Rutherford Cross recently welcomed Nicola Fraser, Chief Financial Officer at atomos, to speak at our latest Next Generation CFO event. Director, Hazel Wynn shares insights into Nicola’s career path, as well as some key takeaways from the session.
Nicola’s Journey to CFO
The virtual session began with Nicola giving us an overview of her career journey. Nicola highlighted that from the beginning, she never had a set plan, even though her CV might look like she did. Nicola took opportunities that presented themselves and made decisions based on personal circumstances at the time. She highlighted that keeping an open mind and not pursuing too narrow a course has worked well for her, and has helped her deal with situations that haven’t necessarily worked out in the way she initially thought.
Nicola studied Maths & Statistics at university with the intention of becoming an actuary, before changing direction to train to become an accountant at a Big 4 firm. After completing her training with EY, Nicola left the profession to take a role with Abbey National in a commercially focused role. Nicola enjoyed being in a role that was closely involved with the drivers of profitability in the business, and she learned a huge amount about process here which served her well for her future career.
Nicola progressed to running an operational area of over 100 people at Abbey National, but had always wanted to live in London, so she moved to Merrill Lynch to join their asset management division. Again, this was a commercial role supporting the CEO of the private client business. Nicola worked on a key change project going through a merger. Nicola’s next move was driven by personal circumstances; she relocated back to Scotland and joined Martin Currie. Gaining her first experience of working with Private Equity, it was a huge learning curve, and she highlighted that this role is the one that prepared her for CFO.
After taking maternity leave and a short career break, Nicola joined Aberdeen Asset Management as Regional CFO, staying with them for 7 years and enjoying the variety of the role as well as overseeing a number of acquisitions. Aberdeen then merged with Standard Life, and the Regional CFO role was made redundant. Nicola took on a Risk focused role managing a Brexit Project to completion, then decided it was time to move on. Nicola joined Sanlam as Group CFO back in early 2020 and helped take the business through massive change with the Parent deciding to sell the UK business when she was only 6 months into the role. They sold to Oaktree, a US PE firm, with Nicola and the CEO forming a new management team to create atomos.
The session with Nicola was very insightful and some key learnings include the following:
- Put your hand up for opportunities that require you to do something different, whether that’s project work, volunteering for a committee or a secondment
- Building your network from the start is really important; make sure you invest in that network when you don’t necessarily need it
- Having mentors and people to look up to is important, but having a sponsor can make a real difference in your career
- As a CFO, the relationship with your CEO is absolutely key. You need to support them to deliver the business’s strategy; but also be able to guide them, and at times, hold them to account
- Keep an open mind, stay curious and ask lots of questions
- Take the opportunities that come your way and work for people that believe in you, but also challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone, as they will help propel your career forward
Following Nicola’s presentation, we moved onto the Q&A part of the session which covered Nicola’s observations on the changes of the Financial Services industry during her 25 years in the sector, her top 3 priorities in her current role, as well as her top criteria when deciding to join a new company.
If you missed the event, you can click here to watch the full session on Youtube.