Finance can be an exceptionally complex discipline, but like all our outsourced Finance Directors and senior Finance professionals Tim Gray keeps things simple, and articulates them in the same way. “Long, complicated sentences are not me,” he says. “I hone it down to 1 + 1 = 2, and then I show why that’s true.”
This emphasis on showing – rather than just telling – is an approach that has stood him in good stead in a Board-level career that has spanned over 20 years. He has put it to use leading the Finance function through periods of rapid growth and change, mergers, turnarounds, pay and pension negotiations, and steady state activity – throughout all of which he has also exploited business reporting to deliver improved bottom line results.
Tim describes himself first and foremost as a highly commercial Finance Director (FD).
He is 100% focused on continuous improvement – as he puts it, exploring the “can we, could we, should we?” of how the business might do things differently to get the best results.
Tim is, by his own admission, someone who listens before talking, isn’t afraid for people to run with new ideas and take positive learnings from them if they fail, and welcomes constructive criticism (earlier in his career, he even submitted himself voluntarily to internal mentorship to this end).
But this willingness to listen to and engage with those around him, and to build robust, long-term relationships with all stakeholders, from employees to bankers, sits alongside a determination to keep critical guiding principles firmly in mind.
Finding the right indicators to measure is more effective than measuring all of them. Technology and processes are only truly useful if you fully understand whether and how they address the problems you need them to solve. Knowing (and, of course, showing) the value of every person, asset, and process is key. And small changes communicated simply deliver bigger change than big changes for the sake of making a “big bang”.
There is no shortage of examples from his career to reinforce the success of this mantra. From turning around a failing engineering company, to turning down a post-MBO CEO position at a printing conglomerate because a merger worked better for the business; from leading challenging pension and pay negotiations to reducing one group business’s overheads by 35% and boosting their cash facilities by £6.5 million – with Tim it’s always been about honest outlooks, targeted decisions, reasonable compromise, and commercial outcomes.
What Tim will help EFM to do
To the EFM table, Tim brings a “lead by example” ethic, a strong understanding of his audiences, and a forensic determination to find – and solve – the problem behind the problem.
He explains he believes strongly that the most important part of any improvement or initiative is taking the first step, and by taking these decisively and openly, and freely discussing outcomes and the actions arising from them, his influence “rubs off” on the people and teams around him, who start to adopt the same behaviours.
Despite the trademark simplicity of his communications, he will also tailor messages carefully to each stakeholder – bankers, lenders, the Board, employees – to address their priorities, and present information in the way they find most helpful. (He recounts his first conversation with a start-up CEO who had no previous experience of working with an FD: “You’ve done brilliantly up to now,” he said, “but now let’s focus on showing why – and where we could use that to enable you to do better!”)
And with his determination to get to the bottom of what’s not working – rather than accept the easiest explanation for it – he will enable EFM’s clients to identify where unseen risk and opportunity lie, and prevent them taking a decision that not only doesn’t add value but costs time and money.
He cites a comical – but real – example of a company that banned the issue of credit notes because it had difficulties managing them. “Cue hundreds of clients that suddenly no longer paid what they owed, for want of a few pounds’ worth of adjustment to rectify a problem with cash flow,” he says. “It sounds laughable, but in the heat of stress, businesses – like people – lose sight of the real issue and often to try to solve the symptom, rather than the cause.”
In his own words
Tim says, “I’m very much a people person – I organised local clubs and societies from an early age – and so for me, whatever I do, strong relationships are an essential platform for success.”
“EFM connects me to those interesting people and interesting backstories across many organisations rather than just one – and all on a flexible basis that is a truly viable, accessible, affordable alternative to their employing a full-time, salaried FD.”