Sally's Portfolio


Published in Accounting and Business

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere. Practices need to ensure they create a safe environment for staff, starting with putting the right policies and procedures in place. Sally Percy reports

Sexual harassment has been a workplace issue for as long as people have worked. It has grown in prominence over the last year, however, following sexual misconduct allegations against a number of high-profile public figures, starting in Hollywood and gradually permeating across all sectors and continents. The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are among the highest-profile social media movements of recent times.

Sexual harassment can blight the accountancy profession as much as any other walk of life. And it seems obvious that if an accountancy firm is perceived to have a culture where sexual harassment is tolerated, or where victims’ complaints are not taken seriously, it risks punitive legal and compensation costs, the loss of talented staff, and long-term damage to its reputation, not to mention the distress caused to the victims.

So what can accountancy firms do to address sexual harassment as part of good practice management?

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King of change

Published in Project 

How can project managers help their organisations navigate today’s most complex challenges? SALLY PERCY spoke to change guru Dr John Kotter for his insights 

In the world of change management, Harvard professor Dr John Kotter is royalty. Widely considered the foremost authority on the topics of leadership and change, he is a prolific writer who has authored 20 books, including 12 bestsellers. His seminal work, Leading Change, first published in 1996, remains the go-to guide on change management. It outlines a practical, eight-step process for managing change, from establishing a sense of urgency to anchoring new approaches in an organisation’s culture. More than a million copies of the book were sold within the first 10 years of publication. In 2011, TIME magazine listed it as one of the top 25 most influential business management books of all time.

The question of why some organisations do so much better than others has fascinated Kotter throughout his career, and continues to do so today. His interest was first sparked 50 years ago when he belonged to a college fraternity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he studied electrical engineering, followed by a master’s degree in science in management. His fraternity was a “troubled institution”, he recalls. “We had two pieces of very expensive real estate and 70 members. We were responsible for feeding them, rooming them, tutoring them and organising their social lives. At the age of 20, I started becoming intrigued by what it takes to make this function better.”

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Business is vital in combating modern-day slavery

Published in Accounting and Business

Modern slavery is happening everywhere – and businesses with appropriate governance structures are part of the battle against it. Sally Percy reports

Slavery is not legal anywhere, yet today over 20 million people across the world are effectively slaves, according to the International Labour Organisation. In fact, this could be a conservative estimate. Other organisations put the figure even higher – the Global Slavery Index 2016 estimates 45.8 million.

Governments across the world have taken action to tackle modern slavery, with 124 having criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol. In Europe, the UK is seen as a leader in addressing the problem thanks to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which is the first legislation of its kind on the continent. It was drafted after the issue attracted the attention of then home secretary Theresa May.

The act gives greater powers to law enforcers to fight modern slavery, ensures that perpetrators receive suitably severe punishments (including life sentences), provides support and protection for victims, and introduces an independent anti-slavery commissioner to improve the response to the issue.

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Not just a figurehead

Published in Dialogue Review 

What’s the secret to leading the finance function of a large public company? Sally Percy reports

Setting aside the seven-figure salary, who would want to be a chief financial officer (CFO) of a major public company? You’re expected to be on call 24/7, have all the company’s numbers constantly at your fingertips, understand how to calm the nerves of even the edgiest analysts and investors, and be ready to jump on to an aeroplane at a moment’s notice to resolve a calamity on the other side of the world. As for your family life… what exactly is that again? All this hassle, and the average tenure of a CFO in the Fortune 500 is 5.9 years, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

You wouldn’t blame an outsider for finding the prospect of being a public company CFO rather unappealing. Yet the CFOs that I interviewed for my book, Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success, love what they do. And it is this passion for their work that makes up for the long hours, stress and career uncertainty associated with the job.

They like the fact that they get to kick around strategy ideas with the chief executive, commit large sums of money to potentially game-changing projects, and talk to influential people. “It’s a very exciting job where you can make an impact on people’s lives,” says Bank of America’s chief financial officer, Paul Donofrio.

Alongside all the other responsibilities that come with being CFO, the role is clearly a major leadership and management job. Donofrio, for example, presides over a finance function that numbers more than 4,000 people worldwide. And the finance functions of most large companies extend into the hundreds.

Since finance is critical to the smooth running of every major business, a CFO must be able to attract good people to work for them, lead and inspire those people, and manage them in a way that gets the best out of them. They also need to be a coach, mentor and sponsor, and be committed to developing the next generation of finance talent. So what makes someone a great leader of the finance function?

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A crash course in making CFO

Published in The Treasurer

How can treasurers boost their chances of climbing to the top of the finance tree? Sally Percy spills the secrets of successful finance leaders 

Not every treasurer hankers after the CFO’s job, but many wouldn’t rule it out. And neither should they. After all, the route from treasury to the executive suite is relatively well trodden.

Former treasurers who went on to hold the top finance job include Nick Luff, CFO of information provider RELX, Teri List-Stoll, CFO of clothing company Gap, and Keith Nichols, former CFO of chemicals giant AkzoNobel. Other finance leaders may not have had the title of treasurer, but still held treasury responsibilities, such as Paul Edwards, group FD at transport operator The Go-Ahead Group.

Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and group president at US telecommunications giant Verizon Wireless, held treasury roles early in his career. When I interviewed him for my book, Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success, he explained that he initially studied treasury qualifications while he was working in banking because he saw them as a way to build knowledge and network with corporate treasurers.

Little did he know then that those qualifications would be a crucial step in a journey to the very top of the British business world. Following a stint in treasury, Dunne was head of strategic finance at logistics operator Exel before working his way up to become CFO, then CEO of Telefónica UK, part of the Spanish multinational communications group Telefónica.

Dunne explains his success like this: “I always had the mindset in my career that I am on a journey,” he says. “So I am looking for interesting things that stretch me and help me to develop my knowledge. I have seen every role as a developmental opportunity and a learning opportunity, not just as a job, and I was always very open-minded about where I might find myself.”

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Giddy heights

Published in Accounting and Business

Just because you’ve made CFO or partner, don’t assume that your career has hit the ceiling. Your next step might even be a move away from finance, says Sally Percy

What’s great about a career in finance is that you can reach the top and still go on to do other exciting things. The two most obvious career options open to you if you are a CFO in industry are taking the CEO or managing director job and/or becoming an independent non-executive director with a portfolio of board directorships. If you are in practice with a decent-sized firm, you may be able to secure a senior leadership role within the partnership, and you could also pursue a non-executive career.

Undoubtedly you have some interesting opportunities for progression once you have made it to what other people would already regard as a very senior role within finance, but what do you need to do to seize them?

