Career profile: Financial director

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Moving from practice to industry can be a challenge but Jo Wilkinson did just that and found a surprising new passion. 

Wilkinson is the finance director (FD) for North Bar Ltd, owner of several bars in Leeds and the surrounding area, and craft brewery North Brewing Co which she was instrumental in helping establish.

What’s your day-to-day like?

I work with the other owner-directors who focus on the strategic direction of the company. Forecasting, funding applications, decision making and thinking about what we’ll invest in and when.

I do a lot of compliance work – we export our beer to the EU and outside the EU so I need to ensure we comply with different regulations applying to that. Making sure the paperwork is correct is complex; when the new Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme, for example, was introduced I had to make sure we were compliant both from the bar side, and the brewery side.

What are your challenges?

Staying up to date is important. Both with the brewery-specific regulation, and business changes like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Being part of a body like AAT is excellent for that because you pick up the knowledge you need from webinars, seminars and other training opportunities.

What impact does being qualified have on your salary?

Every time I’ve passed a level of either of AAT or ICAEW exams I’ve gained a pay rise, and I’ve also usually moved up a rung on the ladder each time. Moving into industry as a qualified individual also probably boosted my salary; if I’d gone into industry with less qualifications, I probably wouldn’t have reached the level I have done, and that would have limited salary. Pay rises really do materialise in line with job title development and qualifications.

What else have you discovered on your journey?

I’ve suffered all the way through from anxiety and depression, but have never had experience of an employer who wasn’t accommodating to this. At the start of my career I would avoid being open about this. But as I moved up I’ve shared how I was feeling with managers and they’ve worked with me to ensure I can stay in work – when feeling really low, they’ve helped me work flexible hours so I can get better. Workplaces are becoming so much better at dealing with this and I would very much say, try not to be afraid to talk about it or ask for help. Some large professional practice firms now have their own internal counselling teams who can help, so don’t shy away. It certainly hasn’t stopped my career development.

What do you recommend professionals do to progress in their careers?

Think strategically about what you want from your role. Northbar had been a client of mine for ten years, and it was when I decided I wanted to focus on helping out one client instead of working with lots of people that I knew it would be a good path to pursue.

What are you proudest of?

I was shortlisted for a Forward Ladies Rising Star Award in 2016, and at same time I was on the 35 under 35 list in industry in Financial Director magazine. Awards are all part of differentiating yourself; you have to be confident to put yourself forward. I hesitated about entering the Forward Ladies award because it felt a bit narcissistic. But now – it’s on the CV, I’m proud of it and I got to go to an awards ceremony and dinner as well. As modest people we tend to downplay our achievements and if we’re not careful we can stop seeing them as such.

Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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