In recent years, it’s been encouraging to see so many individuals expanding their expertise beyond tax and treasury into wider finance leadership positions. Seizing opportunities to extend your skillset and venture out of your comfort zone can significantly broaden your career. However, the question remains; What is the most effective way to navigate this shift in your career, and what can we learn from those who have successfully transitioned beyond the world of Tax and Treasury?
Lorna Blair, Partner specialising in Tax & Treasury within the Finance Practice at Eton Bridge Partners, sat down with two senior figures in her network to discuss their journey beyond tax and treasury, sharing valuable advice for those looking to follow a similar path.
- Trudie Alder has extensive experience in tax and is currently Finance Director of energy supply business, OVO.
- Katie McGavigan has an impressive track record in tax and financial control and is currently Global Tax and Financial Control Director at Elvie, a health and lifestyle brand developing smarter technology for women.
Embracing the bigger picture
There is no reason for an ambitious tax and treasury professional to be pigeonholed – look across the broader finance function for opportunities that may arise to augment your skillset and grow your responsibilities. Growth and change feature highly in both the tax and treasury subject matters as professionals navigate the economic, geo-political and social landscape. It is important to acknowledge how large both disciplines have become, and their priority on boardroom agenda.
For Trudie, the chance to take on a wider role arose from an opportunity to add the Head of Group Reporting onto her existing tax role. “My boss at the time knew I was ambitious, and I had expressed a desire for progression and knew I was ready for a bigger role.”
Katie agreed that expanding your horizons can open doors and put a new perspective on where your skills can be deployed;
“Too many tax professionals feel their value is entirely wrapped up in their technical expertise. Moving away from being a technical Head of Tax to being a Finance Leader is where you really bring value to an organisation.”
For Katie, taking on the Financial Controller role was a game-changer, “It was without a doubt the very best career decision I have ever made as it allowed me to progress to a level above the Head of Tax role.”
Every question has value
Moving out of a familiar area of work is always going to present new learning opportunities, and it’s crucial to seek clarification rather than pretend that you already know it all. Never be afraid to ask a question, however basic it may seem, and cut through the jargon to ensure you have a clear understanding. It’s far easier to do this at the beginning of a new role rather than months down the line when people will expect you to know.
“I was never afraid to ask questions or explain to others that certain topics were new to me,” said Trudie who also found ‘deep dives’ with specific teams extremely valuable as she got up to speed. Katie similarly made a point of being upfront when she came across things that she wasn’t sure about. “Never being afraid to ask questions of people at all levels, no matter how stupid these may have been.”
Find allies and be prepared to deal with the naysayers
Having the backing of someone senior who has spotted your potential and is willing to support you taking on greater responsibilities can be crucial. Not everyone may be onside though, there may be peers or others in the organisation that challenge whether you can step out of your lane. So, find allies and be prepared to put in the groundwork to prove yourself capable.
Katie said that when she applied to take on a Financial Control role alongside her existing Head of Tax role, there was hesitation from some quarters but the backing of a senior colleague, along with a very successful interview, secured the role.
“I’m very good at seeking out support and asking for help, and in my experience, people will respond positively to this and support you,” she noted.
Once in the role, she won confidence by showing she was able to manage high-profile work proficiently and secure public backing from the Finance Leadership Team to help underpin her credibility.
Recognise and have confidence in your transferable skills
“So many skills gained in tax are transferable to a wider role in finance – for example an ability to make sound judgements, explain complex issues simply and knowing how to work cross functionally,” said Trudie. She added that her tax experience had involved engaging with key stakeholders internally and externally; something that stood her in good stead for engaging with the Board, auditors and shareholders.
Katie also highlighted the solid grounding that tax can bring for an expanded role with many of the same skills being key for any senior position – such as driving change and transformation, coaching and mentoring, aligning to strategic goals, managing others and communication. She also pointed out that tax involves understanding legal structures and intercompany accounting to a deep level, something that sets up a strong foundation for wider finance work.
Tax and Treasury have become more compliance and risk management ie., being able to lead on process improvements and systems as well as drive the technology agenda to create efficiencies are all a critical part of the leadership role. Equally, these skills are all valuable and transferable in functions such as financial controllership and managing an outsourcing or global business services (GBS) transformation.
Use your support network – both internally and externally
Building a network across your own organisation as well as outside brings valuable assistance, signalling your ambitions beyond your current role. This network can act as an ear-to-the ground when you’re on the look out for potential new opportunities. Alongside strong support internally from peers in the finance leadership team and the CFO, Trudie has also looked outwards, “I have found that expanding my networks within our advisors has been really useful.”
She added that mentoring sessions with a Group Financial Controller at a FTSE 100 company had been extremely helpful, giving a chance to ask questions and realise they were both facing similar issues.
Katie also flagged how crucial a strong network is, “I have my own ‘Board of Directors,’ 5 or 6 people who I can turn to for technical support, leadership mentoring, coaching, career advice; people I have either worked with or met during my career.” She added that she looks to build relationships both in and outside of finance and tax, and views every connection as a learning opportunity.
Thank you to Katie and Trudie for sharing their hands-on advice on how to approach what can be an extremely rewarding transition. Tax and treasury specialists eyeing an expanded finance role can be confident that they have much to offer; getting the right networks in place, keeping horizons broad and finding support within and outside the organisation are key to realising that ambition.
Whether you are a senior tax or treasury professional looking for new opportunities or you are looking to hire in your organisation, please do get in touch with Lorna to discuss further.
Keep in touch
We’d love to stay in touch, please register to receive topical insights and exclusive event invitations.