If you’re a CFO hankering after the CEO’s job, you can take heart from the fact this is a very well-trodden path. According to Robert Half’s 2016 FTSE 100 CEO Tracker, over half (55%) of chief executives of the UK’s largest companies come from a finance background. And there are a number of very good reasons why this should be the case.

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Artificial intelligence: the role of evolution in decision-making

Published in The Telegraph 

As far as decision-making mechanisms go, there is no better example than the human brain, so artificial intelligence must evolve to emulate it. Sally Percy reports

Strategy matters in war. But behind every good strategy is good data. Take Korean War veteran and US Air Force officer John Boyd as an example.

He was tasked with analysing the outcome of dogfights – aerial battles between fighter planes conducted at close range – and come up with a way to save the lives of more American pilots. He did.

What Boyd created was a framework for decision-making that is known as the OODA loop. OODA refers to the recurring cycle of four actions: observe, orient, decide and act. He discovered that the pilots who came out of dogfights most successfully were those who had processed the loop as quickly and as often as possible.

Their experience of reacting to lots of different situations meant they could best adapt their battle strategies to unfolding events.

“What Boyd was telling us was that surviving, learning and adapting were key to winning,” says Antoine Blondeau, the co-founder and co-chairman of Sentient Technologies and the inventor of the natural language technology behind Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant. “Since then, that framework has been pervasive within the US armed forces. If you train, train and train, you go through that loop as often as possible.”

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What does it take to become a successful finance leader?

Published in Economia 

Sally Percy shares some career-boosting tips from leading CFOs

Finance is one of the world’s most popular professions for good reason – numbers matter. They matter because they are valuable indicators of the health of governments, businesses, not-for-profit organisations and individuals. Get them right and they can promote confidence, investment and prosperity. Get them wrong and they can destroy careers, organisations and even lives

The overwhelming importance of numbers means that the CFOs of large companies are part of the bedrock of our society. The same goes for the partners of the top audit firms. But what kind of person do you need to be to work as a finance leader in an organisation that employs tens of thousands of people across the globe?

This was the question that I sought to answer in my book, Reach the Top in Finance: The Ambitious Accountant’s Guide to Career Success. For the book, I interviewed FTSE 100 CFOs, Fortune 500 CFOs and leaders from some of the top accountancy firms. Their combined experiences paint a very rich picture of just what it takes to operate at the highest echelons of the business world.

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The robots are coming

Published in The Treasurer

Will artificial intelligence erode the role of treasurers or boost their profile within business? Sally Percy investigates 

Read too many articles about artificial intelligence (AI) and you could come to the conclusion that humankind collectively is heading for a career dead end.

A 2013 paper by academics at the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs were at risk of being automated over the next 20 years – with the jobs affected ranging from taxi drivers through to accountants.

A year later, a joint report by the same university, together with Deloitte, predicted that 10 million British jobs could be taken over by computers and robots over the same period.

Then, a 2016 study by salary benchmarking site Emolument revealed that nearly half (47%) of people working in financial services in several different countries thought that technological innovations, such as automated trading platforms, were putting their jobs at risk.

With the use of AI within business set to increase dramatically over the coming decades, where does this leave the treasurer? Will the profession even exist in 2030 or will it have been consigned to the history books? Let’s find out.

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How can AI help shape a brighter future?

Published in The Telegraph 

Artificial intelligence could help us to live healthier, more fulfilling lives in future. So it’s time we lost the fear of AI. Sally Percy reports

Until now, humans have held sway as the most dominant force on Earth. Despite lacking some of the physical attributes of a host of other species, we have conquered the planet by virtue of our mighty minds.

Yet by 2025, a computer costing as little as $1,000 will have the equivalent processing speed of the human brain, according to Silicon Valley engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. And artificial intelligence systems are already faster and more accurate than humans when searching vast databases for anomalies or patterns in customer behaviour. They can also “learn” from what they have discovered and react to those findings.

Artificial intelligence potentially offers vast benefits to humankind. These range from improving medical diagnosis and treatment to caring for the elderly and making cities safer places.

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Are CFOs now ‘mini chief executives’?

Published in Raconteur’s The Future CFO supplement in The Times 

A successful chief financial officer now has to support the chief executive in developing company strategy as well as taking care of finance. Sally Percy reports

If you want proof of how far the role of chief financial officer or CFO has evolved from number cruncher to strategic adviser, talk to a headhunter about the briefs they get from chief executives.

“If you look at a job specification from ten years ago, everything that was on there then is still on there today,” says Mark Freebairn, partner and head of the financial management practice at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson. “But there are two more pages that weren’t there before and are there now.”

The pressure on companies to innovate and compete in an increasingly complex, fast-moving and transparent world has led to the chief financial officers of large businesses becoming more involved in driving the commercial activities of their organisations. So they are helping to improve the business, manage margins, assess potential new markets, make investment decisions and oversee mergers and acquisitions.

These are activities that all conceivably fall under the umbrella of strategy and require chief financial officers to possess a wide set of skills.

The scale to which the chief financial officer’s strategic remit has been expanded is clear from the briefs that Mr Freebairn gets, which often request what is essentially a “mini chief executive”. “CEOs say, ‘I need a CFO who will second-guess me because that will make my decision-making more robust. I need a commercial equal in that role’.”

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Banking regulations impacting businesses

Published in Raconteur’s Corporate Treasury supplement in The Times 

Since the 2008 recession, regulation of the financial services sector, backed up with big fines, has introduced caution, slowed up lending and had a knock-on effect throughout the economy. Sally Percy reports

Falling foul of regulators can be expensive as a string of banks have learnt to their cost. Research from policy resource centre Good Jobs First in June found that banks and other financial services firms globally had forked out more than $160 billion in fines since 2010. And that was before Deutsche Bank was told to pay $14 billion for misselling mortgage securities in the United States.

Companies are far less likely than banks to be hit with a fine the length of a telephone number. Nevertheless, treasurers still need to navigate the world of financial regulation carefully if they are to spare their employer bad press, strategic risks and unexpected penalties.

“Regulation is omnipresent,” says Richard Abigail, group treasurer of engineering consultancy Arup. “Much of the regulatory pressure on us comes through the banking sector. Regulations on the banks transfer on to corporates. We have to do more and more to be regulatory compliant.”

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Boardroom basics

 Published in The Treasurer

No one wants to make a hash of briefing the company’s directors. Sally Percy asks experienced treasurers how they get it right 

A treasurer’s place is in the boardroom. Not all of the time, of course, but some of the time at least.

That is one of the principal findings of The Contemporary Treasurer 2016, the ACT’s latest research into the evolving influence of treasury on corporate financial strategy and business growth.

