Interview: Mark Ross CA, Black and Lizar

By CA Mag

20 January 2015

The CA Magazine caught up with Mark Ross CA, Chief Executive, Black & Lizar about his life as a CA. Here is what he had to say.

When did you qualify as a CA and who did you train with?

I qualified in 1997 with KPMG.

Can you give us a brief overview of your career history

After qualifying I joined Diageo as a financial analyst. Between 2000-2005 I worked as a financial controller with Kwik-Fit (GB) Ltd. I moved to Max Spielmann/Klick in 2005 to become finance director, and then to Macdonald Hotels (2009-2010) where I was commercial director. I took up my present post in August 2010.

What does your job involve?

Setting the strategy and direction of the company, overseeing day-to-day operations and project managing company acquisitions.

Who do you report to?

I report to an overseas investor, John Hare, who has a portfolio of international business interests.

What appealed about this career path?

My heart was always set on running a company, rather than just advising one, so moving into industry at an early stage and seeking out commercial roles seemed like the best route to becoming a CEO.

What's the best thing about your job?

The autonomy I have as a CEO is hugely rewarding. I also have a great team supporting me and the commitment of the clinical staff to patient care is just inspiring.


Navigating the company through a very difficult economic period has resulted in a lot of grey hair. The last few years have been very difficult in the optical market and for retailers in general. There is a lot of price pressure from new entrants, such as ASDA, even if they operate in a different part of the market from us, and so maintaining profit growth is becoming increasingly challenging.

What's your next challenge?

A carefully controlled expansion into England, most likely via acquisitions, is the next challenge but only if the right quality of targets become available.

We are also looking to position Black & Lizars as a health company, with significant investment in the latest eye scanners from Optos, to differentiate ourselves from the High Street optical retailers.

How's your work/life balance

As a CEO, you are used to long and often unsociable hours, but the autonomy I have allows me to be more flexible and so, on balance, I can still be there for the family when it matters most.

What do you do to relax?

I need to run 10 kilometres around two to three times a week, otherwise I become irritable and grumpy (according to my wife and children, at least).

How has your training as a CA helped prepare you for this role?

The CA training has been absolutely vital in helping me secure my current job, as it is a well-respected, heavyweight business qualification. It certainly adds a great deal of credibility to the role when dealing with banks, investors and other stakeholders.

In industry, it also opens the door to a wide variety of senior positions, and access to key decision makers, at a fairly early stage in your career.

What single piece of advice would you give to a CA looking to pursue this career route?

If they see themselves as a future CEO of an SME, then I would seek out a commercially focused role in the head office of a dynamic company with a strong growth story. I really enjoyed my first industry job with Diageo, but I always felt too far removed from the key decision makers and the company's strategic thinking.


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