Richard Peach CA: ICAS Global Ambassador
Andrea Murad speaks to Richard Peach CA, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Chief of Corporate Operations of Schnitzer Steel Industries, about becoming an ICAS ambassador, having great mentors and his strategy for career success.
What are your plans as a Global Ambassador for ICAS?
I’m enthusiastic about the Global Ambassador initiative because I think having a strong network in a geography where you may be moving into or are already working can be helpful for getting advice about cultural norms, developing contacts in the regional business community, or tips for relocation.
The Global Ambassador role is also an opportunity for ICAS to reinforce its communications on training opportunities, local events, or other ICAS developments where it wants to get the word out to its international members.
Portland, where I’m based, is centrally located on the US West Coast - it’s south of Seattle and north of San Francisco. As I’m well established in the region, I aim to be a useful resource for CAs looking to develop their network or for general advice.
Having the CA qualification through ICAS has really helped me with my career - this is an opportunity for me to give back.
What was your start in the industry?
I qualified as a CA and joined Coopers & Lybrand in Glasgow in 1990 where I progressed to senior manager and worked on some of the office’s largest clients, including ScottishPower and Yarrow Shipbuilders.
In 1995, I joined ScottishPower in a finance capacity, where I worked on the Manweb post-acquisition integration, led the energy supply operations finance team, and eventually became Group Controller. Following deregulation, this was an exciting time to be in the energy industry.
My mentors at the time included Ian Russell and David Nish - both were CFOs who went on to become CEOs (the latter with Standard Life) and saw finance as a strategic partner to the business.
[I developed] my managerial skills with a group of experienced operational leaders who did not have finance backgrounds.
ScottishPower was very invested in developing future leaders, and for a year, I had the opportunity to take on a major operational role as head of UK customer services for the company during a period of significant customer growth.
This opportunity helped to develop my managerial skills with a group of experienced operational leaders who did not have finance backgrounds.
In 1999, Scottish Power acquired a large US energy company called PacifiCorp, which was headquartered in Portland, Oregon and had an asset base of over $10bn. Following the California power crisis in 2000 and 2001, I was asked to relocate to Portland where I served as CFO of PacifiCorp for five years from 2002 to 2006.
What was your experience of moving to Portland?
I had visited a few times, but at that time, my children were one and three years old. We had to quickly integrate ourselves into a new community.
I was now working within a largely American executive team with different cultural approaches to management and decision-making.
This coincided with the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which meant I was soon certifying financial submissions to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
All of this was a significant personal challenge, but leaning into the organization and realizing this was a time I needed to focus and listen to other advisers definitely helped.
Getting involved with a couple of non-profit boards locally... helped me broaden my professional network within the city.
Looking back, I was very fortunate to have that opportunity. There were a couple of lessons learned from that period.
Firstly, not to be fearful about going outside of my comfort zone. That attitude served me well in that I was willing to deal with new responsibilities and the risks that came with them - sometimes it’s good to volunteer to take on something new when the chance arises.
And secondly, getting involved with a couple of non-profit boards locally was not only a good way to serve the community, but at the time, also helped me broaden my professional network within the city.
Have you had the opportunity to learn from other business leaders?
In 2006, PacifiCorp was acquired by Warren Buffet and his MidAmerican Energy subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. I was kept on as CFO by the new management.
It was fascinating to learn Berkshire Hathaway approaches to managing performance, their financial discipline, focus on cash and how business issues are always viewed in a strategic context. And yes, I was fortunate enough to briefly meet Mr Buffet when he visited Portland.
You work in the steel and metals recycling industry now – what led you to changing direction?
During 2007, I decided it was the right time for a move and I joined a Portland headquartered company called Schnitzer Steel, which is listed on Nasdaq and is one of the largest metal recycling companies in the US with facilities in 23 states, Puerto Rico and western Canada.
Global steel production was on the rise, the metals recycling industry was modernizing, and Schnitzer was going through a period of significant growth.
I also liked that the two individuals leading the company, John Carter and Tamara Lundgren, were very experienced, had a strong vision for Schnitzer, and could help with my development.
My responsibilities now include not just finance and investor relations, but also corporate strategy, information technology and procurement.
This seemed like a good fit as I wanted to get more experience in M&A and investor relations as a public company CFO. I’m currently in my tenth year as CFO of Schnitzer, and during that time, we’ve completed about 25 acquisitions, grown our sales destinations to 20 countries, and I’ve travelled all over the US and Europe meeting investors.
Developing people is also a major priority at Schnitzer, and my responsibilities now include not just finance and investor relations, but also corporate strategy, information technology and procurement. This progression has certainly kept me interested as I’m always learning.
How should people progress towards similar career opportunities?
In my opinion, a long-term view is important, as building skills and experiences will open up opportunities later on.
I like to get into an environment where there’s a cultural change that’s in process or needed, and where I’m working with leadership who emphasize developing people along with growing the business.
Look at the culture and the people you’d be working with when you do your own due diligence as part of an interview process.
Also, gain an initial understanding of the business and its strategy to get a feel for the direction of the organization you’ll be joining.
How to become an ambassador
Anyone interested in becoming an ICAS global ambassador should email Fiona Mackay at email@example.com and we will be able to give further details and arrange a call to discuss.
About the author
Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.com, FOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.