Spotlight – Challenging the status quo

The status quo should always be questioned, according to James Bennett, finance director of John Menzies, who will next week be explaining a year of dramatic change to analysts as the company unveils its annual results, expected to show pre-tax profits of £27.5m.

John Menzies last year announced it was pulling out of retailing to concentrate on its mainstream wholesaling and distribution business – and two months later sold its retail network to rival WH Smith.

Bennett, who will retire shortly after announcing the results, has been heavily involved in the restructuring. He said: ‘The role of the finance director these days is more about managing change than the status quo.’

He added: ‘The status quo should always be questioned. We should always carry on by decision rather than default.’

The FD’s job, he argued, was to make sure that choices facing a business are presented in a balanced and objective way to others involved in making the decision.

According to Bennett, the main challenges for his successor Martyn Smith, who joins from vehicle distributor Inchcape, will be to manage all the opportunities available to the company and stitch them together – and to make sure that his colleagues get a balanced idea of the risk and potential reward attached to each opportunity.

The company has already made a number of acquisitions – for example in the cargo handling sector. Bennett, who has been in his position for 18 years, said a major part of Smith’s job would be managing further acquisitions.

Like many FDs, Bennett is critical of the increasing compliance burden being imposed on businesses by ever-growing swathes of legislation.

‘There used to be an overriding responsibility to show a true and fair view. Now, we just legislate and legislate to try and cover every possibility.’

The Edinburgh-based FD said the Scottish parliament would add yet another layer of legislation which businesses would have to deal with.

Referring to those in the profession involved in producing accounting standards, Bennett said: ‘I think academics have too much sway. Things have been changed with no explanation of what is wrong with current practice.’

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