The Big Interview - 12 Little Questions Part 2

The Big Interview 12 Little Questions

Is the glass half full? The Global Delivery Director of Informa Plc believes so, what with a multi-billion pound merger with UBM underway.

Lee Shepherd – Sales & Marketing Director at Sheridan Maine London invites Ben Steel - Global Delivery Director Financial Shared Services to express his thoughts on 12 little questions, over a Malbec in The Big Interview. 

Having obtained a Masters in Sports Science, Ben had a varied career by dipping his toe into  a variety of roles including being an Aqua Aerobics instructor, a building labourer, joining the Fire Service and even studying Japanese for a year before embarking on a career in finance.

With entry level roles in Accounts Payable, Credit Control and Management Accounts (he is FCMA & CGMA Qualified), Ben transitioned through a wide range of industries and companies including Corporate Express (Catalogues), Ford (Motor) and Pitney Bowes (Global Technology). It was with Pitney Bowes that his career took flight, as with three children under the age of three; he decided to take an International role that saw him becoming the FC for Benelux.

Finance Director of Maersk’s UK Container Division came next; a Multi-National organisation with a £1bn+ business based in the UK. Ben drove an International project re-engineering the finance team and after successful completion, transferred his skills to the interim market securing a role with Renewables company Lightsource and then with Care UK.

Finance beckoned once again with Informa looking after the European Global Service Organisation before moving to take on a Global role as Global Delivery Director. 

Informa is a leading business intelligence, academic publishing, knowledge and events business, operating within the Knowledge and Information economy. Informa provides products and services based on content, intelligence and connections to specialist communities worldwide. These include academic books and journals, data-driven intelligence publications and services, exhibitions, conferences and learning platforms. Informa has over 11,000 staff around the world.

LS:“Exciting times for Informa what with the UBM merger – how do you see the business strengthening its position in the market because of this?”

BS: “Definitely exciting times Lee, the combined market opportunity brought by this combination can be felt globally.  It enhances the reach, scope, and content offering to the market, leveraging the core skills from each organisation. The combined talent will enhance the content and intelligence we can provide as benefit to communities.”

LS: “Informa has over 11,000 employees around the world, as part of the Shared Service Organisation you operate a European Shared Service Centre how do you feel the current Brexit negotiations could affect (negative/positive) your markets?”

BS: “We operate globally and have a Global Shared Service Organisation landscape. The business is diversified across multiple markets so Brexit, although yes a risk as with any uncertainty, is not a key concern at this stage. We are fortunate by the way we are structured to be Brexit neutral. Europe for us is lower risk, growth is focussed in the Asia and US markets. When Brexit was announced, the Informa share price increased!”

LS: “On a wider scale how do you feel the UK can still compete to maintain its global reputation to be a major destination to attract business, investment and industry talent during the Brexit negotiations?”

BS: “There is a lot of dialogue still to be had in the negotiations, let alone in the Press! The UK must focus on its key strengths and look for opportunities in areas where we are reliant on our European trade.

To continue competing in those strength areas, we will need to ensure that the two pillars of excellence of service and financial incentive are developed. Our market offering must be both leading and value.

As a nation we employ talent from across the world, we need to ensure that we can continue to do so.”

LS: “What do you see as the main challenges and/or opportunities facing your business in 2019?”

BS: “With any combination of this scale comes challenge and that will continue to be felt into 2019, we need to ensure that we bring the best from both organisations and focus on the Informa of the future.

Opportunities will come from our markets which are evolving and technology which is advancing.

We must continue to look at the products and services that help people and businesses work smarter and make better decisions faster.”

LS: “How does an organisation and in particular a finance department prepare for such or indeed benefit from those factors?”

BS: “Planning, process, open communication and not being afraid to make a mistake. Change should not be seen as sporadic, it is a continuous evolution, the key is to understand what it is that you are looking to achieve.

Do not think that there is only one way, having that ‘one view’ focus will blinker your ability to change.”

LS: “The role of the finance professional is evolving beyond a traditional support function, with greater demands on commercial reporting, business partnering and communication to key stakeholders to help drive the business. How do you believe finance has evolved over last few years to mirror this?”

