It’s tight at the top


I HAVE MENTIONED on several occasions how good finance candidates tend to be. Indeed, I get several hundred (I wish) emails thanking me for my generous assessment of you all. And then I get the odd one querying if this is just me being nice, or if I’m being truthful. So let me explain.

In any career, when everyone starts, the range between brilliant and awful is pretty broad. Imagine 

if you took all the 13-year-olds in the UK and asked them to run 100m. The gap between the fastest and the slowest would be substantial. But if you proceeded on a knockout basis, by the time you got to the Olympic final the gap would be the blink of the eye. Well, to a certain extent, it’s the same with finance careers.

Because of the breadth of the skillset required to be a successful finance director, the development of those skills is critical and, as with sprinters, some people have phenomenal talent in some areas, but not in others. A world-class divisional finance director wouldn’t always make a world-class tax accountant, and vice versa.

In fact, some people just hit their ceiling. Someone might display all the relevant experience and skills to make a fantastic finance manager, but not be able to develop enough to prove to be a credible financial controller, and so on up the career ladder with people stopping off at rungs along the way. In short, the more senior you get, the stronger the competition around you becomes and the harder it is for you to develop into the next stage of your career.

You’d expect me to say at this point that this means the further up the ladder you go, the more you need to think about the skills you are developing and so on. But instead, I think you need to take a step back and congratulate yourselves. You have joined a tough function which tends to attract bright, personable and numerate people. You are forging and developing your career alongside equally talented people, and what’s more, you are continuing to develop it.

That’s to be applauded. Now, if only everyone else weren’t clapping as well…

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson


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