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Young FD of the Year (private company): 6 of the best

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Turnarounds, buy-outs, international expansion… Is nothing beyond our group of top young FDs running the finances at these high-growth firms?

Gary Davies is finance director of recycling business JBMI Group. Through the severe downturn of 2008/09, he was a key figure in the group’s restructuring, rebuilding the group’s balance sheet and maintaining customer confidence. Following this challenging period, he’s introduced strong financial and KPI disciplines, enabling the family business to become much more nimble and entrepreneurial. Through the period, he’s managed delicate relationships with great aplomb, including taking over FD duties from the CEO! Says that CEO, Miles Brough: “we do not consider him to be a ‘finance director’ per se. He is, quite rightly, viewed as a senior director and shareholder of the business, with a valid voice and opinion across every activity and strategic decision that the business undertakes.”

Phil Jones was parachuted into 2OC as financial controller of the renewable energy business when a proposed joint venture hit the rocks. He then built a new business model for the group, leads on negotiations with major utility businesses, has worked through a cost-cutting programme, and is a key part of the new business’s fund-raising drive. As if that weren’t enough, he’s secured new and cheaper offices and found time to mentor a young, recently qualified group accountant. “Phile’s an outstanding FD and just as important, one hell of a nice guy. I couldn’t have wished for a better man at my side,” says Andrew Mercer, 2OC CEO.

Jennifer Phillips is group FD of Cambridge Education Group, which provides academic, creative and English language programmes to international students in the UK. As well as delivering core finance roles – such as creating KPIs of a full management reporting process that are now the role model within the portfolio companies of CEG’s private equity backers – Jennifer led for the first six months CEG’s new central admissions division. This involved dealing with customers in 60-plus global markets. She also finds time, as a working mother, to undertake mentoring for younger finance professionals. She is, says CEG CEO Fergus Brownlee, “the best FD I have ever had working for me. She is a demanded participant at senior level business meetings, embodies customer service and has a breadth and clarity of business understanding.”

Ian Trinder is CFO of the retirement home business Audley Court. In a tough funding environment in recent years, he’s led a financial restructuring and raised £20m for a new retirement village in Berkshire. Over this period, company turnover rose from £4.2m (2009) to £10.9m in 2011 and is forecast to rise to £40m by 2013. With funding secured, Audley is able to grow and increase employment at a vital time for the UK economy in general and the construction industry in particular. Says his nominator, “Ian is a real asset to the business and has added a huge amount of value in a relatively short period of time, and we are looking forward to building a substantial and valuable business together.”

Stephen Joseph is CFO at Ocean Outdoor, the outdoor advertising group. One of his most significant contributions on joining was to restructure incentives, a notoriously thorny management issue. Stephen’s impact has led to serious ebitda improvement, largely attributable to his scheme driving higher-margin revenue. In effect, he operates as the group’s COO, showing strong negotiation and business-modelling skills, as well as fulfilling HR and legal functions. Says his CEO Tim Bleakley, “He has a unique ability to convey complex financial aspects to not only the other board directors but to the operating directors. At any time of day or night I can rely on Stephen to distil options so that we end up making the right decisions.”

Manish Mandavia is finance director at Donantonio Group, the importer and distributor of Mediterranean food ingredients. He joined the business following a dramatic increase in pasta prices in 2008, after the euro strengthened from €1.46 to €1.07, increasing the company’s input costs by almost 50 per cent, sending the business into administration. Manish’s decisive intervention, which included slashing stockholding, introducing debt factoring and renegotiating with the landlord, returned the group to health and cash-generation, and today Donantonio is on a decisive growth path. Judges described him as a “clear role model and definitely one to watch.”

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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