How I Got To Be A Finance Director Despite Being Technically Average

There’s a lot of advice out there telling you how to reach a senior level in accountancy.

I share a lot of ideas and insights online and in seminars and workshops for professional associations.

Today I wanted to write something a little different.

You see a lot of accountants and professionals seem to think that there is some magic formula.

The qualification that will guarantee success.

The connections that will help open doors.

The reality is that I got to be a Finance Director despite being technically average.

I started out in accountancy straight from school aged 15.

I had really basic qualifications.

I recall applying for about 40 jobs initially.  A handful of the organisations sent me a standard letter to say I had been unsuccessful.

One invited me to interview and decided to offer me a position in the accounts department.

In that first job I was responsible for matching invoices to orders and goods received notes and preparing invoices for payment.

Once I had mastered that I got more responsibility and ended up learning about all the core functions within finance.

I also noticed that the people who were more senior seemed to have developed skills and competencies that were not necessarily technical.

I paid attention to this, learned from them and looked for opportunities to put that learning into practice.

When I decided to move on, I wanted a role that was going to give me a broader range of experience.  So I moved into internal audit.

I learned about business risk, business processes, report writing, questioning, listening, completing work to timescales.

I also learned a lot about professionalism, interpersonal skills, building relationships, communicating difficult messages.

A lot of the people who were accountable for the processes I was reviewing were much more senior and a lot more experienced.  It required tact and diplomacy and an ability to win their trust.

As I moved into other roles I continued to learn, grow and develop.

I took every opportunity available to me to improve my skills, whether through formal training courses, on the job learning or getting involved in projects and work that were a stretch for me.

I focused on improving my management, leadership and presentation skills.

Yes I got my professional accountancy qualification but didn’t go down the line of collecting a lot of academic qualifications.

I didn’t have a set in stone a career plan.

What I did do however was curious.  Throughout my career I always had a question at the forefront of my mind.

That question was I wonder if I could succeed at the next level.

I wasn’t on a fast track.  It was more of a steady progression.

Looking back and reflecting on my 25 years in accounting, I think there were a number of key contributors to me reaching Finance Director.

  1. I learned early on that technical ability and qualifications would only get me so far in my career.
  2. When I changed jobs, I chose roles that were going to grow and develop me not those that were going to be more of the same.
  3. I looked for opportunities to contribute to the wider business rather than just focusing on the money.
  4. I realised that anything of significance was achieved through team work and a team effort rather than one brilliant individual.
  5. I took an interest in every member of team whatever level they were at.
  6. I built relationships with people.
  7. I went out of my way to help others be successful.
  8. I played to my strengths as much as I possibly could and looked to mitigate areas where I was weaker.
  9. I had my principles, standards and expectations.
  10. I took responsibility for my career and the results that I achieved.

What has helped you in your career so far?  What’s contributed to your success?  Share your story by leaving a comment.

About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

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