Friday, 18 October 2013

Lord Digby Jones in top form at the Birmingham Business Breakfast Club

Paul Hooper-Keeley & Lord Digby Jones at the BBBC 17th October
It is always a packed Botanical Gardens when Lord Digby Jones, a founder member of the Birmingham Business Breakfast Club, returns to his roots and his “constituency”, and this week was no exception.

One of the most passionate public speakers supporting British business, and the up-skilling of our school children and our workforce, Digby always has a special place in his heart for the West Midlands and, in particular, Birmingham - which he describes as “the greatest City in the world”.

And passion was to the fore at this BBBC event where Lord Jones (quite rightly) laid in to Ed Miliband’s pledge that a Labour government would freeze energy prices for at least 2 years. As Digby said, this is clearly an attempt at populist vote winning – Tesco have a higher net profit percentage than the energy firms but Ed Miliband is not suggesting a freeze on food prices (obviously not a vote winner). He also made the point that a potential Labour government that makes soundings about interfering with business will clearly scare off foreign investment in to the UK to the possible benefit of France, Germany, Spain etc.

Digby said aspiration is a good thing and it is wrong for Ed Miliband to demonise big business as a bad thing to the general public. He reinforced the point that we would be nowhere without business – business provides the jobs that provides the taxes for the government and the public sector to exist (to create more jobs and taxes (and benefit payments!!!)). He said politicians always focus on the spending of money (i.e. spending cuts, spending restraints etc.) when they should really be looking at the earning of the money.

For those of you, like me, who have seen Digby speak on several occasions and have read his excellent book, ‘Fixing Britain’, I can tell you that the long un-scripted speech that he made at the BBBC is an ‘all new’ set of anecdotes, opinions and insights that he has experienced over the last few months (his poor recent customer experiences with BT and the Passport Office were in the funny but sadly true category).

Lord Jones is currently working on a new series of programmes with the BBC on the British Manufacturing Industry in which he will be helping companies in the Sir John Harvey Jones ‘Trouble-shooter’ style (with the caveat that each show starts with a positive narrative of British Industry before the main body of the programme). He told us that the series is due to be aired in March 2014.

And, as is often the case with Digby, all proceeds from the morning’s events were donated to charity (with the Ladies Breast Cancer Charity being the main worthy recipient).

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Michael Portillo’s keynote address was one of the highlights of The 2013 Finance Director’s Forum from 9th – 12th October

Paul Hooper-Keeley & Michael Portillo
Well done to Richmond Events for making this year’s FD’s Forum arguably the best yet.

Boarding the Aurora at 2pm on Wednesday 9th, we were efficiently checked in to our cabins where a full itinerary for the event was waiting. As a speaker at one of the events, my first task was to visit the events office to confirm the technical elements before then joining my colleague FDs for afternoon tea, welcome on board words from Mark Rayner and our muster drill (maritime law).

We were joined by the Marketing, IT and Communication Director delegates in the theatre for the first keynote speech of the event – the very entertaining Michael Portillo. Due to Chatham House Rules I won’t comment too much as to the content of his speech, entitled ‘Britain and Europe – coalition and rupture’ – suffice to say that it was very well received by the audience. He did make the point that he sees himself as an entertainer these days and that he has no desire to return to the political fold; enjoying the freedom he now has to voice his opinion as he sees fit.

David Smith & Paul Hooper-Keeley
My session, the ‘Words From The Wise’ panel was first up after breakfast on Thursday. Facilitated by David Smith, Economics Editor of The Sunday Times, my colleagues on the panel were Mark Freebairn (Partner at head-hunter Odgers Berndtson), Dave Mottram (FD at Siemens plc) and Richard Turner (CFO of Abu Dhabi Ship Building). It proved to be an interesting session – like Question Time for FDs.

The schedule I had then featured Mark Freebairn’s ‘Rising to the top – the skills to take you there’ presentation followed by David Smith’s ‘Global Economic Outlook’. All delegates came together for the next keynote session, ‘Optimising human performance: learn how to operate by understanding your mind’. This lively and fast-paced keynote was given by Dr Steve Peters who worked with the Team GB Cycling team leading up to London 2012 (and currently works with Ronnie O’Sullivan) and introduced us all to our ‘Inner Chimp’.