Nearly 200 treasurers across the UK, continental Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and North America were interviewed for the study, which found that treasurers globally are contributing far more strategic advice to their organisations than they did five years ago.

It is not just business strategy that treasurers report on, however. Their board reports tend to encompass a broad range of subjects, from capital and liquidity management and risk management through to corporate governance, treasury operations and controls, and pensions management.

So just what does presenting treasury matters to the board entail? And is it really the horrifying prospect that it might seem?

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Back to basics

Published in Project 

Project management is just a matter of finding out what works and doing it over and over again. Or is it? Sally Percy investigates 

“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” This observation by the late US motivational speaker Zig Ziglar applies as much to project management as it does to art, music, sport, writing and many other activities.

The theory is that, if you repeat the same task or sequence of tasks over and over again, eventually you will excel at them. “Look at professional athletes,” says Adrian Dooley, lead author of the Praxis Framework, a free, online project management resource, and a book (£49.95) published by APM. “In their training, they practise the basics over and over again. They make these basics instinctive. In a game situation, they then improvise around those basic skills.

“If they didn’t spend so much time doing the ‘boring stuff’ and getting it right, they would never have a platform from which to launch their creativity.”

For example, footballer David Beckham revealed in 2013 that his mastery of the free kick was the result of “tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands” of practice free kicks in the local park when he was growing up. If only it were that simple…

In the world of project management, repetition does not relate to the process of landing a ball in a goal from a distance of 30 yards (although some project managers might argue that, actually, metaphorically it does). Instead, it relates to the process of getting the basics right – repeatedly.

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Vacancies left unfilled as skills shortage bites

Published in The Telegraph 

Construction and financial services among sectors worst hit as employers struggle to find suitable candidates for around 25pc of vacancies

In 2015, nearly a quarter of all job openings were left vacant because employers could not find people with the necessary skills or knowledge to fill them. This is a 130pc rise since 2011, according to the newly released 2015 Employer Skills Survey (ESS) from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

The UK’s modest economic recovery between 2011 and 2015 can partly explain the increase in skills shortages; businesses have ramped up their hiring to meet customer demand. It does not tell the whole story, however. “Education has not always been aligned with demand in the marketplace,” says Douglas McCormick, a UKCES commissioner.

“We have real shortages of skilled labour in construction and also in professional services. That’s because in prior years there hasn’t been enough investment in the people coming through.”

As the survey highlights, skills shortages in the construction sector are a real concern, since the sector contributes nearly £90bn to the UK economy, employs more than a million people and undertakes strategically important housing and infrastructure projects. Worryingly, employers struggled to fill one in three construction vacancies in 2015.

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Who holds the key to closing the skills gap?

 Published by EY 

Five actions to accelerate gender parity 

Can it be possible that women lost 30 years of progress toward equal economic and political participation with men in just 12 months?

Unfortunately, according to the World Economic Forum, that is precisely what happened in 2015.

In 2014, the WEF predicted that it would be 80 years before gender parity could be achieved, according to the economic, educational, health-based and political indicators at the time. Just a year later, in 2015, that forecast changed to 117 years.

So how can we achieve gender parity when “business as usual” is failing to close the gap both within individual organizations and across nations? At EY, we decided to drive change at the local level by bringing together committed leaders from corporates, entrepreneurship and government.

In 2015, EY established the Women³. The Power of Three, a forum for female and male leaders from corporate, entrepreneurial and government organizations across major markets in EMEIA. After examining a number of different challenges to women in professional roles, the forum focused the last 12 months on how we could better leverage the skills of women throughout the three stages of their career (entrants, express and experienced) to close the global skills gap and support economic growth.

Through 10 regional roundtables with over 150 leaders, plus surveys of more than 1,000 organizations, Women³. The Power of Three developed a set of recommended actions calling on governments, corporates and entrepreneurs to work collectively to address five recommended actions for better harnessing female talent.

Out of these, the group prioritized five specific actions that we believe will hasten change.

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Making an impact

Published in The Treasurer

Treasurer-turnedTelefónica UK CEO Ronan Dunne reveals the secrets of his extraordinarily successful career 

When Telefónica UK CEO Ronan Dunne held his first town hall meeting back in 2007, he told his assembled staff: “I see my job to be chief cheerleader and chief storyteller on behalf of the organisation and to make each one of you the success you deserve to be.”

t is this fierce commitment to helping others to fulfil their potential that has underpinned Dunne’s own spectacular career to date. A clearly inspirational leader, who has managed to hold down the top job in one of the UK’s best-known companies for eight years, he makes it his business to match people to potential. “I have a personal view that all of us can be good at many things,” he says. “Every one of us can be amazing at something. So what we have to do is make sure that we create the opportunity for as many people as possible to discover what they can be amazing at.”

He continues: “That’s why I ended up being a CEO. I could have been good as a finance director, but actually others saw that I had the potential to be a CEO. And I realised that I wanted to see if I could be amazing, potentially as a CEO. Because the responsibility that a CEO has affords the opportunity to be even more influential and more impactful than even the best CFO.”

Factors to consider when relocating your business

Published in The Telegraph 

Local infrastructure can make or break a business, but moving poses enormous challenges and unexpected costs

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of poky offices, exorbitant rents and crippling business rates.” That is what Samuel Johnson might have said had he been a 21st-century business owner rather than an 18th-century writer.

But with future improvements in infrastructure – particularly the High Speed 2 rail line between London and Birmingham, and Crossrail in the capital and the South East – the way people move around the country is set to change. Meanwhile, the construction of the planned new nuclear power station, Hinkley Point C, is poised to become the epicentre of a whole new economic ecosystem in Somerset.

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Asset control

Published in Upward Curve

Cash rich, but time-poor. Sally Percy discovers why some of the world’s wealthiest individuals are turning to private banks to manage their money

Making money is one thing. Managing it is something else – especially if you have a frantic schedule and complicated financial affairs.

Indeed, complexity is one of the main reasons why the world’s wealthiest people choose to use the services of private banks, according to Tom Slocock,
head of UK wealth management clients at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management.

“As an individual’s wealth increases, the alternatives open to them also increase – sometimes exponentially – and that tends to breed complexity,” he says. “So they want to deal with a counterpart who is experienced in dealing with that complexity, which is not something that can be replicated across thousands and thousands of clients. They also want a counterpart who has the ability to pull together all the expertise that is necessary to service their needs.”

Working with dinosaurs

Published in Accounting Technician

Some say evolving technology threatens to make accountants extinct. Can they adapt to the changing climate or are they doomed? Sally Percy sinks her teeth in

What’s the difference between a dinosaur and an accountant?

