As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Collis.
Andrew Collis is Chief Financial Officer at Moneypenny. He is passionate about people and technology and an expert in driving rapid growth plans and scaling up global business, having worked in award-winning technology led businesses since beginning his career with Deloitte. His vision is to further strengthen the Moneypenny brand and position the company for further growth in the US and UK.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There have been so many, it’s difficult to choose. The ones that spring to mind have all involved challenging moments or periods, which were then resolved, they are the most interesting and valuable. They range from building teams to leading businesses across the UK, Europe and America, to acquisitions and global system roll outs, and to saving a group of companies from collapse due to a shortage of cash within 2 months of starting a new role.
On one occasion I was working on selling a business and we had been making preparation for a year. Then the prospective purchaser pulls out due to no fault of our own, but rather they had made a previous investment two months before which hadn’t gone so well. We then sold the business a year later to a different buyer for nearly double the value.
But it taught me that even when you think the task is impossible, it can be achieved. When things are tough you learn the most about yourself and your colleagues and that is something I believe to this day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Don’t let problems fester, they only get worse”. Problems that are not addressed, often don’t magically resolve themselves, they tend to explode at a later date. I have often found this regarding people, we are sometimes afraid to appear like we are nit-picking, so we say nothing and then the tension builds. So rather than ignore things that bother you say something. Choose your words with care and be respectful but say something.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
It has to be Legacy by James Kerr. It delves into the heart of one of the world’s most successful and revered sports teams, the All Blacks and highlights what businesses and leaders can learn from the success.
Being passionate about sport, leadership and business this is a great book. A big element is about always remaining humble as a leader, and that is very much a motto I live by as a leader and aligns with the culture at Moneypenny.
I’m constantly coming back and dipping into it for reference. It’s well written, an easy read, and packed with inspiration; from talking about being a better person, planting acorns you’ll never see grow, and asking “What will your Legacy be?”.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our culture. I know that it is something that attracted me to the position here as CFO and something that the business has won countless awards and recognition for. But it goes beyond the accolades, and conversations at interview stage and the feel is something very special. The founding principle was to build a business where people really wanted to work and it remains at the very core of everything that we do, even though we now employ more than 1,000 people across the UK and US.
And I love the fact that every employee has the same PA training, no matter how senior a level they join Moneypenny. It creates a great and equal grounding for every employee.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Be yourself. It may sound somewhat cliché but by knowing who you are and being who you are, you are better able to acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses. This is far more important than many people starting out believe. It is about owning what you do know and what you can offer but also accepting that there is always something to learn, going for the position that may stretch your skills but not shying away from who you are in the process. Don’t waste energy being something you are not, no one is perfect and being authentic promotes respect and trust, key ingredients to be a successful leader in today’s ever-changing business landscape.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
In the early days I was given some advice about the importance of attention to detail, focusing on the little tasks and getting them right. Whilst this is great advice and really important as you progress in your career, as a leader you need to think strategically, delegating and empowering the people around you. Attention to detail is still important in so much as it is a critical skill for gaining insight and showing empathy, being always aware and able to read the room, just not in the micromanagement of your people.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Openness and transparency. In order to be a successful leader, you need to be able to motivate and inspire others. You need to be authentic and develop trust. All of this is based on honesty, seeing the world as it is rather than how you want it to be. It means creating a safe space for your people to speak up for the betterment of the organization, empathizing and accountability.
Good communication skills. Continuing from the previous point, effective communication skills ensure sharing of information and expectations and clear setting of boundaries. A good leader needs to be able to share and collect information from a variety of audiences, they need to be visible, and they need to be able to listen well.
Tenacity and perseverance in reaching goals. Being tenacious can be seen as being stubborn or opinionated but good leaders are tenacious in their pursuit of goals. This allows them to look at obstacles not as stumbling blocks but as opportunities to improve. Add this to the previous traits and when the going gets tough, it will get you through.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
Whilst every C-level exec will have extensive experience in their chosen field, the trait that binds them is a strategic mindset, the ability to turn an organization’s vision into actions. They should be able to inspire others in aligning with the long-term goals and demonstrate agility in knowing the business and analyzing for the future.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CFO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Some people believe that a CFO is just a glorified bean-counter, and has a life dominated by spreadsheets. It is about so much more than that today, less about keeping costs down and more about optimizing growth. My role is all about driving business performance, it is intrinsically operational, and it is about being able to make big decisions and being engaged into the management team, the business and the Board.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Getting too involved in the day-to-day details. I have seen lots of C-suite leaders get lost in the finer details, only to raise their head above the parapet too late and then being blind-sided. There is a fine art in balancing how things get done now and steering the ship in the right direction. Both sides are needed to be a great c-suite leader but spending too much time on either side will be to the detriment of the business.
There is also a lot to be said for acknowledging that even though you have chief in your job title, you are not infallible, you will make mistakes and good leaders recognize this and hold their hands up when it’s not going according to plan.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
There are two aspects that are often underestimated: the value of people and the value of data.
Good employees are hard to find, ones that fit with your culture and purpose and so it is critical that you value them, that you connect with their hearts and minds, and you are all working together towards the same goal. Never underestimate your people, they can help take your business to the next level. I have seen both sides of this, and if lost it takes a lot of time and hard work to win back lost hearts and minds. However, once on your side the momentum a business can build is incredible.
Good data is a company’s eyes and ears. It can reach new clients, help you get to know your audience better and provide them with what they require quicker, it can identify new business streams or markets and it can improve customer satisfaction, productivity and efficiency. However, in order to achieve this, companies need to embrace the technology that can improve and effectively manage data, turning it into actionable insights to power their decisions into the future.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.
#1 The value of people.
Business isn’t just about numbers, profit and loss. It is about every single person across an organization, whatever role they do and however senior or junior they are, everyone has a part to play in achieving business success.
#2 Build a great team around you.
You can’t do it on your own. Good leaders know this, they know their strengths and weaknesses and build a strong team around them to fill any gaps, working together to complement each other in line with goals. Everywhere I have been I have built a strong team that has been able to carry on without me after I have left.
#3 Dedicate time to communicate with stakeholders.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. No one likes surprises. In being authentic and transparent with stakeholders (and that means investors, the Board, banks, etc) you not only connect with them but build trust and long-lasting relationships.
#4 Build your network
As a leader it is important that you have people to talk to, to learn from, outside of the business. Mentors are a great way to learn and grow. They have ‘been there and done that’ so you can learn from mistakes and successes, thus building your own skills and personal development. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement but finding those sounding boards is really important.
#5 Get away from work.
Work hard, play hard. A leader’s mental wellbeing is just as important as that of your people so take your own advice and have something that takes you completely away from work; family, playing a sport, walking the dog. This time can’t be underestimated.
In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Create career paths where every employee feels valued, respected and appreciated. Every employee wants to feel connected to the organization and they want to feel that they are contributing to its success. When leadership shows that it cares that it has recognized an individual contribution it has a huge impact on morale and motivation. It can be as simple as asking how someone is as you pass in the corridor.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Giving Back. Throughout our personal and professional lives, our hearts are touched by great individuals and acts, from your college basketball coach to first boss. So, in living your best life I believe an element should be spent giving back to help future generations, providing opportunities through sport, for example (I coach local grassroots soccer in my spare time) and developing the potential of people for tomorrow.
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