team makes business life so much easier. There is a vast market out there of small to medium-sized enterprises that would benefit from having an experienced, affordable, part-time FD within their team, we’re doing our bit to let them know we exist as FinanceHeads and share our expertise via our blog and explain what we could do for them and their business. It is easier to educate such organisations together rather than it is to do so on our own and if successful, there are enough opportunities to keep us all busy.
And now from one of our FinanceHeads
When Alan Simpson was asked ‘What does FinanceHeads mean to you?’ he replied “For me, the value of FinanceHeads is three-fold.
Firstly, the getting together with like-minded professionals to share what works, what doesn’t, and get updates on the latest trends in financing, restructuring, tax, etc., and other areas where we may be able to benefit our clients by introducing partners in legal, HR, marketing and other services.
Also, because I have the logo on my card I can talk to prospects about being part of a group of local Portfolio FDs, and how that helps augment my skills in some quite specialist areas (the example I always use is Patent Box). The attraction of a part-time FD is that you get access to all the skills for a fraction of the cost of a full-time hire. Engaging a FinanceHead means you actually have access to several FDs for a fraction of the cost of one. It helps to dispel some of the ‘one-man band’ negatives.
Finally the referrals. I have been lucky to have gained some excellent clients through FinanceHeads and have been able to add two new sectors to my CV which has helped me generate my own opportunities in those niches with a stronger skill set. Here’s to the next ten years, and many more thereafter!”
Thanks Alan, I couldn't have put it better myself! You can find out more about joining FinanceHeads on our Be a member page.
If you're a business owner and would like to explore how you can have your very own FD on a flexible basis please contact Michael Cartwright.
FinanceHeads Director and Founder Member