If you ask that question of Anthony Hilton, the respected financial editor of the London Evening Standard, he would probably tell you that one is extinct, while the other isn’t. Yet.

In an engaging and provocative keynote speech to AAT’s FMAAT Premium members earlier this year, Hilton compared the prospects of accountants with those of the ‘terrible lizards’ that were wiped out 65 million years ago.

Technology, Hilton said, was increasingly enabling businesses to have real-time information on which to base decisions, e ectively removing much of the technical work that accountants have done up until now. “The environment is no longer in need of your skills, the way it was,” he noted. “So you are going to have to evolve or, otherwise, like the dinosaurs, you will disappear.”

New rules force up price of money

Published in Raconteur’s Corporate Treasury supplement in The Sunday Times 

Reform of the financial services sector was essential following the 2008 crisis, but how is new regulation affecting corporate treasurers? Sally Percy investigates

The torrent of financial services regulation unleashed since the 2008 banking crisis may not have been directly aimed at corporate treasurers, but it has still rocked their world.

“Regulation features high among treasurers’ concerns because banks, effectively, are being restricted in what they can and can’t do,” says Michelle Price, associate policy and technical director at the Association of Corporate Treasurers.

The string of rules that banks – and therefore treasurers – have to contend with relate to derivatives trading, money laundering, tax and sanctions, among other topics.

But, ultimately, the regulation that will probably have the greatest impact on banks and their corporate clients is the infamous (in the financial services world, at least) Basel III accord, which has already transformed the banking environment that treasurers operate in on a day-to-day basis.

As Bob Stark, vice president of strategy at treasury software provider Kyriba, puts it: “No one is immune to the direct or indirect effects of Basel III.”

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If the face fits

Published in Accounting and Business

Personality profiling is widely used by accountancy firms when recruiting and developing staff, but is it just a fad or a genuine way to get the best out of finance professionals?

Personality profiling dates back to antiquity. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates defined four ‘humours’ – air, earth, fire and water – and argued that the interaction between these was what defined human temperament.

But the birth of modern personality profiling didn’t occur until the 1920s, when Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung identified that people have a natural predisposition to act in a certain manner. This, he said, is based on whether they are extrovert or introvert, whether they rely more heavily on their intuition or on concrete information, and whether they base their decisions on empathy or on facts.

Jung’s thinking has heavily influenced the development of personality profiling methods over the years. In particular, it underpins the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers – as well as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.

Today, personality profiling is used by organisations of all sizes as a way of improving business performance. The theory is that employers can help their staff to achieve more if they understand how they like to work and what they base their decisions on. So employers use profiling when they are hiring, building teams and developing their people.

Profiling also benefits individuals because it enables them to better understand both themselves and how they can interact with others to achieve positive results. And this applies as much to finance professionals as it does to anyone else.

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High flier

Published in The Treasurer

Air France treasurer Frédérique Lacombe explains how her team is helping the airline to reduce its costs, pay down its debt and manage its business risks. Sally Percy reports 

If the airline industry is considered one of the most glamorous businesses to work in, then that must be doubly true when it’s a French airline that we are talking about.

So there will be many European treasurers who would secretly covet the job of Air France treasurer Frédérique Lacombe. But a business in any industry faces its own unique challenges and, as Lacombe herself will be the first to admit, airlines are no exception to this rule. They face very strong headwinds, both in the sky and on the ground.

Since the financial crisis and the economic meltdown that followed it, the Air France-KLM Group has been battling to curb its operating costs and to get on top of its net debt (which stood at €5.27bn as of 30 September 2014). With this in mind, Air France launched the Transform 2015 turnaround programme in 2012, which aimed to slash its cost base by €1.5bn. At the same time, it moved to regain competitiveness and take its brand ‘upmarket’ by enhancing its customer service and improving its seats, lounges and catering.

Buying Britain

Published in Raconteur’s M&A 2015 Outlook in The Times 

The UK is proving to be an increasingly popular target for foreign investors seeking a business opportunity, writes Sally Percy

UK property famously appeals to foreign buyers, but they like to snap up our businesses too. Research by law firm Allen & Overy found that in the third quarter of this year, the UK was the world’s second most popular destination for inbound investment after the United States.

The fact that UK businesses are an attractive target for overseas companies is hardly surprising, says Daniel Domberger, a partner at corporate finance advisory firm Livingstone Partners. “It’s a welcoming climate for business with well-established legal precedents for the mechanisms of M&A, which not all jurisdictions have. And it’s relatively easy to do what you want with the business once you’ve acquired it, in contrast to many European countries.”

In particular, the UK appeals to US investors because they see it as the beachhead into Europe, says Mike Driver, a partner at corporate finance boutique Convex Capital. “The language is the same and there’s a similar legal system,” he says. The UK’s return to economic growth and higher consumer spending are making the country attractive to US retailers, while our technology businesses complement those across the pond.

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Quality not quantity for M&A

Published in Raconteur’s M&A 2015 Outlook in The Times 

High-value global deals are leading the way in a mergers and acquisitions drive powered by cash-rich corporates, writes Sally Percy

Quality rather than quantity has been the defining global trend in corporate M&A in 2014. According to data from financial information provider Mergermarket, 12,693 transactions had taken place worldwide by the start of November, down from 14,511 for the same period in 2013. In contrast, total deal values have leapt by more than 10 per cent.

This jump in values can be partly attributed to the string of so-called “mega-deals” that have been agreed in 2014. These include the sale of French telecoms giant SFR to cable company Numericable, the merger of US pharmaceutical companies Actavis and Forest Laboratories, and US conglomerate General Electric’s acquisition of the energy business belonging to French rail company Alstom.

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Targeted giving is tax-efficient

Published in The Times

Companies that want to make a difference in the world, while reducing their tax bills, are setting up charitable foundations, writes Sally Percy

Charitable foundations are a popular option for companies wishing to be philanthropic in a tax-efficient way. Entrepreneurs, in particular, tend to favour them when they want to channel profits from their businesses into targeted worthwhile causes.

“Foundations are being set up by individuals who have made a lot of money from their companies,” says Kate Sayer, partner of charity audit firm Sayer Vincent. “They see a foundation as a good way to give structure to their charitable giving.”

By establishing a charitable foundation and making cash donations to that foundation, a company can enjoy the same tax benefit that it would if it made donations to any other charity. In other words, it can offset its giving against corporation tax.

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Route to the top

Published in The Treasurer

What does it take to reach the giddy heights of group treasurer? Sally Percy investigates 

At some point in their career, most people who work in treasury are likely to have weighed up their chances of becoming group treasurer.

