CFO stories: Charting your course to Chief Financial Officer

CFO stories: Charting your course to Chief Financial Officer

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For ambitious finance professionals, the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is often seen as the pinnacle of success. But what does it really take to earn a place at the top table?

David Taylor, Associate Partner in Eton Bridge Partners’ Finance Search Practice, sat down with Luke Shaw, CFO of AIM-listed, MP Evans Group, to discuss his path to first-time CFO.

Luke joined MP Evans in July 2022 as CFO, having previously held the Finance Director position at Servomex, a division of instrumentation supplier Spectris plc. Whilst there can be an element of right place, right time when it comes to securing that first CFO role, it’s clear from Luke’s account that it takes much more. Stepping up to CFO is the culmination of a well-planned and executed career journey.

Ultimately, Luke shared that there were 3 key factors which laid the groundwork for his pathway to CFO:

  1. A broad skillset – financial and commercial
  2. Strong communication and relationships
  3. Establishing mentors outside finance

Luke Shaw, CFO, MP Evans Group Plc


Cultivate opportunities to broaden your skill set

Actively seeking to develop and widen your knowledge and skills is critical. Luke’s decision to pursue the ACA qualification was driven by the technical credibility as well as the breadth and exposure to areas such as law and management theory. Following a spell in practice at BDO, Luke moved to Spectris as Group Finance Manager; a role that appealed due to its wide-ranging remit and head office location with exposure to leaders within the organisation.

When a project role came up that offered transformation experience, Luke added this to his belt. Not long after, an opportunity to act as Interim Finance Director at Servomex presented itself; that ultimately secured the permanent Finance Director role in 2020. With full responsibility for financial reporting, all financial aspects of strategy and lots of exposure to the operational side of things, he laid down the foundations for his move to CFO at MP Evans.

When asked what the number one factor was in securing that first CFO role, Luke credits his broad experience: “At Servomex, I sat at the top table dealing with business issues – HR, operations, product development, strategy – I had a breadth of experience across multifunctional business issues. Technical finance skills are a given, the other areas were where I could really sell myself.”

The public nature of a listed CFO role means corporate governance and stakeholder management skills are a key focus in Luke’s current role. Sustainability is also a high priority for all businesses at present and has always been at MP Evans. Luke says the group understands why palm oil can have a bad rap but when produced sustainably, as MP Evans do, palm oil can be an efficient source of vegetable oil. Looking ahead, he is keen to develop his skill set further in the areas of Big Data and AI.


Prioritise relationship-building with a commitment to strong communication

One thing that really stands out from Luke’s journey to the top table is his ability to build multiple positive relationships in every business he has worked in. Looking outwards across the organisation, taking an interest in what other leaders are doing, rather than staying in a finance silo, brings new skills, knowledge and connections.

“I would encourage anyone to build those relationships with senior stakeholders, people who make the decisions. Beyond the immediate benefits of gaining insights and mentorship, these connections will significantly contribute to long-term success.” says Luke.

Having solid interpersonal skills and the ability to get on with many different types of people is another a key asset for any leader. For Luke, a childhood that involved lots of school moves and a stint overseas in Malaysia and Indonesia, helped hone his ability to fit in anywhere and build relationships. For others, this may be an area they need to work on.

Once in a CFO role, Luke says the relationship with the CEO is absolutely critical. “You need to have a robust relationship with your c-suite where you are able to challenge each other constructively whilst having a mutual respect and always embracing collaboration. Achieving this will be key to your success”.


Look for mentors beyond the finance horizon

When you are at the early stages in your finance career, mentors are most likely to be from within the finance function, but ambitious finance professionals would do well to develop trusted allies from beyond finance too. Whilst at Spectris, Luke says he built one or two mentors in other parts of the business.

Luke went out of his way to arrange meetings with his mentors outside of the finance function to benefit from their expertise. He notes that having an objective view, someone to challenge the status quo, can be hugely beneficial. It may be that you are reporting into someone who has an interest in keeping you in your current role.

“Having someone from outside finance working with you to question others’ views in a constructive way and potentially support you to take on greater responsibility can be a game-changer. They can help you see blind spots and you start to get a wider context on what you are doing with a broader perspective of the business as a whole.”


One final tip… focus on your inner confidence

Luke says that his biggest learning curve on taking on the CFO role was the realisation that he was the number one in command. “You are the decision maker, people look to you for the answer, and you have to be ready to handle that responsibility. It’s an adjustment that can take some getting used to.”

He went on to emphasise the importance of possessing inner confidence enabling you to take on the challenges of being a CFO and you need to have faith in your ability to succeed and deliver. “Work on that and you stand yourself in good stead for your first CFO role – making sure you have confidence in yourself is key to making that jump.”

We wish Luke every success in his role and thank him for sharing such valuable insights from his journey to CFO with us.


David has extensive experience in placing senior finance professionals across multiple sectors. For a discussion around your finance recruitment or job search, please do get in touch.