Young Leaders: Five things we learnt from entrepreneurs

Photo of the Young Leaders Summit
By Alex Burden, CA Today

21 September 2017

At our first ever Young Leaders Summit, CAs enjoyed a range of successful 'lightning talks' such as Igniting your Entrepreneurial Spark, aimed at helping current and future leaders to focus their talents for start-ups.

We were pleased to welcome Rachel Murphy-Rutland CA, former co-founder of Garcon Wines, and Barry Mulholland CA, the former CFO of Victoria Beckham Ltd and Christopher Kane, for a lively discussion on setting up businesses and how to tackle exciting new ventures.

Rachel qualified as an accountant in 2009, having previously completed the ATT qualification, with KPMG. She had a varied professional life in practice, working in three different types of taxes, and went on to gain an MBA from Imperial College Business School. 

The year was transformative as Rachel gained a completely different experience from corporate life by working with entrepreneurs through the University-led enterprise Create Lab (now Enterprise Lab). After setting up her own tax consultancy practice for big clients such as Sony, Rachel co-founded Garcon Wines.

Barry took CA training because it's a transferable discipline, and has enjoyed two CFO roles in high fashion, including CFO with Christopher Kane, and then with Victoria Beckham – he also worked to prepare Christopher Kane for its eventual sale to the Kering Group in 2013, and has progressively moved through both Diageo and Burberry in management roles.

Here is what we learned from their discussion with fellow CAs:

1. Things won't always go to a specific plan

"A lot of my career and the choices I've made have been completely organic," explained Barry. "I haven't really planned to end up where I've ended up! The whole notion of working for myself had never crossed my mind." 

Barry first met creatives working as a student in retail in Glasgow. When he moved to London he costed his designer friend Christopher Kane’s first collection on a spreadsheet. 

Using his financial acumen, Barry helped take the business from startup to £9m when he left. He was also part of the team that eventually sold the business to the Gucci group (Kering). Before working for Christopher Kane he spent a year with Burberry to learn more about fashion, and made several contacts within the industry. 

"I've definitely changed as a person," said Barry. "Effectively I was working with my friends and there was no red tape, so we could make a decision and implement it the same day."

You have to really love what it is you're doing and know why it is you're doing it.

2. People's personalities can change in the process

Rachel found that cash could "turn people into different characters". She explained: "When you go from playing to something more serious, personalities and relationships change. You have to really love what it is you're doing and know why it is you're doing it."

Barry had similar sentiments: "It wasn't all a bed of roses, because when you can work with your friend, you can move things forward, but they're ten times harder on you than they are on anyone else. If you don't believe in the culture and values, you can only take it so far."

3. Get the 'boring' strategy and investment nailed right!

Barry noted that protection on intellectual property (IP) and domain name is a simple but important feature of ensuring the brand of a business: "We hit the ground really late with regards IP in China and had to spend a significant amount of money sorting it out later.

You don't need to do it all in one go, but you need to have a strategy.

"Domains are relatively cheap, and I would recommend that you buy them in every country that you can. It's boring and you don't need to do it all in one go, but you need to have a strategy."

Rachel noted that getting funding in place is a great idea, and to make sure it works for you and the business: "There's a lot of free money around, and quite a few grants, and there also agencies that help you get those grants. If you're interested in science and technology there's a whole raft of specific funds from the government. There's also good old accelerators, seed funds and crowdfunding."

Left to right: Barry Mulholland CA, Rachel Murphy-Rutland CA, and host Heather Donald CA.  

4. Building networks are crucial to success

Rachel commented that there are three essential ingredients to your network: "At KPMG they talk to you about having a coach, a mentor and a sponsor.  You need a sponsor to get promoted, you need a mentor to make sure you're doing the right thing for you, and a coach to enable you to make things happen. 

You need to cultivate [your network] and stay in it.

"Because none of us [Garcon Wines co-founders] had actually worked in the drinks industry we didn't know anyone, so the people and networks we were building around the business became really important and could give us technical background. You need the people around you who plug the gaps." 

Barry agreed: "You can't be everything to everyone, and you miss that when you're in a smaller environment because you don’t necessarily have that network to hand, and you need to cultivate it and stay in it."

5. Developing the business is more difficult than starting it

Rachel was succinct in her views on business start-ups: "Any idiot can come up with an idea, but making something of it is not easy!"

She noted that start-ups require a skills change, and you should hold onto your technical knowledge while also preparing to make some mistakes along the way.


  • Thought leadership
  • Business

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