Often it’s an ambition that junior entrants to the profession have at the outset. But other treasurers may be drawn to it later, perhaps because they’ve had an epiphany that, despite the other options open to them, treasury is what suits them best.

The first thing to point out is that the role of group treasurer is extremely broad. Some treasurers, who work in smaller organisations, will effectively already be their own organisation’s ‘group treasurer’ because they are the only person doing treasury tasks there. Others may work for a company that has a treasury team numbering 20 or 30 people, and where the group treasurer is regarded as a senior member of the management team.

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King of clean

Published in The Treasurer

Working for pest control and hygiene giant Rentokil Initial has enabled James Kelly to fast-track his career. He shares his thoughts on the route to treasury success with Sally Percy 

James Kelly admits that he’s become a clean freak since joining Rentokil Initial in 2010. Now head of treasury at the FTSE 250-listed pest control and facilities management giant – which maintains company washrooms among other services – he reveals that Rentokil employees get “a lot of information” about hygiene. Unsurprisingly then, he’s “slightly obsessive” about washing his hands, a fixation that has also afflicted his wife, who is an avid hand washer, too.

But there is, of course, a lot more to Kelly than clean hands. His ascent up the treasury career ladder has been impressively rapid, given that he’s only worked in the profession for just seven years.

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Knowing how to seal the deal

Published in The Times

Corporate treasurers play a critical role in supporting mergers and acquisitions, particularly for deals involving high-growth markets, writes Sally Percy

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have bounced back on to the corporate agenda in 2014 after tailing off dramatically in the wake of the financial crisis. According to figures from Thomson Reuters, the value of global M&A activity was up 54 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2013, with deals totalling $710 billion.

This resurgence in M&A is adding to corporate treasurers’ already long to-do lists since they are increasingly influential in setting business strategy. While treasurers have always been involved in arranging and structuring the funding that underpins M&A, boards are now drawing on their expertise in areas such as cash and liquidity, regulation and risk management before a deal is even on the table.

Arguably, input from treasury is key even when an acquisition is little more than a twinkle in the chief executive’s eye. Treasury will want to manage the company’s debt maturity profile to ideally prevent it from having to undertake refinancing activity at the same time an acquisition is being carried out.

“The market may not necessarily be open at the time you want to complete a transaction,” observes David Tilston, group finance director of banknote substrate maker Innovia. “So you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you want to do a deal, but you don’t have the money available.”

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One page fits all

Published in Accounting and Business

Lengthy business plans don’t guarantee success for SMEs, strategy expert Deri Llewellyn-Davies told a recent ACCA event. Sally Percy reports

Back in 2007, Deri Llewellyn-Davies completed the legendary Marathon des Sables, a gruelling six-day ultra-marathon through the Sahara Desert. It’s widely considered the toughest foot race on earth.

Racing with Llewellyn-Davies were a blind man and a man with one leg. ‘It made me realise that we can achieve anything in life,’ he told delegates at an ACCA UK event on lean business planning in February. ‘The relevance of my adventures to business were uncanny. To achieve something like that you need strategy. But writing long business plans doesn’t help with strategy. You need to to plan quickly, adapt quickly and execute.’

Llewellyn-Davies, who is founder and CEO of business development consultancy Business Growth International, believes that the digital era has ushered in the ‘most exciting time in history’ for SMEs. ‘There are two billion people coming online over the next two years,’ he pointed out, adding that finance is the ‘centre of the entire strategy piece’.

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Offload or overhaul?

 Published in Finance & Management

There is no simple formula for FDs looking to restructure in a time of recovery, as Sally Percy discovers

As the economic indicators continue to point towards a sustained recovery, organisations are turning their attention towards parts of their businesses that they may not need to keep during growth. Underperforming units and subsidiaries that may have been patched up and dragged through the recession may now begin to look increasingly superfluous. Restructuring or disposal may be the solution, but both come with cost – and risk – attached.

So how can management accurately assess whether a restructuring is necessary or if the business can continue unchanged? And how can they identify those areas ripe for attention? “A restructuring will either be caused by a necessity, in which case you have no choice, or it will be caused by recognition that a business can make better cash returns and better profits through a restructuring,” says Simon Poulton, a former group finance director of ARC International who is now an interim CFO. “If the economics of restructuring are positive, there is little justification for not doing it.”

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Making a splash

Published in The Treasurer

AkzoNobel CFO Keith Nichols’ colourful career spans treasury, transformation and taking tough decisions, writes Sally Percy 

It seems fitting that Keith Nichols, the CFO of Amsterdam-based paint and coating manufacturer AkzoNobel, has built his career on transforming companies. “In a lot of jobs that I’ve been in, change has been a red thread,” he observes. “Whether it was the reorganisation at Storehouse in the early 90s, BET being a turnaround, selling pharma, buying ICI… a lot has been transformation and changes. As CFO, that has stood me in good stead. I really enjoy the more adventurous side of the job where there are projects, initiatives and deals. I would probably be no good if everything was ticking like a Swiss watch and all I had to do was fine-tune the quarterly results.”

That’s just as well, then, since AkzoNobel has not been ticking like a Swiss watch for a while.

Tomorrow’s World

Published in Economia

We live in an era of rapid technological change, which has led to client expectations and experience evolving. So, asks Sally Percy, what does the future hold for practising accountants?

If someone had told you a decade ago that your clients would soon be able to make bank payments, issue invoices and log their expenses using their mobile phones, you probably wouldn’t have believed them. But thanks to the rapid technological change that has transformed our society since the turn of the century, today they can do all of those things. This rate of change is expected to accelerate even faster in future so it’s important to ask – what will it mean for accountants? Will they still have clients in 10 years’ time or will they have been ditched in favour of an app?

The politics of pricing

Published in Economia

Are fixed fees the answer to accountants’ charging dilemmas, or do they present new problems of their own? Sally Percy investigates

As anyone in business knows, working out how much to charge for your goods or services is a perpetual conundrum. Charge too much and you risk losing customers; charge too little and you might not break even. It’s a difficult balance to strike at the best of times, but the present economic climate makes the challenge even harder. Deciding what the price of your services should be – and how you charge for those services – is one of the most important decisions that you can make when you run your own practice. So you need to do your utmost to get it right.

Be the boss

Published in The Treasurer

What does it take for today’s treasurer to become tomorrow’s CFO? Sally Percy reports 

The CFO’s job might not be one that every treasurer hankers after, but it’s hard to deny the fact that a seat at the board table does have a certain allure. For starters, it comes with the thrill of helping to decide the organisation’s strategy and involvement in incredibly important decisions.

