Next Generation CFO with Scottish Government’s Gordon Wales

Rutherford Cross recently hosted Gordon Wales, CFO at The Scottish Government to speak at the latest of its Next Generation CFO series in conjunction with RSM UK in Edinburgh.

Gordon joined the Scottish Government in 2011 and was appointed CFO in the summer of 2017. With just over a year in post, Gordon gave a fascinating insight into this unique financial leadership role, and the challenges of working within arguably the largest and most complex organisation in Scotland.

Attending a school in Ayrshire where only a handful of pupils went on to university meant that a career in finance was not on his radar growing up. However, his first role in the administration function of an Ayrshire construction company gave Gordon his first taste of accountancy and the skills to pursue his future career.

Gordon was drawn to the public sector and took on a number of positions within the Department for Works & Pensions across various locations in the North of England, involving significant personal and family upheaval. It was here that he made his commitment to a professional career in finance, initially qualifying as a Chartered Management Accountant and then undertaking an MBA from the University of Durham.

Looking to settle his family in Scotland, Gordon became Executive Director of Corporate Services for the Scottish Court Service in 2006.  It was this role that facilitated his move into the Scottish Government five years later.

The devolved government for Scotland is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs and transport. With an annual budget of £41 billion per annum, fixed assets of nearly £30b and around 170 separate entities (Heath Boards, Public Bodies and Local Authorities), the sheer scale represents a significant challenge for the CFO. And with the decrease of funding directly from the UK Government and increase in capital raising powers in Scotland via instruments such as income tax and VAT, this complexity is only likely to develop further.

Central to Gordon’s vision as CFO has been creating the right culture and capability at the Scottish Government as it continues through this shifting landscape. Embedding a values driven leadership, a passion for delivering positive outcomes and improving diversity in all its forms have been significant parts of that vision.

Gordon shared some of his tips for success gleaned from his own career journey:

  • Be prepared for the expectation that you’ll have a view on everything
  • Continually challenge yourself and do what makes you uncomfortable
  • Seek 360-degree feedback on yourself and ensure you learn something new every few years
  • Make yourself visible outside of finance as much as possible
  • Ensure you gain perspective with opinion from outside of your organisation
  • Focus on being respected, rather than liked, and be prepared to be the ‘grit’ in the system when required
  • Extend your brief into areas that will benefit you from a learning rather than just profile perspective (i.e. Non-Exec positions, mentoring schemes, etc.).
  • Without your integrity you’re nothing – it will be put to the test more often that you would think
  • Create personal resilience – more often a case of managing your energy rather than just time
  • Have a passion outside of work that you can immerse yourself in to keep work life fresh. Gordon’s passion happens to be road cycling!

To see Gordon’s full presentation from the event, please click here

The Scottish Government is looking for new Non-Executive Directors. Click here if you’d like to find out more.

To find out more about Rutherford Cross’ events or how we can help you progress your own career, contact [email protected]