A gap year abroad in the sun can be the perfect way to forget the realities of work and responsibility. For Financial Controller, Clive Hart, it proved a time to consider a career path which he has remained on ever since leaving university.
Finding the spice of life
It was on a gap year around the world when Clive took the time to discover where his talents could be channelled.
‘I needed to get the travel bug out of my system and so spent a year travelling the world. I had a variety of jobs including picking fruit, wrapping Christmas presents in a department store and working in the galley of a boat. They weren’t exactly what you’d call career jobs but they helped me to realise that I wanted a future where I could make a real difference in the business world. I studied Mathematics at university and had always considered accounting an option, and so I decided to follow this path when I returned to the UK.’
Originally from the Midlands, Clive returned home after his gap year adventures to the realities of his future career. ‘I enrolled into a local college where I began my CIMA training. I wanted to demonstrate to future employers that I was committed to a career in management accounting. I knew I needed to gain a professional qualification and saw CIMA as a route to gain access and experience from all areas of a business.’
Choosing CIMA seemed a natural choice in giving Clive what he calls a ‘rounded qualification’, providing him with an understanding of how different disciplines function within an organisation. ‘My CIMA training has given me a good foundation and now I feel I have the financial skills on both a practical and strategic level to deal with whatever is thrown at me.’
The world of business
After a series of interviews, Clive landed a job at Ready Mix Concrete (RMC) that took him on to continue his CIMA training. Leaving the Midlands, he moved to the West Country to begin his graduate scheme at an office based at a quarry site outside Bath. The first year was spent within the accounting department learning the basics; his second year led him to a secondment implementing a computer system at various RMC sites across the UK. Clive looks back at this time as one frenzied period in his life ‘living out of a suitcase.
The experience gained was invaluable, I was in charge of the whole process from implementing the system itself to training a range of staff across the entire organisation.’ At the end of the second year, he was asked to move to Feltham in West London, however Clive had made the choice to further his career at KPMG.
‘At KMPG I gained valuable experience supporting the business in the Facilities Department as a management accountant, taking charge of a £100 million cost base. Three years in, I was seeking new opportunities, so I contacted recruitment agencies once again and the prospect of joining Capgemini came up. I knew this global company and was impressed with the people I met at the interview. I accepted a role in the Telecom, Media and Entertainment division supporting the sales department as an accountant’, recalls Clive.
Clive has worked for Capgemini ever since in a variety of roles and is now Financial Controller for Capgemini Consulting. ‘For me, there is no typical day,’ Clive continues, ‘that is what I really enjoy. For example I spent this week travelling between London, Woking and Birmingham. Sometimes I have to travel to our head office in Paris but the majority of overseas meetings take place via conference calls. International travel is fun to begin with but you tend to find that you spend most of you time catching up on emails in airport lounges.’
‘The role is very rewarding in terms of business experience and I thrive on the variety; my time is divided between managing all aspects of the financials, analysing information and then presenting results, assisting with sales opportunities, improving financial systems and support processes and reviewing areas of development for the Finance team to learn and grow. My greatest challenges lie in managing various projects, interacting with a variety of stakeholders alongside handling deadlines set by the business – both short-term and long-term.’
With a deep passion and drive for the business, Clive believes he has learnt some valuable lessons over the course of his career.
‘For me the variety of roles I have had over the last nine years at Capgemini has given me enormous scope and the chance to recognise how to change. I enjoy change and the challenges that it brings.’
‘Three and a half years ago we wanted to investigate the opportunities for the finance team to continue their professional development. This led us to look at the team and partner with CIMA to work out the best ways to continue development. In 2006, I jointly led an initiative to make sure all employees studying for the CIMA qualification received the best support possible. This led to Capgemini building strong contacts with CIMA and benefiting from these links. We spent a lot of time investing in the professional development of our team and last year Capgemini won the CIMA Private Finance Team of the Year 2008 in recognition of the work that we have done’.
Clive doesn’t just look after the development needs of his Capgemini team, he also invests time looking at the needs of accountants local to him. ‘A glutton for punishment, I am also a member of the CIMA branch committee for Coventry and Warwickshire. This requires attendance at four or five meetings a year – a chance to network with members in practice and learn more from evening presentations. The main objective of the committee is to provide learning opportunities for CIMA members and students within the local area.’
All the essentials
‘Understanding the numbers and how they relate to the business is a necessity, yet being able to communicate ‘what they say’ effectively to all levels is crucial within this business,’ explains Clive.
‘Excellent inter-personal skills are a necessity in this role; you are dealing with people across the whole range of the business and therefore must be able to get your message across and understood. Another quality that I value in people is reliability. I look at the people who I work with to be able to manage tight project deadlines. To achieve these you need to be approachable and clear in your communication of requirements to your team. You can’t do everything yourself and so the emphasis on teamwork is very important.’
He offers this advice: ‘Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, if you do have a question to ask or need further explanation of an issue – do it. I can guarantee that someone else in the team will undoubtedly have the same question on their mind or may have missed an important point. People do make mistakes; it is how you learn and progress from them that is important.’
With a number of changes in the industry over the years, Clive appears unfazed; in fact he is ready to cope with the demands and pace of the business world.
‘What we are seeing is a significant change in the learning process for management accountants. When I started out, processes like credit control, accounts payable and simple ledger transactions were all the backbone to the learning process for a management accountant. These processes are being offshored so the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the basics is disappearing. This means there is a need to learn at a different level but it also provides more opportunities to learn elsewhere.’
Ten years and beyond
Faced with the question of the future, Clive is uncertain, but he is thriving on being a Financial Controller in a successful global organisation:
‘I have been fortunate enough so far and hope to continue to be presented with challenges down the line. I especially enjoy variety in my role at Capgemini and I can see further opportunities within the organisation to provide the variety that I thrive on.’
‘At present I have a career which challenges me no end and a young family to keep me busy in my spare time.’