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What Skills Are Essential For An Accounting Manager In The Future?

What Skills Are Essential For An Accounting Manager In The Future?

by David Landau

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We are continuously being asked about the skills required in order to progress up through the ranks in today’s commercial accounting world.

Rory Lewis, now the Managing Director (MD), APAC at Deluxe Entertainment Services Group was kind enough to sit down with Richard Lloyd Recruitment’s Co-Founder Geoff Balmer to discuss his views on the skills that will be required in the Manager of the future. 

Rory has worked his way up the ranks, starting his career with Deloitte in 1999 before working for some of the most recognisable brands in the world including Walt Disney and Universal Pictures.
 

Geoff: Hi Rory, thanks for your time. To kick-off, could you possibly share with us a little about how your career has evolved to where you are today as the MD, APAC for Deluxe?

Rory: Thanks Geoff. I’m a Chartered Accountant by trade having qualified with one of the big 4. I was lucky enough to have a ‘sliding doors’ moment after I qualified with a decision to make on my next step and the direction it would take my career. I had 2 main offers on the table:

  1. Trading Analyst with a large, global investment bank as a Trading Analyst (this path would have taken me into the serious corporate banking sector)
  2. Commercial Finance Analyst with Disney

I have always loved films and decided to take the role with Disney. I chose to follow my personal interests rather than to follow the money.

I still look back on this decision and know it was completely the right one for me. I was more motivated at work, as I was genuinely interested in the underlying business, which led me to generating better results and add more value to the businesses I worked for, and ultimately, continued career progression for myself. 

From Disney, I moved to Universal to help set up their new International Theatrical HQ in London. This is where my role developed into senior management responsibilities and also where I gained exposure to senior leadership and the decisions they have to make to run a company. 

From there I moved to Deluxe where I started as Financial Controller with end-to-end financial responsibilities. I was quickly promoted to FD for their largest business with operations across EMEA.  It’s safe to say Deluxe has never been a static business, having to constantly evolve at a hectic pace to ensure it remains viable in a very competitive and fast-changing market (it’s in the entertainment market servicing Hollywood Studios & major OTT providers like Netflix & Amazon).  Deluxe has always been run very lean which meant more and more challenges and responsibilities were thrown at me. Slowly over time, I went from providing analysis to creating business cases, from supporting sales teams to running the sales pitches, from being part of the Shared Service teams to running the Shared Service teams and from being the advisor to leadership to becoming a Company Director. 

The last step in my career was when I moved to Australia with my family after accepting the APAC Regional CFO role with Deluxe at the start of 2017.  At the start of 2019, the company undertook a major organisational restructure, at which point I was promoted to MD, APAC whilst keeping my additional hats of regional Chief Finance Officer & Chief Administrative Officer.

Given your accounting background, now working as an MD, what would be the most important skills you would look for in finance leaders for your team in the future?  Why?

I would say there are three skills that would stand out:

  • Firstly, commercial acumen – The ability to apply financial concepts to the real world to better support and drive value for a business with practical/deliverable solutions and advice. It has been my experience that many finance professionals find it very difficult to move away from the more rules-driven area of controllership into the more subjective, and open-ended, area of commercial finance. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of businesses no longer look at the Finance Department as being 'back of house'. A strong finance department can help deliver better results (operational as well as financial) for a business. But to do this the finance staff have to be able to look at the business through a commercial lens.
  • Second, communication & social intelligence – The ability to work collaboratively with, and bring together, all types of people across all levels of seniority, countries, departments and, increasingly important in today’s environment, remotely. I personally see the Finance department as the “business glue” that brings together all other areas of the business. But to do this well requires finance staff who are able to articulate complex financial concepts to non-financial people and be able to distil vast amounts of data into easily digestible formats.
  • Thirdly, as more and more basic accounting/bookkeeping can be automated by robust financial systems, I feel the future for finance professionals will be in their ability to drive beneficial financial and operational results rather than governing the mechanics of generating the “numbers”.

What two skills do you anticipate CFO’s of the future must be masters of? 

In my mind, they would be the same as the above. Although I’m not sure that these skills really qualify just for future CFO’s as they are certainly required in today’s world too!

What advice do you have for finance leaders to keep their teams engaged whilst working remotely? What has worked well for your business? 

Ensure you have regular check-ins with staff and 1:1s with your direct reports, preferably with video so you can pick-up on your teams’ non-verbal cues. It can be easy for some staff to be out-of-sight-out-of-mind and I see it as the managers’ responsibility to ensure they stay engaged with all their team members. 

I’d say even more focus should be put on the quieter, more introverted team members as they are less likely to reach out pro-actively. We’ve also been running more Zoom townhalls to keep the broader staff base aware of the latest company and market news. I’m generalising with my advice here and obviously there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.   

What are your concerns for the future of accounting leaders? 

The ability to provide useful/accurate/timely leading analysis for increasingly complex global companies in increasingly faster-changing markets. Additionally, their ability to deliver robust financials in an ever more competitive and cost-conscious environment.

What would your advice be to early-stage Accounting Managers wanting to progress down a similar path to yourself? 

My advice would be to try and gain commercial experience through exposure to as many different areas of your business as possible. Get out from behind your desk (once we hopefully emerge from COVID19) and go speak to the various business stakeholders you work with rather than just sending an email. Try to get involved in projects that are outside of your current remit or even outside of finance! Clearly these are all aimed at trying to gain exposure to how businesses operate outside of the financial world.

What is the best bit of advice you were ever given? 

As I’ve become more senior, it’s probably “People do business with people. Always treat people fairly, openly, honestly, and with respect.”. The second part of that advice I like to think is pretty solid life advice, not just working advice. But it is safe to say operating under that advice has helped me develop really strong relationships with both internal & external stakeholders, win new business, retain lots of business and, most importantly, develop a really strong team. Leaders should always remember that they are only ever as strong as their team!

Rory, thank you again for your time. As always, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting.
 

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