View from the board: gamekeepers turned poachers

If you spend a period of your career supporting the sales or marketing team,
there is now a possibility you’ll be invited over to the Dark Side and move into
a non-finance role with them.

This used to only happen at the CFO ­ CEO level, but it’s becoming more
common further down the ladder. Companies including Procter & Gamble and
Mars have a tradition of moving developing finance talent into commercial
management, and others are following the trend. But is it a good idea?

Well, simplistically, yes it is. But there are obviously some issues to
consider. The positives first. There is no doubt that you become a stronger
finance leader (gamekeeper) if you can sit across from a commercial operator
(poacher) and show you appreciate their situation and the pressure they work
under because you’ve sat on their side of the table. And there is no doubt you
understand the frustration some operators have with finance from time to time
if, shock horror, you have experienced that frustration yourself.

When you have spent time as a poacher, you learn the tricks they use, and
this allows you to manage and control and support them better when you move
back. And the word support is key. You’re making the move to learn and to become
better at your chosen profession, and that means you are going to come back to
finance and be even more effective.

If you’re about to ring the sales director to organise your next career step,
in many ways you’d be right. It’s often an intelligent and career-enhancing
move. But, there are things to bear in mind.

The first point is to think about how your career is going to develop from
this point on. You could decide you want to stay a poacher forever, but assuming
you don’t, you need to be able to see a way back to the finance function ­ and
make sure that when you make the move, you have got some kind of agreement that
the route back is open to you.

Secondly, think about why you are making the move. The right answer is not
because you want to tell people that you are the Brand Manager. You should
genuinely believe it will make you a stronger commercial finance partner.

And if you decide to stay on the other side of the fence? That’s up to you
and to the circumstances ­ but the FD will expect you to be kind to your

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Ray &

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