Meet those controlling the finances at SwiftKey, easyGym and JoJo Maman Bébé

From Richard Gibson, CFO at venture capital-backed SwitKey, to Ken Olisa, a serial entrepreneur and man who declared a FTSE 100 mining company “more Soviet than City” after being ousted from the board, the conference will touch on some of the most pertinent issues of today’s business landscape.

With these entrepreneurial FDs in need of peer-level advice from trustworthy sources, the day will provide a forum for discussion and debate on the biggest issues involving IT, HR, cash flow, ownership models and that all important board.

In the lead up to Real FD Live on 24 February 2015, Real Business has been speaking with leaders of the UK’s most exciting companies to discover what their job entails and how the FD/CFO role has changed in recent years.

Speaking to us back in September 2014, SwiftKey’s Gibson explained what it was like to be a CFO at a fast-growing company, he said: “The overriding challenge for a CFO is managing the business in the context of massive business uncertainty and rapid business change. CFOs often provide the checks and balances for the business ensuring it is on stable financial footing as well as having robust controls and processes.

“In my view perhaps this more traditional role for a CFO needs to be adapted when operating in a highly fluid and fast moving environment. A good CFO in a high-tech high-growth company needs to provide an appropriate level of business control whilst also creating light touch processes which do not hamper the pace of execution around the business.”

Gibson will be taking part in a debate centring on whether the biggest threat to UK business lies outside its shores. With two sides going head to head to win the vote of the audience, panelists will argue either geopolitical shocks and weak economic growth in Europe or domestic challenges including an impending election and uncertain monetary policy are more relevant.

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Joining the understanding your owners panel session, analysing what different ownership models mean in real life, Xtrac finance director Stephen Lane will be revealing what it is like to have a private equity backer. In an interview with Real Business in November, Lane explained that Xtrac severed ties with its private equity partner to become 100 per cent employee owned again after 13 years.

This has thrown up some issues though, and Lane said: “ Everyone has expectations in terms of owning shares, the really want to see something for that. Therefore it was good that last year we were able to pay a dividend for the first time, rewarding people for holding equity.”

One of the biggest themes at the conference will be the changing nature of an FD/CFO, and now entrepreneurship now plays a bigger part. Steve Rafferty, finance director at Baxter Freight, told Real Business in 2014: “I would advise prospective FDs to immerse themselves in all areas of the business. The modern FD has to be emphatic to the varying needs of the enter team.

“It is difficult to fully contribute to the commercial success of the business without an understanding of all aspects of it.”

Other speakers to be having their say on 24 February, and become part of the Real FD Network, will be Thunderhead CFO James Bodha, Ocean Outdoor CFO Stephen Joseph and JoJo Maman Bébé head of finance Hannah Heath. With backgrounds from those three including high street retail, multi-platform advertising and software-as-a-service, the debates will be bringing together expertise from across the board.

Looking back on last year’s event, in its former guise as Entrepreneurial FD, there were some profound and thought-provoking statements made on stage. Mark Tuner of ISIS Equity Partners said: “The best FDs are able to communicate the consequences of actions and how it impacts jobs,” while Incisive Media CFO James Campbell-Harris added: “There isn’t a given formula. If the FD can’t sleep at night, it’s too much.”

Perhaps summing it up best was YFM Equity Partners managing director David Hall. He declared: “It used to be very simple. In 1942 double-entry bookkeeping was invented – the world was flat. Now, it’s no longer flat. It’s one thing to know the numbers, but it’s how they are communicated and how you interact with stakeholders that really matters.”

If you want to have your say on the role of FDs and how important they are for growth companies, make sure to book your place at Real FD Live.

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