BusinessCompany NewsProfile: Rebecca Worthington, Quintain Estates FD

Profile: Rebecca Worthington, Quintain Estates FD

Rebecca Worthington talks about why she swapped the ski slopes for the City, and how she took on the company’s top finance role in the space of just three years

Which would you prefer? Gallivanting across the ski slopes of Switzerland or
the grunt work of an audit? At the tender age of 21, accounting was the furthest
thing from Rebecca Worthington’s mind. But for Worthington, now one of the UK’s
youngest and most successful plc FDs at Quintain Estates, things have been much
more exciting than she thought when she swapped her skis for a calculator.

‘It was my last year of university, and one thing I was absolutely sure about
was I didn’t want to become an accountant,’ Worthington says candidly. Instead
she chose to test the ski slopes of Switzerland and work in an international
school teaching economics and serve as a housemistress. But she ‘absolutely
hated it’. Fortunately with an economics and philosophy joint degree her route
back to accountancy lay open.

Against all expectations

Despite her earlier preconceptions of tying herself to accountancy,
Worthington ended up having a great time among like-minded people determined to
get ahead in life: ‘I found myself among 600 other people who’d rather be

Unlike many of her peers training at Coppers & Lybrand, she chose to
study for three months then work for audit clients for the subsequent nine
months. ‘When everyone is working until midnight you’re seen as a lightweight
leaving at five thirty even with extra studying to do….I’d always recommend full
time study courses.’

So Worthington knuckled down, seconded mainly to insurance clients, an
experience she says she does not wish to repeat.

By the time she had worked with the audit team at the Duke of Edinburgh’s
Award, a scheme she had enjoyed as a young woman, she was unambiguous that
ultimately an accountancy qualification would enable her to achieve her goals of
travelling, enjoying herself, and earning money.

Her first job, following a job interview in a local pub, was a baptism of
fire. ‘I wanted to work for a small business, and found myself at the Britton
Group. They were consolidators, this time within the paper and plastics’
industry. I lasted five months.’

The company went through a partial management buy-out and a hostile takeover
culminating in its eventual acquisition. Worthington learned her most important
lesson during this period within her role as financial controller: man

Her FD invited her into the boardroom, where influential, rich executives
that were interested in the business were gathered. He said: ‘Beccy, she’s
brilliant…she can sort out anything financial you need to know.’ Inspired by her
line manager’s confidence, Worthington set out to prove him right.

Once the acquisition was completed, a confident Worthington set her sights on
another small exciting business where she could exert some influence. In 1998
she joined a 14-strong team at Quintain Estates.

‘I wanted to work somewhere I could make a difference. I got on well at
Coopers but never fitted into their mould…never towed the line enough. The thing
with audit is you’re always looking backwards and checking where I wanted to
make a difference, which is especially easier in a small business.’

After two years, during which she helped the company introduce a Windows
based accounting system, freeing it from old-fashioned DOS, she wanted to change
her role again. ‘By the end of the second year there were no challenges left, so
i knocked on chief executive Adrian Wyatt’s door and asked him what was my next

New challenges

Although the company had grown, it faced a perception issue in the City. Its
share price was ‘languishing’, so having found her new challenge Worthington set
out to straighten out the company’s image.

With increased responsibility Worthington grew, as did the company. The
business came under pressure to appoint an FD and the group accountant fitted
the bill.
‘The City knew me well and thought me capable of doing the job, I’d been
presenting the numbers and so Quintain decided to make me FD in July 2001.’

Leading the company through a refinancing project, in which the company
renegotiated a move from fixed charges against assets to a syndicated corporate
facility, gave the company flexibility. The change has enabled it to work on
high-profile projects like the urban regeneration around Wembley and attain
preferred bidder status to build a zero carbon science park in Bristol.

Despite, or maybe thanks to, her success in the world of finance Worthington
is no conformist. Neither is she a sentimentalist over the future of the
accountancy profession, despite it having given her the skills to forge her
career. While she acknowledges that it gives students the very best background
to move into business, she cites no-one from the industry as an inspiration.

That said she strongly advocates working in interesting companies that are
small enough to make a difference in. ‘There are opportunities for people to
take more senior roles in smaller businesses. If it takes you 15 years to get to
FD of a FTSE 100 company ­ you’ll start off as a virtual teaboy… or going
through FD of this and FD of that, my route seems more interesting to me.’

She believes that no one should change their personality to ‘fit in’, a
thinly veiled reference to at her time at Coopers where she saw many women ‘give
up what they were’ to progress. ‘And that’s why Quintain has been so brilliant
for me ­ Adrian doesn’t want people to compromise their personality to fit in.’

But some things don’t change. Despite a new breed of female FDs coming
through the ranks, few populate the higher echelons of the FTSE. Worthington
believes things are still hard for women, as inevitably one member of the family
has to compromise their career to look after the children, something she has
experienced first hand. Thankfully her husband has taken on the main
responsibility for looking after their two children.

‘Honestly without that I wouldn’t know what I’d have done.’
‘People shouldn’t hold themselves back for fear of failure, give it a go. If you
don’t try you’ll never succeed. What’s the worst that can happen? You lose your
job, so what?’

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