Private Company FD of the Year 2012: Who’s in the running?

Mid-sized private companies are ignored by many, but not by us. Here are five FDs helping to grow Britain’s heartland businesses.

Robert Whitrow is finance director of Leasedrive Group and was a key member of the team that, during a lightning six-week period, acquired the Masterlease contract hire business in late 2010, following investment from LDC (Lloyds Development Capital). Since then, Robert has led the integration of the two businesses, which involved migrating the Masterlease business away from its 30-year-old operating platform over to state-of-the-art systems. Results have been impressive, too: Leasedrive recorded an EBITDA of £10min 2011 compared to £5m in 2010.“Robert has played a vital and pivotal role in this success,” says Leasedrive MD David Bird. 

John Leyden is a multi-talented CFO, bringing financial acumen to high-profile businesses such as YouGovStone, Q Research and pizza chain Firezza. Described as “one of the smartest FDs I’ve come across”, he’s also a consummate networker. That is how he creates value across his portfolio, said his nominator: “introducing us to other companies and service providers who are tried and tested, thus saving us valuable time and guaranteeing good work practices.” And good returns, too: Firezza turnover is £4.5m, with £500,000 profit, and a vision for 25-30 sites in London. And the firm is a pioneer in using technology to deliver customer service, again championed by John.

Peter Aratoon is finance director at YourCash, an unheralded but vital business that’s responsible for moving £2bn-worth of cash in the UK per year (and €1bn in the Netherlands) in a cycle from customers’ bank accounts to its ATMs to customers’ hands. Peter has led from the front, playing an integral role in the firm’s management buyout at a time when credit and access to debt was extremely tight. Since the MBO, a significant portion of debt has been repaid and ebitda has improved 200 per cent. Peter has encouraged three people to complete their accountancy studies and qualify during the year. Peter is described by fellow direct Ewan Ogilvie as “challenging, sometime demanding, in his pursuit of making our company a success.”

Nick Bray, CFO at anti-virus software firm Sophos, is described by his CEO Steve Munford as “a highly competent and dependable FD who knows his numbers inside and out as well as adding value to the business through his strategic support, thought-provoking insight and excellent communication skills. Significant recent contributions to the business include leading the creation of the firm’s Leadership forum, which has boosted team-working and peer trust; introducing a cost-cutting programme that’s led to a 32 per cent forecast improvement in margins and helping to lead Sophos back to profitability. He also created the role of Global Business Operations to improve operational effectiveness, combining several departments into one.

Daniel Evans is finance and commercial director at Silver Street Automotive, the £116m-turnover automotive dealership, with 13 centres across the south-west. Major recent achievements include: delivering a transformation plan that took £500,000 of costs out of the business; consolidating a number of businesses into the group and turning them to profitability; a headcount reduction. Here’s Andy Russell, Silver Street Automotive MD’s assessment: “Well prepared, always willing to challenge, and never short of an idea, Daniel has been key in assisting me to deliver a difficult business through a difficult time, and turn it into a robust and well measured business for the future”.

Ashley Deakin has made the unusual journey from running his own business to being group finance director, after merging his business with 1st Contact Group. Over the 13 years since, he’s built a dynamic, acquisition-led relationship with group CEO Reg Bamford and, most recently, led the offshoring of back-office functions to South Africa, a major upheaval for the professional services group that yielded significant savings. Bamford describes him simply as: “an exceptional FD and a credit to the accounting profession.”

The FDs’ Excellence Awards, in association with ICAEW, are held on May 24 at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square. For the full shortlists, including FTSE 100, 250 and Smaller Quoted candidates, visit the awards website. The awards are also supported by Lombard, Ernst & Young, Lloyds Banking Group, Kaplan Financial, Drax and the London Evening Standard.

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