Rutherford Cross welcomed Jo Dow, Chief Executive of Business Stream, to speak at our latest boardroom lunch which looked at the career options that exist beyond the role of CFO. We were delighted to partner with Angus McCuaig, Managing Partner at AAB (Glasgow), to host a number of Scotland’s leading CFOs and Finance Directors for a typically lively and insightful session. Rutherford Cross’ Managing Director, Mark Lewis, shares key insights and reflections from the event below.
For many CFOs, the singular focus is to move into bigger and better senior finance roles across their career. However, there are a multitude of routes your career can take you, and for a growing number of finance professionals, this can manifest itself in a leadership role outside of finance altogether in either an Executive or Non-Executive capacity.
This particular discussion centred around the challenges and opportunities of transitioning from a Group Finance Director or CFO position into the role of CEO and/or NED. CFOs naturally bring a valuable set of skills to these roles but there is much more to consider in order to ensure a successful transition. The session provided valuable insights into the skills, experience and thought processes required.
Jo was raised in Shetland, leaving straight after school at the age of 17 to become a Trainee Accountant for a small practice in Perth. On achieving her ACCA qualification at the age of 21, Jo joined Henderson Loggie in Dundee as an Audit Manager where she spent a couple of years before seeking her first move into industry.
In 1998, Jo joined what soon became Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE plc) – the result of a merger of Southern Electric and Scottish Hydro Electric – during the early days of competition in the UK electricity market. It was here that Jo first experienced an organisation undergoing significant transformation and change which proved to be an excellent training ground for what was to come in her subsequent roles.
In 2002, Jo joined Scottish Water as Group Finance Manager and was one of three people seconded to help create the world’s first licenced non household water provider: Business Stream. She became Finance Director of the new company in 2006 and was appointed Chief Executive in 2014. In addition to her Executive roles, Jo is also a Non-Exec Director at Central Market Agency Ltd, Market Operator Services Ltd and Jersey Water, and a member of Business in the Community’s Scotland Advisory Board (BITC).
In her capacity as CEO, Jo has played a key role in helping to transform Business Stream from a public sector monopoly into a commercial, dynamic, award-winning retail business. Jo’s focus in recent years has been on delivering the company’s ambitious growth strategy, which has included successfully undertaking two major acquisitions that have helped position Business Stream as one of the top three largest water retailers in the UK and a trusted supplier to over 340,000 businesses.
Alongside the daily operations, Jo has been leading Business Stream through an ambitious multi-million-pound transformation programme designed to transform their systems, processes and the way they work. The programme centres on implementing a modern technology platform which ensures that the systems and processes are fit for the future and scalable to meet the demands of a growing customer base.
It was clear from the discussion that many of the FDs/CFOs around the table had been thinking more and more about their career ambitions, taking a fresh view on what success would look like for them individually. A few attendees had already stepped out of finance during spells of their career into MD or COO roles, but had since returned to finance, mainly as that was where their core expertise lay and where they believed they could make the most impact on the organisation. However, those who had made that transition felt they returned to finance more rounded and better informed from the experience.
The key reflection on the CEO role was that you would need to be comfortable not being comfortable, especially when moving from the role of a functional lead to becoming the “conductor of the orchestra”. Hiring, trusting and empowering the right team is a vital ingredient for success as a CEO. It is equally important to give sufficient autonomy to the CFO who replaces you, or you run the risk of undermining their role and influence.
Jo’s reflections on the step up to CEO centred around embracing new challenges. The majority of her experiences over the last twenty years had come with little deliberate pre-planning or detailed preparation, so she had largely focused on her own skills and determination to succeed when faced with a fresh opportunity. By her own admission, Jo has thrived on new challenges, especially those that would appear to initially be beyond her natural reach, which likely underpins her meteoric rise from growing up in the relatively small community of the Scottish Islands to becoming CEO of a £600m+ revenue business before the age of 40.
The majority of attendees viewed a move into a Non-Executive Director or Trustee position as a more natural next step, and several round the table have already embarked on that journey. It was noted that as a CFO/FD there was always a natural place to add value to any board discussion on the accounts or audit reports, even if your commercial understanding of the organisation was light on day one.
Most attendees regarded their initial move into NED as being with organisations with a close sector relevance to their own backgrounds, or those in which they had a personal interest; whether that be charitable, sports or the arts. The important point was also made that by making this commitment, often on a pro-bono basis, you would need to ensure that you took something tangible from the role such as new experiences, networks or as a precursor into bigger NED roles in future. In short, the positive impact on you should mirror the impact you should be making on the organisation.
Jo’s own Non-Executive Director experiences have encompassed both her professional expertise and personal passion for the community and environment. Her roles within The Central Market Agency and Market Operator Services Ltd are heavily linked to her Business Stream role, as both organisations are focused on the governance and improvement of the water industry in the UK. These NED positions are perfectly complemented by her role with the Business in The Community (BITC) Scotland Advisory Board: a business-led membership organisation dedicated to promoting a fairer and greener world. In 2021, Jo also became Chair of the BITC Scotland Climate Action Group which was established to support small businesses across Scotland to reduce their carbon emissions and accelerate the journey to net zero.
To find out more about our events programme, or to discuss how Rutherford Cross can help you or your business, please contact Mark Lewis on [email protected].