It is almost as though they prefer the engine room to the bridge. It is
understandable for business people to want to be close to the product. But that
does not mean time spent at the head office is time wasted.
To end a career as a well-rounded finance practitioner, experience across a
range of areas is needed. Many of those exist at subsidiary level, but some can
only be gained by working within a group function. Critical operations such as
tax, treasury, consolidation, group planning, investor relations, strategy, M
&A and audit usually exist at the head office. True, some are less fun than
others, but they are all relevant experience as you move up the ladder towards
your ultimate role.
It may be that you have decided you want to work in private equity, or that
you only want to be a subsidiary finance director. If so, you may feel that time
spent in roles such as tax is of little or no value. This is a brave assumption
and one that should really be challenged. After all, who knows how your career
is going to pan out and how your views may change over time?
Additionally, you can only progress through developing your experience and
skills, so new opportunities should be grasped and not rejected out of hand.
All too often, head offices are seen as the bourn from which no traveller
returns. You go there as group accountant and you end there as chief accountant.
But headquarters are not the dead end they once were. Companies are starting
to see that moving people in from the businesses to the head office is a good
way to keep the central team fresh and business aware and to ensure people out
in the units appreciate what the head office is trying to achieve. Poachers make
great game-keepers, and vice versa.
Ultimately, experience across the finance spectrum is valuable and there is
much to be gained from time spent in head office roles. Make sure that there is
a route out as well as a route in, though, and think of ways in which the role
may be useful to you in the future.
It has to be said – when you work in the finance function in the same
building as your CEO, CFO and chairman, life is hardly likely to be dull.
Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Ray & Berndtson
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