Then there is the prestige of heading a large finance function, the chance to liaise with investors and analysts, potentially eye-watering financial rewards and last, but maybe not least, being ensconced in a very comfortable corner office in the executive suite. And while making CFO would undoubtedly be many treasurers’ career highlight, it even comes with the added bonus that once they’ve had enough of it, they can look forward to supplementing their retirement with a string of lucrative non-executive positions.

All of this could be yours provided you are willing to accept the long hours, pressure, stress, reputational risk and team management headaches that come with being CFO. And it’s a move that many treasurers have successfully made over the years.

Can Twitter help you make partner?

Published in Economia

There was a time when the job description for a partner was fairly straightforward. You needed to be hardworking, technically competent and good at sales (although not necessarily in that order) – and if you had half-decent managerial skills and a knack for marketing, so much the better

Now, thanks to the advent of the digital revolution and the omnipresence of online networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, partners have a new skill to master – social media. These days it’s not just your physical presence that counts; your virtual presence can count just as much – if not more.

Heather Townsend, an expert on networking and co-author of How to make partner and still have a life, believes that aspiring partners ignore social media at their peril. “If you’re building a client portfolio, you need to be clear about who you are and what you do,” she says. “To get the buzz and the profile you need, you have to use social media. Even people who go on recommendations will check who you are online.”

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Nothing to fear

Published in The Treasurer

Establishing banking arrangements in an emerging market may seem a daunting prospect, but it’s easier if you know what to expect, says Sally Percy

First the good news. Your company, a manufacturer of market-leading widgets that are radically transforming the lives of consumers around the world (insert more effusive marketing speak as applicable) has just opened a subsidiary in an emerging market. You have never seen the CEO this excited since you started at the organisation as a lowly treasury analyst some 15 years ago. Double-digit growth is virtually assured for the next decade, he tells the (somewhat disbelieving) workforce assembled for the usual quarterly update meeting. And the share price is about to go through the roof.

Now for the bad news. The new subsidiary will need bank accounts, FX services and to
be able to move money across borders and repatriate it to the centre. Did the CEO think of these matters before he formed the subsidiary? Was treasury even consulted on the strategic plan? Not this time, unfortunately, and it’s down to you to make the best of a potentially bad situation. So what do you do? Well, if ever there were a situation that required you to reach for your copy of The International Treasurer’s Handbook, then surely this is it.

A sorry state

Published in Economia

The UK is heavily indebted and struggling to generate any meaningful growth. Does it need its own CFO and, if so, what would that CFO recommend? Sally Percy reports 

UK plc’s finances might be in a sorry state but they are far from being a state secret. On the contrary, the March Budget made the extent of the country’s financial woes painfully clear. Despite the government’s attempts to get on top of its debts by raising VAT and cutting public spending, the annual budget deficit for 2012/13 was £120.9bn, a minuscule drop on last year’s shortfall of £121bn and one that was only achieved by delaying payments to the World Bank and the EU.

Meanwhile, the public sector net debt was £1.2trn (a terrifying 73.5% of GDP) at the end of February 2013, according to the Office for National Statistics. And the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has warned that the national debt will keep rising until 2016/17, when it will hit 85.6% of gross national output. Ouch.

Master of the mines

Published in The Treasurer

ACT president and Rio Tinto’s global head of corporate finance Jono Slade talks to Sally Percy about ratings, roadshows and why the iron ore producer isn’t parting with its cash 

It all began with a river – a river that flows through the spectacular lunar landscape of southwestern Spain for some 100km. Thanks to the metals in the rocks through which the water flows, the colour of the river is red. And for 5,000 years the area around that river has produced some of the most precious minerals that humankind has ever desired – gold, silver and copper among them. The name of that red river? Rio Tinto, of course.

Tricks of the trade

Published in Upward Curve

Online investing could potentially make you millions – provided you have sufficient self-discipline and do your research, says Sally Percy

The internet age has brought us many things – easy booking of flights on budget airlines, shopping ordered at the click of a mouse and the ability to ‘Google’ just about anything we’ve ever wanted to know. It has also created a generation of amateur traders who buy and sell equities, currencies and commodities.

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Escape to the country

Published in Economia

Moving out of London to live and work is becoming an increasingly attractive option. Sally Percy talks to finance professionals who have made the break

Long hours and stress can seem part of the job description for 21st century finance professionals. Workloads have grown even heavier during the economic downturn as companies run with lean finance teams and accountancy firms cut back.

In 2012, research by Communicate Recruitment Solutions found that 76% of mid to senior-level finance professionals work more than 60 hours a week. In London, that can be on top of a long commute for those who have already chosen to live outside the capital. So it’s no surprise that some finance professionals choose to turn their backs entirely on London, where the hours and pressures tend to be greatest, and opt to work out of town.

Often they are in search of a better quality of life and the chance to spend more time with their families, particularly if their children are still young. They may hope to get a bigger house for their money or even to buy land or a smallholding.

Forest walks, country pubs and barbecues on the beach may seem very appealing when your everyday reality is being squashed on a crowded London Underground carriage. But can you really make it work if your career so far has only consisted of working for a Big Four firm or a blue-chip company in the City?

Land of the rising sin

Published in Accounting Technician

A culture of secrecy and the exaltation of authority explain Japan’s spate of high-profile accounting scandals, says Sally Percy

There is a Japanese saying: ‘Iwanu ga hana.’ It translates literally as ‘Not speaking is the flower’, but its meaning is similar to English expressions such as ‘Some things are better left unsaid’ or ‘Silence is golden’. And it’s a saying that explains much about Japanese business life.

The Land of the Rising Sun is known for its deferential, hierarchical corporate structures – and the country’s biggest companies are generally revered. The Japanese take a lot of pride in the organisations they work for. They commute extended distances and rack up long hours, and their social standing is intrinsically linked to their company and their status within it. Long-term relationships are prized and the samurai sense of honour still penetrates the Japanese psyche to the extent that suicides are relatively common, even at the highest echelons of society. Last year, for example, the Japanese minister of financial services, Tadahiro Matsushita, was found by police to have committed suicide. Meanwhile, many Japanese companies prefer to keep their problems behind closed doors and shun outside interference.

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The mortgage minefield

Published in Economia

Life needs to be made easier for accountants who provide references on their clients’ financial status, says Sally Percy

There’s a saying that goes: “If you think nobody cares whether you’re alive or dead, try missing a couple of mortgage payments.” As we have learned to our cost over the past five years, missing mortgage payments can lead to a lot of problems – not only for the borrowers who are struggling to pay their bills, but for the entire global banking system.

