When Charis Walsh makes her way to work each morning she does not clamber
aboard a crowded train bound for the City or sit in a traffic jam as she drives
to a high rise office. Instead, she takes a stroll to a converted apartment,
complete with a loft and rooftop garden, located on a quiet street in suburban
Working for a small but very public company means that Walsh can enjoy doing
things differently to most finance directors.
At just 28 she is one of the UK’s youngest FDs, working for a company that
advises some of the most powerful businesses on how they should communicate with
shareholders. Black Sun provides corporate reporting services to the likes of
United Utilities, George Wimpey, Centrica and Standard Chartered. On a board
packed with experts in reporting, financial regulation and customer management,
such expertise offers unlimited possibilities for Walsh’s development, but also
poses challenges that FDs would not ordinarily face. When your colleagues are
financial reporting experts, there is no room for error.
Walsh admits that if she had opted for a job at a larger company after
qualifying at Deloitte she would have missed out on the opportunities that Black
Sun, a company with just 40 employees, has offered her. ‘I would never have had
the chance to do something like this. I would have been able to do the
management accounts, which is fine, but I wouldn’t have been able to learn so
much and progress so quickly. It is just such a varied job. I have learnt so
much,’ she says.
Walsh joined Black Sun as a finance manager in June 2004. It was her first
job after leaving Deloitte and within a year and a half she had been promoted to
the board as FD.
‘When I was looking for a job the thing that appealed to me about this role
was that there wasn’t an FD in place. There was the incentive that if I did what
was expected of me I would get that position on the board. So, the plan worked,
only I didn’t expect to become finance director that quickly.’
The prospect of rapid promotion, however, was not the only draw for Walsh. At
Deloitte she worked in the firm’s small, manager-owned business department where
her interest in working for young, entrepreneurial companies flourished. ‘The
thing about a small business is that you really get to know a business and see
how it works. You are involved in the big picture,’ she says.
It seems that Black Sun has provided Walsh with exactly the kind of challenge
that she planned for herself. She has not only had to make the step up from
running the day-to-day finances but also found herself responsible for the
entire human resources department.
‘Black Sun is committed to the development of its staff and, although I have
had no HR training, I have real enthusiasm for it. In a company with 40 people
it requires a lot of work. A small company has no HR department, so there is an
opportunity to take on new responsibility and develop different skills. I really
enjoy that,’ she says.
Walsh has had to stay up to date with the plethora of employment law and
regulation, including TUPE, maternity leave, age discrimination and dismissals.
She has also developed job descriptions, an appraisal system and an annual
‘HR is a very important and challenging area for me. Some people didn’t even
have job descriptions because they had been here for ten years, so it was a
matter of listing the job descriptions and writing up an appraisal structure
surrounding them. It was a bit strange for some people, because they hadn’t had
an appraisal in ten years, but it has worked well.’
Even though HR may seem very distant from her finance training, Walsh
believes that her accountancy qualification equipped her with the management
skills she needs to take on a new area of expertise. She says that a modern
accountancy qualification is far more versatile than people may think.
‘When you start working at Deloitte you are thrown in at the deep end. You go
out to a client in your first week and you are expected to speak to that client,
find information and know what you are talking about,’ Walsh says. ‘I really
value my ACA qualification because it doesn’t only teach you the financial side.
It teaches you about project management, managing people, delegating and
handling difficult clients.’
The challenges she has faced in her eight months as FD have not been limited
to internal issues. She has also had to guide the company through a VAT
inspection, set up a share option scheme and completely change her approach to
‘There is still so much for me to learn, especially at the finance director
level. It requires a complete change of mindset to go from running the
day-to-day finance to looking at the future of a company and managing the risk
and growth of the company.’
As FD, Walsh’s influence extends deep into how the company does its business.
She is aware of every pitch the company makes and the strain that will put on
the company’s small workforce. She is as focused on controlling growth as she is
on developing it.
‘Pitches take weeks and a lot of man hours, and no matter how great it would
be to win a pitch, we will not neglect clients who are already paying for the
work. We don’t go after new business without putting the effort into the
business that we already have. I work closely with the chief executive to assess
resource levels, what sort of staff we need and what sort of charge out rates we
are charging before we accept a pitch,’ she says. Clearly she has already learnt
the first rule of business.
The Transfer of Undertakings regulations, popularly known as the TUPE, have
caused accounting firms a great amount of discomfort over the last year.
TUPE, which came into effect in April, has made significant changes to
employment law. Under TUPE it is possible that a large team of accountants
working on a project for a client could be forced to switch firms if the client
decides to change service providers.
The regulations were introduced to protect minimum wage workers such as
cleaners, but the regulations also apply to professional services firms,
creating the possibility that highly-paid professionals could be forced to
change employers against their will.
For Charis Walsh, the FD of Black Sun PLC, it is not only in her capacity as
an accountant that she keeps an eye on TUPE. Walsh, whose company is involved in
designing and producing annual reports, is far more concerned about the impact
on Black Sun’s creative staff.
‘TUPE is a totally different ball game. At the moment it’s causing much
concern among all agency staff,’ says Walsh, who is also responsible for human
Black Sun’s business is all about winning pitches. If another agency has
worked on the job previously, Walsh could find herself with a whole new group of
staff on her payroll.
‘We will have to see how this will play out, but it is something that we need
to manage at the pitch stage. I am working with the managing director to work
out how we handle this and how we manage our exposure to TUPE,’ Walsh says.
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