Working the numbers

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By Mark Craddock. Published on 20 September 2018


Identifying interim and permanent CFO positions for a globally recognised institution.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is one of the premier centres of genomic discovery and understanding in the world. It leads ambitious collaborations across the globe to provide the foundations for further research and transformative healthcare innovations.

As for the Finance function within the Institute, this too follows a very clear strategic imperative: deliver a world-class support function that matches the world-class scientific research being conducted there. What this means in practice is that the team provides support in areas such as scenario planning, forecasting, and reporting to help remove any obstacles that have the potential to slow progress.

To this end, the team’s capabilities were viewed as mature and well defined. But when the incumbent CFO confirmed her return to the Wellcome Trust (the Institute’s parent organisation, from which she had been seconded), Tim Livett, CFO at the Trust, saw the opportunity to bring in a new hire who could introduce a stronger commercial emphasis.

We wanted to identify someone with a track record in business partnering. This was important to us, as was proven leadership capabilities and a demonstrable background in driving a change agenda – particularly in terms of helping an organisation improve its decision-making. We also wanted to find an individual who could operate independently, and inspire the team around them.”

Tim Livett, CFO, the Wellcome Trust


Dr Martin Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, was the person charged with overseeing the recruitment process. As he was keen to explain, the outgoing CFO had set the bar very high in terms of both capability and results. Clearly getting the job spec right first time was going to be important.

Our CFO operates to quite a broad role. Yes it incorporates procurement and finance, but equally it looks at the stores function at the Institute, as well as the way grants are managed and the way payments are scheduled. That’s why we needed somebody with the proficiency needed to come in and work with what can be quite a diverse set of people. Obviously having direct experience as either a Group Financial Controller or CFO was important. But at the same time we were keen to speak to candidates with a broader range of experiences”.

Martin Dougherty, COO, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Working closely together, Tim and Martin created a detailed job description to help shape the search criteria. Once this was completed, Martin looked for help from an executive search firm to assist with the candidate selection process. Based on Tim’s recommendation, a call was put out to Mark Craddock, Head of the CFO & Finance Practice at Eton Bridge Partners.

Mark had helped fill a number of roles for me a couple of years back and had shown a very clear understanding of the characteristics I was looking for from a candidate in terms of both headline capabilities and softer skills – those elements relating to partnering and communication that I believe are essential for our operational environment.”

Tim Livett, CFO, the Wellcome Trust


The next step was for Tim and Martin to sit down to with Mark to confirm what the successful candidate would be asked to deliver. The first priority however was to secure a highly capable interim manager, with the purpose of ‘de-risking’ the imminent loss of the out-going CFO. Lynne Colgate, Partner, Interim Management, CFO & Finance at Eton Bridge Partners took the lead on the interim assignment to identify an individual who could do just that. This was a position that had to be active within a couple of months and filling it would take the pressure off the permanent appointment.

“I wasn’t just looking for Eton Bridge Partners to find the right candidates, to explain the nature of the role, and to gauge initial interest levels. I was also keen for them to ensure that any profile shared with Martin and I was for an individual with the specific background and personality we were looking for. That meant the actual interview stage would be both efficient and infused with quality”.

Tim Livett, CFO, the Wellcome Trust


Once the interim role was successfully filled, Eton Bridge Partners next went out to their network to identify suitable candidates for the permanent role. The results were then shared with Tim and Martin during extensive weekly reviews, with the feedback used to further refine the search over what was a relatively short time period.

It was at this stage that Maggie Payne entered the picture. A highly experienced CFO with a rich mix of commercial experience gained in organisations ranging from Zeneca to the AA, Maggie also brought with her experience of the academic research sector, being employed at the time as Director of Corporate Services at the Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult.

It was a fantastic fit for my background. In a lot of ways it’s a continuation and development of the role I was doing with Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult, where I was already familiar with a scientific environment and working within a diverse and cosmopolitan workforce. In fact it was this opportunity to continue in the arena of healthcare, and with a globally renowned institution, that really attracted me to the position”.

Maggie Payne, newly appointed CFO, Wellcome Sanger Institute.


For Maggie, a telephone interview marked the beginning of the formal recruitment process of this particular role. Once the initial call had taken place, she was then selected to join the short list. The next stage was to prepare responses to a series of questions posed by Eton Bridge Partners. These were designed to offer a platform for each remaining candidate to highlight examples of where they’d actively demonstrated relevant skills and competencies.

Questions were based around three core themes:

  • A proven ability to bring enhanced commerciality to a finance function
  • Experience of business partnering with non-financial people
  • Reasons why the Wellcome Sanger Institute represents an attractive place to work

This was something I’d done before for Mark when I was recruiting for the AA. I think it’s a really useful thing to do as it helps to order your thoughts. It also gives you a steer on the topics that are going to prove the most important at interview and last but not least, it gives you confidence in the recruiter as they’re asking all the right questions”.

