What excited you about joining Education for the 21st century, and what do you love about the organization's mission and vision?
Right from my first visit to the E21C offices for my interview it has felt simultaneously both an organisation that is genuinely driven to strive for its objective of improving outcomes and transforming lives as well as a positive, forward thinking environment. I have really enjoyed my first few days and I look forward to visiting all the schools!
How do you plan to help the company grow and succeed financially, and what unique skills and experiences do you bring to the CFO role?
Finance should support the core objectives of the organisation and I aim to build on the work that the great team around me have achieved so far by:
Firstly, improving reporting. Having the key financial information on a timely basis allows our leaders to quickly invest where required.
Secondly, we will aim to improve efficiencies. We want finance processes to be easy so our staff can have the appropriate resources when they need them, and the administrative burden of carrying out those processes should be as minimal as possible.
Thirdly, we will be looking at improving procurement. We want to achieve the best value for money with all our suppliers so we can put more resources back into the classroom.
In terms of unique skills, I come from an unusual background in that I was previously CEO of a smaller Trust. As a result, I had responsibility over all areas of the organisation and with this experience I have an increased understanding of the pressures of the non-finance teams. I am also fortunate to have spent time working with the Department for Education so I have a reasonable understanding of the financial expectations from central government.
What do you think are the biggest money challenges that Education for the 21st century will face in the next year or so, and how do you plan to tackle them?
The cost of living crisis is having a significant impact on education, just as it is for us all individually. Whilst inflation will hopefully drop as the year goes on, the impact of the inflationary increases so far will continue to put pressure on all our costs and will need careful management. One of the sectors biggest challenges is around recruitment and retention and we are no different. E21C will always strive to be a great place to work and as a result we will benchmark ourselves against the market for both remuneration and workload. We will also ensure we contribute to sector feedback to ensure our voice is heard by central government. Sadly there’s no magic money tree, but with increased controls and benchmarking around finance and recruitment, we aim to find ways to use our resources as best as possible.
How do you plan to balance the need to save money with the desire to invest in new projects and opportunities?
This is naturally one of the harder elements of the job. In a private sector company, the goal of the organisation is normally to make a profit whereas our mission is for the benefit of the young people we serve. We therefore have to balance having enough financial resources to ensure we are sustainable (so we are there for the students of tomorrow) but spend appropriately for the students of today. This is achieved through a mix of benchmarking, long term procurement and planning, and sound financial controls.
How do you plan to make sure that the finance team is happy and productive, and what do you think is important when it comes to building a great team?
There’s a number of things I think build a great team (not just a finance team):
Clear communication of expectations and a clear link to the Trust purpose. Whilst it doesn’t always feel like we have a big impact when we are head down working on spreadsheets, we play an important role in supporting the schools as finance underpins any organisation.
Culture of trust and openness. I would always want my team to feel they can approach me with any problem.
Training and opportunity for progression. Staff should feel they can learn and progress through the organisation.
Autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Micro-managing can be de-motivating (and sometimes even humiliating) and I would want my team to feel empowered to take appropriate decisions.
Recognition of achievement. When we as a team (and as an organisation) achieve our objectives, I think it is important we celebrate these achievements.
What are some of the coolest financial tools and tricks that you've learned throughout your career, and how might you apply them at Education for the 21st century?
I’m not sure if financial tricks can ever be described as cool! I am, however, a big believer in keeping up with the latest technology. We will look to use the latest software to improve reporting and increase efficiencies.
What are some financial goals that you have for Education for the 21st century in the short term and long term, and how will you know if you've achieved them?
Ensure we stay in a sustainable position but increase efficiencies to allow us to put more money back into the classroom. In addition, continue to decrease the administrative burden of finance in schools. We will know if we’ve achieved this by:
Monitoring our financial position and reserves to ensure we are continuing to operate sustainably.
Seeking feedback from key stakeholders at all levels to understand how finance processes are working for them.