BS: “For more than 20 years it has lagged behind. The question should be what is ‘Commercial Finance’?

There has always been a demand that it delivers enhanced offerings and at the same time organisations (including the finance teams) have not fully realised what they mean. That meaning can be different (and changing) dependant on the circumstances.

Let’s sort out what it means? If you were to think of ‘traditional’ Finance you would think of fixed processes either step by step or time bound, the flexibility that it needs challenges this core and brings with a different type of skill set.”

LS: “What advice would you give an aspiring newly qualified accountant looking to climb the career ladder when poised with the question whether to join an established brand or multinational versus a start-up or SME?”

BS: “Do what you love. Focus on what makes you great. By focussing on another target your development will be blinkered by that goal. Being great yourself makes you authentic and people trust authenticity.

Look to WHO you can learn from, skills are learnt, you have a capacity to learn.

Focus ahead a couple of roles, think of the experience that you need for future roles and that will guide your current role choice.

Established brand, multinational, start-up, SME?  You have to be able to develop and grow in the environment. If you need the flexibility and dynamic of a start-up go there, if you are International by nature go Multinational. 

Yes there is still some latent ideology that the better the brand the more attractive you are as a future candidate, as a profession we have to look past that to drive diversity.

Diversity in an organisation comes from experiences, experience from different companies and different sectors. It does not mean just the Big Four.”

LS: “Many hiring managers share a concern that through the numerous exemptions given by accountancy bodies such as ACCA and CIMA that some candidates fail to have a strong grasp on the fundamentals in accounting. Would you agree with this?”

BS: “Agreed and it’s not the Qualification that is the problem. 

Qualifications are a starting point only, they should give a base line. What they should demonstrate is the ability to learn. In a world where we demand more from finance professionals many of the skills needed come through experience gained during qualification.

We need the basics to be secure, I would much prefer that organisations take the time to be able to give training professionals a wide range of experience through all workstreams of finance so that they have a practical ability as well as theoretical.

We all need to know our boundaries, if we know the theory and do not know how it works in practice we are duty bound to ask – that’s called being professional!”

LS: “Job seekers want to work for an employer of choice, many are not only doing the due diligence on a company brand but also its employees? As a Finance Director, what do you believe is the secret to becoming an employer of choice?”

BS: “Be honest - be that positive or hard messages. There is a misconception that Performance Management is negative. Wrong! It is inherently positive. 

We must invest in colleagues for training, succession, engagement, giving colleagues the opportunity to be involved. We also have to tell people when improvement is needed.

Without doing these things there isn’t trust and without trust there is a false environment where agreement is everywhere and also nowhere. You have to be able to engage with trust to focus on results.

To be an employer of choice that environment of TRUST allows us ALL to develop.”

LS: “What has been your experience of working with Sheridan Maine as an accountancy and finance recruiter during your career?”

BS: “I have worked with SM for over five years, we have placed multiple successful candidates into different market sectors and across different levels of qualification.

Many recruiters look to fill a role with their brief and not yours. SM focusses on yours, taking the time to understand what you need, taking on board feedback about what works well and what doesn’t work well.”

LS: “What aspects of Sheridan Maine’s recruitment process do you find most beneficial or particularly useful?”

BS: “Asking the questions to understand the brief and then filtering candidates effectively.

All that cuts out time from the process.

Honest & transparent.”

LS: “You are based in Colchester, spend your time between Colchester and London, plus work globally – what’s hot in town right now for the Global Delivery Director of Informa?”

BS: “I am gearing up for our next charity event called ‘Beat the Boss’. In Colchester we support an organisation called St Helena, which helps people face incurable illness and bereavement.

This event brings in CEOs and CFOs from the area and we pit ourselves vs our teams on an exercise bike to see who can cover the greatest distance in a set time.

Time to do some serious training!!

August 2018

Ben and Lee were drinking a 2016 vintage from the Malbec, Gouguenheim Winery


Ben                                  Lee

Ben Steel                                                  Lee Shepherd

               Global Delivery Director                               Sales & Marketing Director

                         Informa                                                   Sheridan Maine