Maggie Payne, newly appointed CFO, Wellcome Sanger Institute.


Not that the process was without its challenges. Chief among these was the fact that the role was for a research charity, which meant a remuneration package distinct from what would be available in the commercial sector. The search was therefore on to find someone who valued involvement with an internationally renowned operation like the Wellcome Sanger Institute, rather than being predominantly focused on salary.

This meant casting the net reasonably wide to give Mark, and the Eton Bridge Partners team an opportunity to find enough suitable candidates who would consider the role right for them. It also meant reviewing CVs from a ‘career path’ perspective, to identify those most likely to entertain the possibility of working for the Institute.

What we knew from the start was that recruiting commercially-oriented finance people into a broadly charitable organisation isn’t the simplest task. Particularly at the senior level where the remuneration level – despite being extremely competitive – doesn’t include high levels of variable pay. Eton Bridge Partners did a great job at positioning this. I was confident that they got us as an organisation, and from the very beginning had a comprehensive understanding of the type of individual the opportunity would resonate with.”

Tim Livett, CFO, the Wellcome Trust


Following the completion of this phase of the process, Maggie’s candidacy was then presented to the Wellcome Sanger Institute. After further telephone interviews and several face-to-face meetings  (including a panel interview), she was offered the role – and accepted. This left Martin to describe himself as “tickled pink” with the appointment:

We’ve found somebody who has recent experience of an academic working environment, as well as a really solid resume that features Group Financial Controller and CFO positions inside other sectors and organisations of comparable size and complexity”.

Martin Dougherty, COO, Wellcome Sanger Institute


Turning to the role Eton Bridge Partners played in securing Maggie the role of CFO, she was quick to point out the way her expectations were carefully managed. From the very beginning Maggie had a clear view of how long the process would last and when the interviews were likely to take place. In addition, there was also proactive guidance offered for addressing any issues and ensuring thorough preparation:

Before each interview I would be briefed on whom I was meeting and what format the discussion would take. Mark was always available for a chat if I needed to pick his brains, and he would also call me prior to any interview to check I was happy and whether there was anything else he could do to help. In my view this was the real human dimension behind the Eton Bridge Partners service, and one I rarely see elsewhere”.

Maggie Payne, newly appointed CFO, Wellcome Sanger Institute.


The high level of support provided to the Wellcome Sanger Institute, as Martin was quick to point out, wasn’t just down to the quality of the candidates and the speed by which they were identified. It was also the ability to bring together separate practices that specialise in both interim and permanent hires. This meant:

  • One fully integrated service that supported the fast appointment of the interim CFO role, and then a natural transition to the permanent search
  • The identification of the “ideal” candidate for the permanent role in terms of skills and experience
  • A thorough and comprehensive handover process for all involved

What stood Eton Bridge Partners out was the value they added in the candidate review process. For example, we held weekly review calls and it was obvious from the beginning just how engaged they were with their candidates. Sitting on the selection panel, we were given extensive insights into the individuals under discussion. Knowledge that truly informed our discussions, and made the short-listing exercise reasonably straightforward”.

Martin Dougherty, COO, Wellcome Sanger Institute


As to the question ‘Why Eton Bridge Partners?’ For Tim, the answer started with the fact that, in his opinion, the executive search process avoids the ‘heavy sell’ – either to the client or the candidate. To this he also added the experiences gained from previous engagements, where Eton Bridge impressed through their professional and practical approach:

“My first contact with Mark was actually as a candidate. What stuck with me was his thoughtfulness and willingness to keep in touch, which in effect has helped set my expectations for working with a recruitment firm. It’s important to remember that during the process Eton Bridge Partners were our representatives in the market. That demands trust, as well as having the confidence that they’re out there representing our own values and ethos. The fact that this was the case came across strongly when we tested back with candidates, and received excellent feedback on how Eton Bridge Partners operate”.

Tim Livett, CFO, the Wellcome Trust

Asked to provide her views on overall process, Maggie responded:

Posing the questions and asking each candidate to provide a supporting statement was a nice touch. Most other recruitment agencies don’t try that hard to help you differentiate yourself. It also helps to have someone like Mark on your side. With him I knew I’d get good, honest advice on what was really happening. He gave me straightforward and practical advice on what Wellcome Sanger were looking for, and other pointers that were invaluable to know and which helped me to decide whether it would be an environment that suited my style too”.

Finally, when we asked Martin to sum up his views on the experience:

If I had to do that in just a few words, I would say extremely professional and very high quality. Whenever you work with consultants it’s quite often the people you work with that make the difference, and I certainly felt that both in the interim and perm teams there were really high quality individuals delivering for us. I was delighted with the end result”.

We wish Tim, Martin, and Maggie at the Wellcome Sanger Institute a most productive future together!