How accounting led me to head a department at the Royal Albert Hall

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Even in the creative industries, accounting and bookkeeping skills are valuable career foundations.

Lesley Page’s journey started with an AAT qualification — and has taken her all the way to Britain’s most beloved venue.

A career involving housecalls to Richard Branson, global travel and free seats at sell-out Kylie Minogue performances wouldn’t immediately be associated with a role in accounting. But it can be surprising how the world of financial records is able to take you off the books. One accountant who knows this all too well is Lesley Page, head of finance at the Royal Albert Hall.

Britain’s most iconic concert hall routinely plays host to legendary live events like the BBC Proms and Champions Tennis. And Page has the privilege of listening in on proceedings from the best seat in the house: her office behind the venue’s famous organ.

“I hear everything that’s going on in the auditorium,” she says. “Whether it’s organ tuning, and a chap playing the same key one thousand times, or the Royal Variety performance.”

Page’s journey to the Royal Albert Hall began on a practical note. Following her A-Levels she worked in an entry-level finance capacity and earned the AAT diploma in accounting. When she decided to take a nine-month career break to go travelling through Australia and New Zealand, she found that her financial knowhow came in handy.
“I worked while I was in Sydney over the Millennium New Year. Because I’d done the AAT [qualifications] I managed to get a role for Nokia in their Australian offices,” she says. “Accounting is brilliant because it’s a transferable skill wherever you go.”
Upon her return to the UK, Page devoted herself to building her existing accounting skills. She undertook a Chartered Institute of Management Accountants qualification while working as an accountant at Virgin Management. In total, she spent seven years with the company, eventually progressing to the role of finance manager. No matter what their job title, most employees wouldn’t expect to meet Richard Branson within their first month at the company, but that’s exactly what happened to Page.

“My boss said Richard Branson was in the country and that he lived just round the corner,” Page explains. “He told me I could deliver a report to his house if I wanted to. But I wasn’t expecting Richard to actually answer the door when I knocked!”

After three years with Virgin Management, the company’s finance department was restructured, leaving Page to be made redundant. Rather than despair, she recognised another opportunity to go abroad and seek out new experiences.

This time, Page spent four months travelling alone through southeast Asia. The experience left her feeling more able and determined — just the push you need to continue pursuing a career in financial leadership.

“I came back feeling ready for bigger challenges,” she says. “Travelling really helped to boost my confidence.”

Just as before, Page stepped into a new role after returning from her adventures overseas. She served for six years as head of finance for the UK and Ireland arm of German retailer Hugo Boss. The world of fashion prepared her to juggle the demands of a creative working environment.

“A lot of my colleagues are from artistic backgrounds,” she says of the Royal Albert Hall. “So the way I communicate with them is really important, and quite often not financial, so I have to make sure what I’m saying is easily understandable.”

Far from the drab repetition of filing and faxing, Page spends her days cultivating working relationships with the promoters and managers of some of the finest acts in the world. At present, Page counts Kylie Minogue and her management team among those relying on her financial expertise.

“She’s coming to do ‘A Kylie Christmas’,” Page explains. “We’re working very closely with her management to make sure we’ve got the right processes in place so that we pay the relevant people as quickly as possible after the performance.”

Not one to get star-struck, Page ensures that her attention is consistently focused on keeping the Royal Albert Hall’s internal operations running smoothly, no matter how exciting the performers may be.

“It’s really important to me that I spend time with my team, identifying their training needs, as well as motivating them,” she says. “We’re then able to provide financial information to our colleagues and stakeholders to help them make better decisions.”

Following her recent performance at the Royal Albert Hall, singer Ellie Goulding left a note in the performers guestbook that read: “What an honour, thank you for an unforgettable day.” For Page, every day working at the famed venue is worthy of a standing ovation.

Johanna Hart is a freelance writer whose work has been published by Google, Facebook and Natwest.

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