Post lunch we were treated to the corporate benefits of The Cheese & Wine Company by founder Steve Parker in a blind tasting session called England versus France. Steve is very knowledgeable on his subject and this was a really good session. We then had a session entitled ‘Develop Mental Toughness – the winning mind-set of champions’ before going off to undertake several supplier meetings on a one-to-one basis.

Paul Hooper-Keeley & Phil Tufnell
Friday’s sessions for me included ‘Being remarkable starts with me – how to inspire those around you’, ‘Pricing Policy Performance’ and Andrew Sawers discussion group on ‘The requirements and attributes of a modern FD’. In the middle of several supplier meetings was the days’ keynote address from Cranfield University’s Professor Stephen Carver, ‘How not to make a catastrophe out of a crisis’, which was very well presented and entertaining. The final night’s dinner was followed by ‘An audience with Phil Tufnell’, which was hosted by sports presenter Alison Mitchell and was a very lively end to the evening indeed.

Overall this was a very intensive 3-day forum, running from approx. 7.30am to 11.00pm with very little free-time, which is exactly how it should be to maximise the return on those precious few days out of the office. Well done Richmond Events and it will be interesting to see how they plan to top this in 2014.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Paul Hooper-Keeley Q&As in the current issue of Financial Director magazine

Financial Director Magazine – Q&A

Paul Hooper-Keeley
Finance Director
Mills CNC Limited

01.   Rise early or work late? A bit of both. I am normally at my desk for 7.30am as I feel my thought processes are at their sharpest in the morning for problem solving etc. and tend to schedule the majority of my meetings for afternoons.

02.   Training preferences: on the job or formal? For specific job related skill sets then on the job training is better as it can be bespoked to suit. However, I am also a stickler for formal training at the professional level (I am currently Chairman of CIMA in the North West Midlands (and sit on the West Midlands Regional Board) and am the Institute of Directors’ West Midlands Ambassador for their Chartered Director qualification (being the IoD’s 25th Chartered Director myself) so push professional qualifications quite hard) – thus, I have no time for recruitment agencies telling me of great accountants ‘qualified by experience’!

03.   What’s your management style? To build the best team possible and empower them with the responsibility and authority to undertake their work flows, ensuring that they have time to think and reflect on what they’re doing (which I believe is a key principle but often missing from the manic schedules of many companies).

04.   Does delegation come easy? Yes – I want to keep my team undertaking the most interesting work possible whilst I progress chase to ensure deadlines and targets are met.

05.   Who do you rely on most? My Financial Controller – a successful FD needs the best FC possible to take on the heavy lifting on a day-to-day basis. This allows me to contribute more to the Board at a strategic level and get involved in all areas of the business.

06.   Boardroom or restaurant? The formality and organisational aspect of my role leans heavily towards the Boardroom scenario, although my commercial and networking side sees the restaurant as an excellent and less formal environment for building lasting business relationships.

07.   What technology would you never be without? My smartphone to ensure I can pick up emails and stay in the loop wherever I am in the world, LinkedIn to keep in touch with my network, and Excel because, at the end of the day, I am an accountant and it’s a great tool.

08.   Are you an FD for life? I am a Commercial FD who gets involved in all aspects of the business in order to provide solutions and generate growth (as opposed to the old fashioned ‘bean-counter’ FD whose main role was to say “No”). Thus, my natural inclination is to transcend to MD of a business at an appropriate point in the future if the opportunity arises.

09.   What keeps you awake at night? Nothing significant at Mills CNC Limited as I feel we have an excellent team throughout the business who all work towards the company’s goals. Although in the past, when I have been involved in M&A and turnaround work, I’ve often woken up thinking about cash (or the lack of it).

10.   Critical advice to aspiring FDs? Focus on cash – ensure your EBITDA to Operating Cash conversion ratio is running north of 85%. At the end of the day, all business successes and failures come down to cash so keep it on your radar at all times. Also commercialism – get involved across the business with a ‘can do’ attitude towards supporting controlled growth and generating cash.