From CA to LA: Warner Bros’ David Brander shares career journey
Working in internal audit may not seem like the obvious path to a life in the movies, but for David Brander, Senior Vice President (Operations and Finance) of Warner Brothers, it was his passport to see the world.
Initially David Brander CA decided against a position at one of the major oil companies. "The role consisted of travelling between London, Aberdeen and Stavanger which wasn't really the type of global travel I had in mind," he laughs. But he found himself in internal audit at Warner Communications, with projects taking him around the world from Rome to Taipei and beyond for six months at a time.
Fast forward to today and David is now settled in Los Angeles as Senior Vice President, Operations and Finance for Warner Bros Pictures International.
He's responsible for a broad portfolio of activities encompassing the operational management of the international distribution of multi-million dollar studio films including the Harry Potter franchise, The Dark Knight Rises and the Hobbit trilogy, as well as local language co-productions in many different countries.
The skills of a Chartered Accountant are actually highly valuable in the film industry because each film is like its own mini-business
It is, he says, a uniquely challenging business. "The film industry is highly unpredictable. Every film is its own individual product. So unlike selling, say, soft drinks or bread, you are effectively trying to sell the public a new product or brand every couple of weeks. Each film is potentially aimed at a very different audience or market.
"Many factors dictate the success, or not, of the film, including, as well as the film itself, external factors such as the weather, sports events, etc. Plus, you have typically spent more than 80% of your marketing budget before your product is even released. There is no going back."
It's a particular combination of skills that Chartered Accountancy helped to hone. Having gained a degree in business administration, David spent three years at Thomson McLintock (now KPMG), gaining his Chartered Accountancy qualification with ICAS.
David's career has certainly involved a wealth of different challenges, from his internal auditing years, which took him into businesses ranging from Atlantic Records to Franklin Mint, to helping bring Warner Home Video to Europe, to spearheading Warner Bros' move into local-language film production in markets including Italy and France.
The varied nature of his chartered accountancy training still holds him in good stead today when – in any one year – he can be involved in production or distribution for over 30 different cinema releases, with total divisional revenues of US$1.25 billion.
David says: "The skills of a Chartered Accountant are actually highly valuable in the film industry because each film is like its own mini-business, with its own budget, its own schedule, its own team – so you effectively need to be able to manage multiple businesses simultaneously."
And in such a complex, unpredictable world, he says, there's also a place for the values and ethics instilled by chartered accountancy. "I've learnt that if you follow those principles of prudence, integrity and honesty, you can't go far wrong, no matter what challenges you face, no matter what different people or regulations you need to work with."
And does the designation 'Chartered Accountant' carry much weight amidst the glamour of show business?
"If I have to fill in a form these days I often mention that I'm a Chartered Accountant – and I stress the 'Chartered' bit. In an economic slowdown, every business needs good financial management – the skills and thinking that Chartered Accountancy brings are more vital than ever."
Advice for newly qualified CAs
David shared his three pieces of advice for newly qualified CAs:
1. Maximise your training
Take full advantage of the variety of industries that you will be exposed to in your training, as even a little knowledge of a specialised industry can create an employment opportunity.
2. Choose your lifestyle
As a Chartered Accountant, the world really is your playing field. The qualification is recognised globally and can take you virtually anywhere to try a different lifestyle, or live long term in a different country.
3. Know what interests you
A good understanding of what a business does is key to understanding its financial management. Try to work in an industry where you have an interest in the product being created or sold. It is far easier to be an effective financial manager if you are able to relate to the output of the business.
This article first appeared on Chartered Accountants Worldwide (CAW).
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