David Harris discusses his route to CFO

Rutherford Cross’ Mark Lewis reflects on the business’ most recent Next Generation CFO event, with David Harris, Group Finance Director at BPI plc.

After a weekend in which we saw Steven Gerrard hang up his boots at Liverpool, we were reminded of the scarcity of one club footballers. Now it’s not often I’m minded to draw comparisons between football and accountancy, but loyalty to one organisation for a long period of time in today’s world is rare across most walks of life.

With 19 years’ service, David Harris has now been at BPI plc two years longer than Gerrard spent at Liverpool, holding the position of Group Finance Director for the last six.  As such, we were interested to hear the reasons behind his longevity in what can be the sometimes precarious world of CFO of a publically listed company at our most recent Next Generation CFO event.

BPI plc is a business that often operates ‘under the radar’ in Scotland.  It has been in existence over 100 years and is one of Scotland’s longest standing listed companies having joined the market in 1965. Current turnover is around the £500m mark and the business employees over 2200 in 15 locations in the UK, three in Northern Europe, two in North America and one in China.

David joined BPI during a period of rapid growth in the late ‘90s when the business was highly acquisitive, providing some great opportunities and quick progression. However, at the turn of the millennium, the business embarked on a lengthy period of restructuring. As turbulent as this period was, David maintains this is the time in which he really learnt his trade.

Although tough, the challenges faced during this time were fundamental in defining his management style and approach to business. Most importantly, he learnt these are the times that people look for guidance, and where a confident and calm leadership style can be both stabilising and influential.

David moved from Managing Director of BPI’s industrial division to Group Finance Director in 2009, leaving behind the greater control afforded by a ‘local level’ position for the challenges of a Group role, where he quickly learned that reliance on his ability to influence rather than control was paramount.

Staying true to his experience and wealth of knowledge, as well as his own management style was key to David achieving success.  He advised that anyone in a similar position should be open to advice, but be able to filter where necessary and to treat the inevitable challenges as an opportunity to stretch themselves rather than as a threat to their authority.

In his concluding remarks, David advised that aspiring CFOs need to prepare for tough decisions in their career but to be aware that these provide the best experience and enhance your internal reputation. His advice is to trust your instincts, maintain perspective and enjoy the twists and turns that the role brings.

Rutherford Cross’ Next Generation CFO events take place regularly throughout the year.  If you are interested in building your network and attending our events in the future, please contact [email protected]