Mark Lewis shares his thoughts following our Next Generation CFO event with CFO and Executive VP of Operations for Kyowa Kirin International, Allan Watson
We were delighted to welcome Allan Watson, CFO and Executive VP of Operations for Kyowa Kirin International, as a speaker in the latest of our Next Generation CFO series.
KKI (previously known as Prostrakan Group prior to the rebrand in 2016) is a business unfamiliar to many in Scotland, but is rapidly becoming one of the most successful. KKI is based in Galashiels; not the most central of locations, but one that had been chosen by the original founder as he was an enthusiastic salmon fisherman and keen to spend his lunch hours indulging his hobby!
When Allan joined Prostrakan in 2009, the business was a well-established plc with a respected Executive Board and Senior Management Team. However, in the next 18 months the business was turned on its head with a series of events including regulatory delays, a change of CEO and a hostile takeover bid, all of which culminated in the business being sold to the current Japanese owners.
At that point the natural decision for Allan would have been to leave, but he was convinced to stay on by a member of the Board which, on reflection, has been one of the best decisions of his career. Although the Investor Relations element of the role disappeared, that was quickly replaced with a broader operational focus which gave the job several new dimensions.
Since then, the KKI has invested over £400m and Allan has been instrumental in taking a loss-making business with revenues just over £100m to one posting profits nearing £80m against revenues in excess of £250m in 2016. The ambition for the business remains strong with plans to double the revenue over the next 5 years via two new product launches and work is already underway to increase the Galashiels facility by 40% to accommodate future growth. This goes to show that take-overs aren’t necessarily a bad thing and it might be worth sticking around post-acquisition to see how it impacts the business…and your career.
So, how did Allan come to be the finance lead at a business enjoying such huge success?
Allan was brought up in the small town of Tain, an hour north of Aberdeen. With a dual interest in business and science, Allan hedged his bets with a BSc in Pharmacy and moved to Hull to join the graduate scheme at Reckitt & Colman plc, owner of brands such as Lemsip, Dettol and Gaviscon. The business took him to Paris then London and it was here he decided on a career in accountancy, fast-tracking through CIMA and quickly developing his vision to become a CFO.
After 7 years, Allan decided he required more M&A exposure, it was his opinion that this exposure was essential in becoming a well-rounded CFO, and so joined the Corporate Finance team at Williams plc, a conglomerate best known for their Chubb brand. Although the city buzz was great fun, his concern was that the work was too specialised so he sought a more rounded finance role which took him to uDate.com Inc (admittedly an interesting choice of sector for a married man from Tain!). This was an entrepreneurial start up with VC funding and Allan was involved in moving the business from loss to profit and then preparing for trade sale; it was eventually sold to match.com for $150m.
Having spent his entire working career outside of Scotland and now with family to consider, Allan moved back to Scotland in 2003 without a role following the sale of uDate.com, but was appointed CFO of a medical devices company called Optos later that year. Again, this was another business requiring a turnaround in fortunes which led to a successful IPO in 2006. It was from here that he was headhunted into Prostrakan three years later.
Allan sees his role today as the business partner to the CEO; managing both Board and parent company expectations and helping the company maintain the right direction while mitigating risk as much as possible. He sees the recruitment and development of his team as critical to his success, along with ability and desire to take on the difficult problems others might avoid. And playing the miserable Scottish accountant card now also seems to work, especially when people come asking for money!
When summarising his career, Allan sees his ability to speak with people as key to his success, commenting that the term “networking” was probably an over-convoluted term of simply talking to others. This is always helped if your fortunate enough, as Allan has been, to work in industries that you have an authentic interest in and so getting around the business is never considered a chore.
Allan set out his stall to become a CFO early on his career and continually built on his experience set with each move, ensuring that he added genuine value in each role he performed. He was prepared to take a few risks along the way to maintain control over his career, such as the move to Scotland with no role to go to, with a view that you make your own luck. Also, Allan advised to be as flexible as possible on location to secure the right roles, though admittedly, he was always going to have to be mobile considering where he was from originally! Oh, and wear good shoes!
To find out more about our Next Generation CFO programme, or to discuss your career and or recruitment needs, please contact Mark Lewis on [email protected]