Given that the roots of the !inancial crisis lie in the securitisation of sub-prime mortgages, it is hardly surprising that reforming the mortgage lending industry has been a priority for both politicians and regulators. Last year the Financial Services Authority (FSA) tightened rules to prevent irresponsible lending and borrowers taking out loans that they can’t afford to repay. Under the new measures, which come into effect in April 2014, lenders must consider borrowers’ income and expenditure, while interest-only mortgages will only be offered to people who have a credible repayment plan.

But it’s likely the clampdown won’t end here. Accountants will be called on to provide more information, particularly in the case of the self-employed, as the FSA (soon to become the Financial Conduct Authority) tightens up existing rules.

Of course, accountants already provide mortgage references on behalf of their clients, but as the FSA continues to put pressure on lenders, they will almost certainly see an increase in the number of mortgage reference requests that they get.

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Cutting out the banks

Published in Economia

Peer-to-peer lending is in its infancy but it has the potential to radically transform the funding landscape for SMEs. Sally Percy reports

To paraphrase Plato, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The Greek author and philosopher made the observation in The Republic more than 2,300 years ago as he contemplated the concept of statehood in his iconic work, not the funding problems that plague 21st century SMEs following the meltdown in the global banking sector. Nevertheless, his words help to explain the evolution of the peer-to-peer (P2P) lending industry over the past seven years.

Along with other innovative business models, P2P lending [see explanation, below] owes its origins to the internet. The world’s first consumer P2P lending website, Zopa, launched in the UK in 2005 by the team that helped found internet bank Egg. But P2P lending to businesses has accelerated as a result of the global financial crisis and its repercussions for banks. Under pressure to boost their capital ratios, banks have cut funding to SMEs, which they tend to view as relatively high-risk.

According to the Breedon Report, published in March, there will be a funding gap of an estimated £26bn to £59bn for SMEs during the next five years.

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Room at the top

Published in Accounting and Business

More women are being appointed to the boards of FTSE companies, but is real change happening fast enough or are companies just paying lip service to diversity? Sally Percy reports

‘Women hold up half the sky,’ goes the Chinese proverb. They also make up half the UK population and half the number of entrants to the accountancy profession globally. But, sadly, they don’t make up half the number of FTSE 100 board directors, or even a quarter. In fact, as the prime minister revealed in September, they hold just 17.3% of FTSE 100 board positions, mostly in a non-executive capacity.

In February 2011, a report by former business minister Lord Davies warned that a lack of gender diversity at the most senior level was detrimental to UK companies. At the time, women made up just 12.5% of directors on FTSE 100 boards with 18 FTSE 100 companies and, perhaps even more worryingly, nearly 50% of FTSE 250 companies, having no female directors at all. He recommended that FTSE 100 companies should aim for a minimum of 25% female board representation by 2015. And although he didn’t advise quotas, he said that the government must ‘reserve the right to introduce more prescriptive alternatives’ should the business-led approach not result in significant change.

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The power behind the board

Published in Upward Curve

The Big Four accountancy firms are on international executives’ speed-dial, thanks to their comprehensive skillset and vast global reach. Sally Percy finds out more

They are the superpowers of the professional services world. Between them, the “Big Four” as they are known, earn combined revenues around the world of over US$103bn, have more than 35,000 partners, employ some 500,000 professional staff, run offices in 158 countries and work for just about every blue-chip company that you can think of.

To put it in context, if the Big Four were a country, they would have a GDP greater than Morocco and a population bigger than Luxembourg.

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Leading lady

Published in The Treasurer

Group treasurer Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer plays a starring role in GSK’s bond and share buyback programmes

The mundane surroundings of Brentford, west London, aren’t necessarily where you’d expect to find one of the queens of treasury. But it is right here, at GSK House, a vast glass tower that accommodates around 4,000 workers and looms majestically above the A4, that Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer reigns at the top of GlaxoSmithKline’s treasury team.

Chilver-Stainer has been group treasurer of the UK’s largest drug maker since 2001, a role she combines with various other responsibilities at the company, including pension investment strategy and insurance arrangements. She also has operational control of GSK’s much-publicised share buyback programme, which will see some £2-2.5bn returned to shareholders over the course of this year.

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A yearning for yuan

Published in The Treasurer

It’s London’s dream to become the Western hub for offshore renminbi trading but what will this mean for treasurers? asks Sally Percy

Let’s take a moment to imagine China in 20 years’ time. It is the powerhouse of the world, with an economy that is twice as large as the US economy, and it accounts for 24% of global output, up from 9% today.

It has a commercial banking system with interest rates set by market forces and a robust legal and supervisory infrastructure to underpin financial stability. Equal opportunities and social security are available to all. It has a strong fiscal system with properly financed local governments, world-class universities and resource-efficient industries. It is an active participant in world affairs.

Today, these are merely predictions made in reports by Standard Chartered and the World Bank, but they paint a good picture of what China could become if it can jump the hurdles it faces and grow as successfully in the next two decades as it has in the past three.

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RSM Tenon: flying too high?

Published in Economia

The advertising slogan once boasted it was “flying high”, but this January RSM Tenon crashed in spectacular fashion.

To the shock of the accountancy profession, RSM Tenon announced the resignation of chairman, Bob Morton, and much-fêted chief executive, Andy Raynor, followed by a £70.6m loss for the six months to 31 December 2011 and the restatement of its prior-year accounts.

Since then, the UK’s seventh largest accountancy firm has continued to bump along the runway, knocked by one setback after another. Adrian Martin, an RSM Tenon non-executive director who replaced Morton as chairman, resigned at the end of April, just three months into the role.

The firm has been rocked by management upheaval, including the departure of Mark Lucas, its national head of audit, tax and advisory, as well as a painful cost-cutting exercise involving a 10% headcount reduction. A potential sale of the firm also fell through earlier this year after the buyer pulled out. Now the latest blow, announced last week, is the widely anticipated decision of the Financial Reporting Council’s Accountancy and Actuarial Discipline Board (AADB) to investigate “certain members of the ICAEW” and RSM Tenon’s auditor, PwC.

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Global warning

Published in The Treasurer

The planet’s resources are under pressure and treasurers need to plan for the worst, says Sally Percy

The world is going to get crowded, a lot more crowded. According to the UN’s State of World Population Report, the planet’s total population will surge to 9.3 billion by 2050 and more than 10 billion by 2100. That’s up from 7 billion today. The trend is likely to be most pronounced in Africa, where the UN expects the population to nearly triple from 1 billion in 2011 to 2.6 billion in 2100.

