View from the board: on the right path

I believe one of my main roles in life is to offer unbiased career advice.
One of the great things about a finance career is that you can plot it out and
follow it. One of the difficult things about a finance career is that the
choices you make will have an impact on where you can get to. This allows me to
have a conversation with anyone in finance and help them work out where they
want to go, and then how to get there.

A number of interesting points come out of this sort of debate. What
motivates the finance world is one of them. It’s a world that seems to split
into two camps. On the one side there is the desire for autonomy and
responsibility, and on the other there is ego.

Let me deal with ego first. The first thing to say about ego is there is
nothing wrong with it. What is meant by this is the desire to be a FTSE 100 FD –
in other words, a substantial career ambition.

Now, that is a laudable aim; but it’s a hard job to get and the path to that
is steep and tricky. So you have to sign up to it, and you have to work very
hard to get there.

By contrast, the autonomy and responsibility debate centres round how long
you can wait before you strike out as a group FD yourself. The issue with that
is that you will normally be offered a group FD role in something smaller than a
FTSE 100 company for starters. Depending on the size and scale of the business
of which you are FD, the path to FTSE 100 FD may be a harder one to follow.

If this were an advert, at this point I’d say ‘here comes the science part’.

In essence you are going to be offered a smaller stand-alone FD role at
earlier stages of your career – but the FD of a £200m mkt cap business is
unlikely to make the move into FTSE 100 territory from that role. So you will
have to move to a slightly larger business, and so on. This is a perfectly
viable career path – but it does make FTSE 100 a hard target to achieve

However, it does give you autonomy and responsibility more quickly in your

The debate comes down to desire for autonomy against the desire to strive to
be one of a very small handful of FTSE 100 FDs. What’s the right answer?

Well, that depends on you. But the great news is there are enough
opportunities to take care of the finance community. So strap on your lap top
and get going.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson

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