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What should a really good SME Finance Director do for your business?

How I would run an SME as the Finance Director

Owners – Respect the fact they own the business by keeping them informed as to how it is being run, and what the past and future looks like. But it’s important they understand a good management team needs left alone to get on with it. Invite them in to see the team in action and so they get perspective in knowing the business and the people in it. Be honest and open all the time and they will respect you.

Board – Prepare well for meetings, distribute papers well in advance, ensure people READ them. Keep it short. Encourage good board behaviour – discussions should be open and inclusive. The chair of a meeting needs to ensure no showboating goes on and the quieter and shyer Directors are asked their opinion. The board composition should reflect what the business is trying to achieve – not just seniority or the Chairman’s mates. NED’s should be there to add value not to make a quota or be trendy. Keep minutes succinct and issue quickly. Follow up on action points. Try and inject some informal relationship building time together out of meetings– a dinner before or afterwards is good. Those who break bread together stay together.

The MD / CEO – It can be a lonely job so my job is to support this person 100%. Make life easy for the boss by being his radar and confidant. Keeping the score is important but more so is looking over the horizon. Be a sounding board but also, it’s important to challenge the boss when necessary and not be a yes man. Mutual respect needs won and nurtured.

Management Team – The engine room of a business. Get to know all the areas of the business they manage, their staff, their problems. You can’t get their respect sitting behind a desk sending emails, so get out and about and spend time with them. You don’t need trendy “bonding” days out if you work holistically together and act as a real team. Help them set goals and work with them to achieve these.

Staff – The biggest asset. Nurture, support and listen to them. Hire the best and let them know you are not afraid of being challenged and are open to ideas. Trust them and they will trust you. Allow flexible working, apply kindness, set realistic goals and they will follow. Little things matter to them which are small things for a business. Share their problems, and solving them before passing down the line for them to take up is always appreciated. Stand up for them and champion them.

Myself – wearer of many hats. Keep up to date on external and internal issues and be comfortable managing the wider business such as HR, IT, Legal, Pensions, Facilities management and general compliance. The FD is the conductor of the orchestra. Be crystal clear on the way the business needs to go, be ethical, transparent and scrupulously honest and fair in all dealings.

External advisors / Stakeholders – Develop good relationships with bankers, lawyers, auditors, Advisors etc. Take them to see the hard coalface of the business so they understand it and get enthused about it. Give regular updates, especially forecasts and strategic developments. They will then be able to react better and quicker when needing to get involved. Don’t be afraid of having some fun together – even a beer in the sun goes a long way to forming lasting friendships.

The food chain – By this I mean the whole chain from customer through the company to the start of the product life. In my last business we shipped fruit from West Africa to Europe. I ensured I visited the banana plantations in Africa, the group companies we dealt with in ports and shore facilities and got to know their business and the senior management. When problems arise a quick phone call to someone you know is far more effective. I frequently went on board our vessels, spoke to the crews and understood their business and issues. You can’t run a business behind a spreadsheet and a desk.

The cleaner – The “little people” in a business are as important as the big fish. Treat them with respect and equality. They pick up vibes in a business better than others, and will respond by looking after you. I also believe a good company is a happy company, and that means total inclusivity.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Mckenzie, July 2019

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