In our latest instalment, we catch up with Brendan Welsh, who is the interim CFO for Ainscough Crane Hire, which is the UK’s market leader for lifting solutions and services to the infrastructure, construction, power generation and industrial sectors.
Here, Brendan talks openly about his professional career pathway, what a working day looks like and the main issues currently affecting his role.
Please would you provide a brief overview of your career and the journey which has resulted in the role you are in today?
I always wanted to be an accountant, mainly because it was a subject I enjoyed at school, but I never really understood the variety and breadth of opportunities it could bring. Once that was decided, it was straight Finance all the way at university and then trying to get myself fully-qualified.
I achieved my ACCA qualification while at foodservice company Compass Group and soon after that I went to IT firm Hewlett-Packard, where I received some fantastic training and a little international experience.
I then got a role in contract Pharma with a US company called Quintiles, where I spent eight years. There, I was fortunate enough to have many different roles and a great mentor, who got me involved in lots of varied projects alongside my day-to-day responsibilities.
A divisional carve out led to my first Finance Director (FD) role and I was subsequently involved in both a system implementation and an acquisition. It was extremely hard work at the time but a worthwhile experience and I got through it!
From Quintiles I thought I would like the challenge of being an FD in another business and that is where aerospace and defence manufacturer Raytheon came up. I spent five years there as FD and again was fortunate enough to have a fantastic mentor who encouraged me to get involved in all aspects of the business, not just Finance. While I was there, I also managed to get involved in a SAP implementation, which was another challenge that I managed to overcome.
After that, an opportunity then came up for me at digital transformation firm Atos, where I took a divisional CFO role for a couple of years. This was interesting as I had never been in the IT industry before. I had some success in improving working capital and addressing issues on a few major projects. We also offshored much of the accounting to an outsourced provider in India.
After that I got a role at technical professional services firm Jacobs Engineering Group as the Europe and Middle East FD. This was another sector I had not been in before but I had done large projects and the remit was again to offshore the Finance team and upgrade the system so I felt I had done most of this before and would be able to cope.
After a year there and studying at the University of Strathclyde for my MBA, I started to think a little more deeply into what I really enjoyed doing and what I did not like quite as much. It was this entrepreneurial teaching and thinking which led me to becoming a consultant in my own limited company.
My first role was supposed to be for two months with a building materials and insulation supplier SIG plc as divisional FD for the distribution arm of the business, which was mid-transformation and mid-offshoring Finance. This role ended up being extended three times so I in fact lasted 18 months, having really enjoyed the excitement and experience along the way. This is when I knew that I had made the right decision to become an interim.
My latest role with Ainscough Crane Hire has focused on working capital, reporting and making improvements to a system implementation and dealing with the impact of COVID-19. I did not expect anything like this to happen during this gig so it has been interesting to say the least...
What does a typical day look like in an interim CFO?
There is no typical day, it depends on what the client wishes your focus to be on. In my experience so far there has always been a pressing need to address a particular matter, for example an audit, working capital, a system implementation, a transformation or reporting issues. I suppose that is why there is a demand for interim CFOs and FDs. The company either requires some extra bandwidth or has some specific issues which require capable short-term resources.
Why did you decide to become an Interim specialist and what do you enjoy most about it?
This comes back to my earlier answer about identifying which elements I enjoyed and others I did not so much. It covers all sorts of things, like meeting new people, working in different teams, enjoying a challenge, living in the present without long-term security, being mobile and not concerned about change or adopting different ways of doing things. With all of these things I quite enjoy the variety so I know it is right for me. However, I can understand that it is not for everyone!
What impact do you think COVID-19 and IR35 will have on the contracting market?
You could have thrown in Brexit to top this question off! In all seriousness though, a significant effect on the economy is already being felt as a result of COVID-19. Many companies are struggling to achieve pre-pandemic revenues and, once the Government assistance reduces, I fear that there will be some tough times ahead for many organisations.
In terms of the contracting market, some contractors believe companies may seek to restructure or attempt to reduce costs and use them to help with this process. So there may be some forthcoming opportunities, however we are not yet seeing this and I sense that many companies are keeping their powder dry right now and keeping a close eye on revenues. I suspect that, over the next couple months, we will find out if the market will warm up for contractors now we are through August.
IR35 has been the topic on most contractors’ lips for the past two years and it continues to dominate our dinner table discussions (and now our Skype calls). Personally, I believe there will be no further delay in its implementation, as we saw in March of this year on account of Coronavirus, as the Treasury will seek to address the deficit.
If I assume this is the case and that we will go live in April 2021 then I do foresee a major change in the market soon, where employers begin to determine status (either inside or outside). I would expect them to be risk averse, as I would be as an FD of a company, thus deeming many as inside and paying via payroll. The question then for the contractor is can the rate be increased in order to compensate?
My thoughts are that some will and some will not, it will all be dependent on the skills, knowledge and experience of the individual, the specific requirements of the client and, of course, how the market responds post-COVID for contractors. For example, if demand is low then I suspect many will not be able to increase rates to compensate.
Bring in the aforementioned Brexit and it is difficult to predict how things will go with any great deal of certainty!
What do you see as the key benefits for a business by engaging with an interim versus a permanent hire?
An interim may be deployed very quickly and most likely possesses much needed skills, knowledge or experience which are not available within the organisation for a short or medium-term period and can cover any gaps pending the arrival of a permanent hire. I really believe that the skill-set of an interim is different from a permanent hire and vice versa. In certain situations, it would be unreasonable to expect someone to cope with a given situation if they have not had prior experience or training, for example overseeing offshoring or a new system deployment.
What advice would you give to individuals aspiring to become an interim professional?
Gain as much experience across as many sectors and companies as possible and work on building lasting relationships in your professional network. Take the time to seek advice from others who have already navigated this pathway.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your former self?
Keep notes of all the good ideas and templates you have seen or created. You never know when they will come in handy again.
What has been your sliding doors or lightbulb moment that changed the course of your professional or personal life?
It really was doing the MBA which prompted me to think a little deeper and step back and make some life and career choices.
If you could instantaneously gain a new skill what would it be?
Be able to accurately read a putting surface for pace and direction - ha ha!
The guilty pleasure which has kept you sane in lockdown?
Not really a guilty pleasure but cycling. I must have completed hundreds of miles on cycle paths since March, attempting to stay as sane as I was prior to all of this.
The first restaurant you will head to after lockdown?
My favourite steakhouse, Miller & Carter
The one thing lockdown has made you realise you do not actually need?
A fridge in close proximity to my desk. Far too tempting!
If you would like to talk about your Finance recruitment needs in more detail, whether you are seeking an interim or permanent hire, please do not hesitate to contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Brendan for his contribution.. if you enjoyed catching up with him as much as we did, do remember to stay tuned for the next instalment of “MERJE Meets…” If you are a business leader and would like to contribute to our Q&A blog series going forward, then please get in touch with our PR & Marketing team at email@example.com