Awards profile: from AAT to chartered accountant to Finance Director

Hayley Lavens FMAAT, Finance Director at Nova recruitment firm, won the AAT Professional Member of the Year award in June of this year, at AAT’s Annual Conference.

Her boss, who was in a taxi in St Albans at the time, promptly turned back around and hotfooted it back to the awards ceremony to congratulate her, and buy her a bottle of champagne.

“My boss said it was one the proudest moments in his career,” says Lavens. “I’m very lucky to be surrounded by such supportive people. I don’t think I would have entered the awards without them or my fiancé cheering me on.”

Lavens, who started out as an administrator, never even thought she would work in finance. “I didn’t get on well with maths at school, although I ended up doing well in my GCSE’s I found it very hard work to get to grips with it so I thought, ‘well numbers aren’t for me.’ How wrong I was!” she says.

The start of her career

Lavens decided university wasn’t something for her so she started a legal secretarial diploma then applied for a job in the local paper at a recruitment company. “It was nerve-wracking applying for my first ‘proper’ job but I got offered the position and started a month later as an administrator. I loved the people I worked with, recruitment is such a buzzing environment,” she says.

She began helping out with timesheets and before long she was assisting the company secretary. “I was doing various bits and bobs on Sage and it all clicked and I realised I really liked this part of the job,” she says. She took over the timesheets and freelance worker management and then, when the company secretary went on maternity leave, she started paying wages and took over responsibility for keeping the company’s finances in order.

“But I was curious, what else could I be doing – cue AAT!” she says. “My initial goal was just to get my AAT membership, but I loved studying and somehow believed that it would be my golden ticket to greater things.”

My boss said it was one the proudest moments in his career

Making her mark

By the time Lavens started studying AAT’s Professional Diploma, she had a plan in place and hoped that the qualification would lead her to qualifying as a chartered accountant with the ACCA and then become a finance director. “I was doing so much more for the company by then, each week I would come back from college and apply something new and it was a great feeling,” she says. “It was great to also have started CPD and be networking with other people, I was in awe of those I would see at the events and think – I can’t wait to be as knowledgeable, skilled and professional as them.”

To be made Finance Director was, says Lavens, a dream come true. “There were times when I thought, oh that will never be me and sometimes I am still wondering how I got here – then I remember that I put in a lot of hard work, studying and pure determination,” she notes.

One of the things she enjoys most about her current role is the variety and scope it gives her. “I don’t have one area of finance that I focus on, I have a whole view and I enjoy the challenges that come with it,” she says. “I do everything from preparing year end accounts to cashflow management, budget planning and credit control. I love helping a business drive towards its goals and being able to assist when times are hard. I really feel like a valued member of the business.”

Juggling life

It wasn’t always easy juggling family and other commitments though. “The hardest part for me was studying and working and juggling my personal life,” Lavens says. “I gave up numerous weekends to study and probably drove my partner and close family mad with the stress I was under, but they knew I wanted to do well and I had unconditional support.”

She has finally achieved a better work-life balance. “I don’t work weekends and I do work late but it is not too often. But my head never leaves the office, it is a by-product of being dedicated to my role and the business but I would rather that than not wanting to care about it at all,” she says.

The importance of keeping things in perspective

And what would Lavens advise other finance professionals who want to progress their careers?

She is a big fan of networking events. “Speak to people, network and engage,” she says. “You will learn lots from this, more than you would from looking at social media or joining online networking groups.”

But you also have to keep things into perspective, Lavens says. “You have to prioritise – sometimes work is urgent but you have to remember what you are working for and make sure you spend time with your family, it gives you the drive to take on the challenges,” she notes. “And always surround yourself with those who want you to succeed.”

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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