Meet the mentor: Chris Argent, CFO and Digital-Transformation Guru

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Kofi Abedi-Boafo is at the very beginning of his career. He’s about to start a traineeship at accounting firm BDO when he meets Chris Argent, a CFO and digital-transformation guru.

Kofi got into accountancy through the charity Leadership Through Sport & Business, which offers a combination of an AAT apprenticeship and training in core workplace skills.

What Kofi really wants to work out is where he would like to end up. Chris is more than happy to help him come up with a plan. He held senior manager and CFO roles at companies such as BT, All Group and SSP Group before moving into digital transformation roles at John Lewis, Amazon, British American Tobacco and Vodafone.

Chris: So why BDO? What appealed about it?

Kofi: I like the idea of problem-solving and helping a business grow. I’m quite creative. When I went in, they were impressed with me, so they called me back pretty quickly and I met some of the partners. I started last week.

Chris: What’s next then?

Kofi: I just want to keep working on my AAT qualification and move on to ACCA, so I can become a chartered accountant. I want to progress up the ladder.

Keeping an open mind

Chris: I would keep an open mind about that, if I were you. There are a lot of changes going on in the market and at least one of the Big Four has said: “We’re going to recruit on a skills and competence basis, rather than by qualification or which university you went to” – and credit to them.

If you’ve got a skill for financial modelling or technology or something that’s not pure accountancy – data science or analytics, say – couple that with something like AAT and I think you’ll go just as far as if you had put an extra two or three years into your accounting studies. It depends on what you want to do. A lot of people come into accountancy with the vague idea that they want to be a CFO. Is that your plan?

Kofi: I want a position with some authority. I want to be fairly high up in a company.

Chris: What’s driving that? Is it status?

Kofi: My main motivation is my family and making them proud. I’ve always been an ambitious, competitive person. I don’t know why – I just want to be the best that I can be.

Chris: In six years, what do you want to be doing?

Kofi: Wow, okay. Hopefully, I’ll be living a comfortable life. But I’m not really doing this for the money. I want a job that I’m going to be satisfied in. I want to be happy when I’m coming into work. And settled.

What does good look like?

Chris: What does that look like in practical terms? Is it a run in the morning and getting your coffee at 11? Is it having a good team around you that’s working well?

Kofi: Yeah, having a good team around me, where everything’s working smoothly. I think that will give me satisfaction. At BDO, I think I can find something like that. I spoke to my line manager and he said his team is small and they work closely together, and I feel like being in a small, strong team would be a good starting point for me.

Chris: You’ve got a good opportunity there. If you like the culture of the company, see it as a long-term investment of your time to get to where you want to go. I’d definitely try to define what that is in practical terms. Have a really clear line of sight on those goals, and it’ll make them easier to achieve. I can see you go to the gym. If you go to the gym without knowing what you’re going to do for the next 45 minutes, you’re going to have a worse session than if you went in with a plan. That sort of focus will keep you where you want to be.

Kofi: One area I’m quite interested in is advisory – helping companies grow. What do you think I need to do to succeed in that area?

Chris: I think, in an advisory role, you’ve got to come across as very credible very quickly. A lot of people turn to LinkedIn first, so they’ll have checked you out before you meet them – you don’t really have to go through your CV. What they really need to do is like you. It’s just like any sales approach – you buy from people you like. People will have an advisory chat with someone they like and trust, so building credibility is critical. But that’s an umbrella term for lots of skills: you’ve got to be able to communicate well, build rapport quickly, open people up with the right questions and really listen. That’s the first part of the role: to find the problems. So you need to ask the right questions.

Asking the right questions

Kofi: What sort of questions should I ask?

Chris: What’s the biggest pain point in your organisation? You could do what we’re doing here and ask: what are your goals and where do you want to be in six years? But another question for you, Kofi: what do you hope to learn at BDO?

Kofi: I want to know how to be credible. I want to be trusted. How can I make sure I can get into advisory and be successful? I think I’m likeable, but I want to make sure I can offer good advice.

Chris: You’re more than halfway there if you’re a likeable character that people will want to work with. A friend of mine who works in advisory said to me: “It’s amazing how far you can get in advisory just by being likeable.” So don’t undervalue your personality. And remember: you don’t have to know everything. Focus on your strengths and exploit them as much as you can, and then use your network and your team to plug any gaps.

Kofi: That sounds like a good game plan.

Chris: Definitely, and they’ll love you for that. People want nothing more than to talk about what they do. I’m not a technical accountant – I’m not interested in talking about financial standards. I’ve turned down jobs on that basis and let people know upfront that it’s not my area of expertise. That’s made me more credible. They know what my skills are. Then I’ve got my network. Networking is very important – it can open a lot of doors.

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