Fraser Park CA shares snippets from his varied career
Fraser Park CA has been a CFO for 25 years in start-ups, turnarounds and listed businesses. Now CFO at Business of Fashion, he tells Steve Yates about risk, allyship and the bigger picture
Glasgow does have its posh parts
I was born in the East End of Glasgow. I moved, aged three, to a southern suburb which rejoiced in the name of Spam Valley – after paying the mortgage we couldn’t afford to eat anything but Spam. Its real name is Newton Mearns, and it is rather posh. I was lucky to be brought up there.
I was lucky but had to grow up quickly
Aged 10, I had to look after my wee sister on school days as Mum and Dad both worked. We had a lovely dog at the time, and every lunchtime I had to run two miles home from school to take him out for a walk, then run two miles back. Parents now might be loath to allow that, but it helped mould the person I am – somebody who is driven by working hard and trying to ensure I look after those around me.
No pain, no gain
My dad was academically very bright, but he coasted at school and failed to get into university – and I almost did the same. Until about 16, I was lucky as I didn’t have to work too hard. But I only just squeezed into university, choosing accountancy to maximise the chances of getting a job. I worked hard thereafter, recognising the sacrifices made by my family to pay for university.
I should have gone back to Scotland
I trained with Arthur Andersen and, aged 23, I moved south. It was a massive culture shock – for both me and the south-east! It was the time of the Thatcher government and yuppies, which really wasn’t my world. I found the south lonely and very claustrophobic compared with Glasgow. Although it has proven good for my career, I now wonder if my life would have been better if I’d stayed at home.
Life throws you curveballs
A few years after moving south, my dad was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. I would return to Glasgow every second weekend to see him. I think when you get through the anger and denial of such an illness, and accept it, it can be a very special time. It taught me not to hold back in communicating my feelings with loved ones and friends (although I also don’t suffer fools gladly).
My only career goal was to be an FD by the age of 30
I joined Stanley Tools in its European head office and did a variety of things, which was good training. My boss was a CA, from the southside of Glasgow, and helped me mature as a professional. On my 30th birthday, they promoted me to be the UK Finance Director up in Sheffield, which, being a rough city, was a home from home.
Create opportunities for others
Developing your team is one of your key roles as a CFO. I try to do that by recruiting bright people, throwing them in the deep end and standing ready to pull them out if it’s not going quite right. But give them as much experience as you can, as quickly as you can. Experience trumps theory almost all of the time. But never recruit would-be “superstars”.
Sometimes you have to be harder than you are comfortable with
There will be situations when the business needs you to feel no guilt in making drastic cuts. Go harder and earlier than you think is possible – avoid multiple rounds of cuts at all costs. Propose things no one else will – your role is to make sufficient cuts in one round so that everyone can then focus on rebuilding. However, before sharing those decisions, assess who will struggle to survive the personal impact and take them off “the list”. Try to look out for those that need a bit of help, if you can.
Pick the right hill
One of my strengths is the ability to communicate clearly in plain, sometimes pithy, language to better explain to folks what’s actually going on. An ex-tank commander CEO I worked for told me a few weeks into the role that his job was to lead from the front to capture “the hill”; mine was to make sure he didn’t drive the tank off a cliff in the process. I pulled him aside a few months later and said: “I’m not just here to stop you going off a cliff, I’m also here to tell you we’re taking the wrong hill”. Try to recognise others’ strengths and let them take centre stage, but also look out for their weaknesses and try to fill any gaps. No one is perfect and you will often need to vary how you complement your CEO.
A good CFO needs to take risks
The same company was close to running out of money, and one of the VCs advocated a fire sale for $10m. Negativity can be contagious, so I suggested: “Let’s take a punt here and tell all potential acquirers that someone is undertaking due diligence”. We did just that and sold to Cisco three months later for $320m. I celebrated by skydiving with the Red Devils to raise funds for the local school and hospice. Everyone should do scary things every now and again.
Never stop learning
One of my team at Business of Fashion, where I now work, is transgender. Being her ally in and out of work has been a hugely positive learning experience for me because I didn’t have a clue what to do to properly support her. She very patiently coached me on how to be a better ally. She’s now building her own diversity and inclusivity consulting business and I’m proud of her and any small role I was able to play in her making a better life for herself. We all need allies at some stage in our lives, so take a chance, get out of your comfort zone, and help someone follow their path.
Be a great professional but be an even better person
I’ve been very lucky in life; however, my brother Colin had learning difficulties and didn’t have the same opportunities. Always remember that there are many for whom success means simply keeping their heads above water and isn’t measured by setting new world freestyle records. Helping those that need it is more fulfilling than any career achievement.
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