On the upside, this is good news for companies as it means an expanding market for their goods and services and a pipeline of fresh workers. On the downside, all these people need to eat, drink, work, travel and live somewhere, putting further strain on the planet’s already stretched resources.

The major challenges facing the planet relate to agricultural production, water extraction, climate change and an ever-increasing demand for energy. These affect businesses as much as individuals and they all have an impact on treasury. Treasurers, who are at the forward end of finance and charged with managing the risks their organisations face, need to understand these challenges so that they can plan for them. Today’s challenge could be tomorrow’s crisis.

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Putting a value on values

Published in CFO World

Have investors cottoned on to the importance of ethical business behaviour? Finance journalist Sally Percy reports.

You can’t buy a good reputation, but if you lose it, the cost to your business might be more than you ever imagined. Just ask media tycoon Rupert Murdoch or the executives at oil giant BP.

In May, Murdoch was accused of “willful blindness” and described as “not a fit person” to lead a major international company by a parliamentary committee over phone hacking at his UK newspaper publishers News International (NI). As a result of the scandal one of the newspapers involved, the News of the World, closed, and News Corp, NI’s parent company, had to abandon its takeover of broadcaster BSkyB.

Back in April 2010, BP accidentally unleashed the largest offshore oil spill in US history following an explosion on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and injured 17 more. Investors voted with their feet. By the end of June 2010, £67 billion had been wiped off BP’s value and it had to cancel its shareholder dividends for that year.

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Leveraged buy-out time bomb set to burst?

Published in CFO World

Have the LBOs of the mid-2000s primed a financial time bomb? Sally Percy reports

If you have a leveraged buyout (LBO) loan that is set to mature between now and 2016, form an orderly queue. According to business research company Dealogic, some $2 trillion of loans need to be rolled over globally, including $550 billion in Europe.

These astonishing numbers are the legacy of the LBO boom in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, when private equity firms bought companies by using the assets of the acquired company as collateral for borrowing. Some of the best known examples include the £11.1 billion purchase of FTSE 100 health and beauty group Alliance Boots by KKR, and Terra Firma’s ultimately doomed £4.2 billion acquisition of music company EMI, both in 2007.

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Race for the bottom as companies cut costs

Published in The Times

Emerging destinations for outsourcing, including parts of the UK, are challenging India’s cost-effectiveness, but price isn’t all that matters, as Sally Percy reports

For a decade and more, India has reigned as the world’s outsourcing destination. Among its well-publicised advantages are a large pool of educated, English-speaking people, proactive government backing and robust infrastructure, telecommunications and technology.

But with wage inflation and rising staff attrition eroding India’s cost-effectiveness, other nations hope to cut a bigger slice of the $370-billion global outsourcing pie.

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How to survive stress

Published in CFO World

The pressures of a top-level finance job can seem overwhelming, but there are strategies to help you cope. Finance journalist Sally Percy reports.

Finance has always been a stressful job, but probably never as stressful as it is today. Over the past four years, chief financial officers have been in the front line in the battle against the worst financial downturn in living memory.

They have been charged with a tough juggling act of boosting cash flow, cutting costs to survive against the brutal economic backdrop, while also seeking out growth opportunities. So it’s no surprise that many CFOs are feeling the pressure, with some of them under more strain than they can handle.

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No safe bond?

Published in Financial Risks Today

Thanks to the sovereign debt crisis, fixed income is no longer seen as a risk-free investment, writes Sally Percy

There was a time when fixed income, particularly sovereign debt, was seen as a safe bet, the closest thing to a risk-free asset other than a house with its mortgage paid off.

And that time wasn’t so long ago. In 2008, Greek 10-year bond yields were nearly on a par with German 10-year bond yields, with both hovering around the 5% mark. Just four short years ago investors apparently believed that debt guaranteed by the Greek government was virtually as safe as that guaranteed by the German government. With hindsight, it seems a mad presumption. So how did it come to pass?

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Tweets of shame

Published in Accounting and Business

Off-the-cuff posts from employees to social media sites can expose a firm and its clients to a world of embarrassment and unwanted attention. Finance journalist Sally Percy reports.

Could 140 characters ruin the reputation of the company or accountancy firm you work for, besmirch your boss’s character, or tell the world your client is having an affair with the office cleaner? You bet they could, especially if they happen to be published on Twitter, arguably the biggest social media phenomenon of the past two years.

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How much longer can companies run themselves for cash?

Published in CFO World

UK companies are sitting on a surplus of £752 billion. Finance journalist Sally Percy reports.

In the early days of the financial meltdown, way back in 2008 when auditors were presumed to be having ‘a good crisis’, Goldman Sachs bankers still thought they were doing ‘God’s work’ and Greece had an A credit rating, a powerful mantra quickly gained currency among finance chiefs. That mantra was ‘cash is king’.

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Consolidators’ glory fades

Published in Accounting and Business

The accountancy consolidators have lost their bloom, with RSM Tenon experiencing a particularly turbulent year. Finance journalist Sally Percy reports.

‘New year, same stuff… but with a twist.’ This was how the RSM Tenon website announced the firm’s 2012 investment outlook, little expecting a very different sort of twist even before it had got through January. Its chairman and much fêted chief executive both resigned as the firm announced a £70.6m loss for the six months to 31 December 2011 and a restatement of its prior-year accounts.

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Power player

Published in Accountancy Magazine

PwC’s chairman is taking centre stage in the audit drama and he doesn’t forget his lines, finds Sally Percy. 

If Ian Powell were a department store, his motto would probably be: ‘Never knowingly underprepared.’ Last November he put in the most assured performance out of the Big Four chiefs when the quartet was grilled by the House of Lords economic affairs committee over the role of auditors in the financial crisis.

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King of Clean

Published in Accountancy Magazine

It’s Reckitt Benckiser’s business to wage war on grime. CFO Colin Day outlines its winning formula to Sally Percy. 

If ever there was a company that proved the old adage ‘wherever there’s muck, there’s brass’, it has to be Reckitt Benckiser. The Slough-based cleaning products giant has declared war on all manner of unpleasant things.

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Smooth operator

Published in Accountancy Magazine


Vodafone CFO Andy Halford tells Sally Percy about the challenges at the top of the mobile telecoms tree. 

No journalist could possibly meet Vodafone’s chief financial officer Andy Halford without asking the obvious question: which model of mobile phone does he have?

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Lion of Psion

Published in Accountancy Magazine

Fraser Park has built his career on making brave decisions in the corporate jungle, writes Sally Percy. 

‘I’m hugely mixed up because I was born right on the cusp between Cancer and Leo and so I have certain Cancerian attributes and certain Leonine attributes and I don’t know which one is going to come out today…’

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