The life of a plural FD

Mercia sat down with experienced financial professional Daniella Wainwright to hear what her experience of working as portfolio/plural finance director in Yorkshire-based SMEs is really like.

Next month, Dani will be joining one of our portfolio companies Sock Monkey Studios as their part-time finance director. Ahead of that, Dani spoke to us about why pursuing a plural career across a diverse portfolio of businesses works well for her, and could work for other senior finance professionals.

“Working as a finance director for multiple businesses in different industries is not something many senior financial professionals are aware they can do, as opposed to working for one corporate. I want people to know that it’s a realistic, viable option for them, and they can make the change quickly and profitably!

“The ‘great resignation’ has made everyone consider how they can achieve a balanced lifestyle, creating time for the things in their life that bring them joy. As someone who put in a lot of hours in corporate roles over several years, I was very much a weekend mum. The plural FD life appealed to me as I could be more in control of my schedule. And I’ve met a lot of other parents, both men and women, who are interested in pursuing this route. It’s not only for parents, I know others who work this way because they want the flexibility of not to having to choose between their passions and a fulfilling, interesting finance career. I think it’s an excellent choice for any senior finance professional once they have built a solid track record that shows they have the experience and gravitas to make an impact, and quickly add value to businesses.

“When I had been considering a portfolio career, there was always one more bonus or LTIP incentive tying me in! [The decision] for me was being made redundant during the pandemic, this is what prompted me to take the leap and pursue working for myself. I onboarded my first client three months after being made redundant in October 2020. I worked hard to establish myself quickly and I found being true to my personality made marketing myself a little bit easier. I think its counterproductive sometimes to be too ‘professional’ when establishing a tone of voice or brand identity, as it can come across as a little bit stilted. I found by showing some of my personality, the clients who I wanted to work with approached or selected me. I think as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, and everyone having been denied the usual opportunities to make personal connections for so long, most management teams will respond more to the human element now.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to take on clients that align with my interests and values. The freedom to choose the type of clients I work with is something about the life of a plural FD that I find very appealing. It means I’m always working with businesses where my interest is piqued, and I am ethically comfortable. An enjoyable place to be for anyone. As an example, I had previous experience in a plc company that acquired seven marketing agencies with varying service offers, where I led the finance due diligence process, then became the interim FD for these newly acquired businesses. I really liked how lively the agency environment is, with their “work hard, play hard” culture, so I was very keen to have a client in the marketing space, which I now do. Another example, that is a bit left field, is my client in the energy space. When I was in charge of the property budget at Wm Morrison’s, part of that role was managing a huge energy budget. Energy is a really interesting, complicated industry and I learned so much in that role. Now, one of my clients generates much of their income from the solar farms that they own. This is a great fit for me as I have an interest in the industry, plus I like contributing to a business that is helping the transition to net zero. It’s important to me that I can get behind my clients’ intentions, impact and purpose.

“Another advantage of the plural FD life is working in different industries at the same time. Not only does it de-risk my portfolio; having experience in multiple industries is also beneficial to my clients as I’m able to cross-pollinate ideas. You can take ideas that you’ve seen work elsewhere and see if they could work for other companies in your portfolio .

“Working with ambitious SMEs is really rewarding. You can quickly have an impact on these types of businesses. There tends to be a lot less red tape and these businesses are really dynamic. When you have an idea to do something that will really improve their reporting, for example, you can just get it done, while in big corporate environments there are often layer upon layer of authorisations required in order to achieve your objectives. You can have a bigger, faster impact in SME environments, and the business owners are often really grateful for the work that you do.

“Many people ask me for an introductory chat to explore whether portfolio work would suit them. There is heightened interest, at the moment as people reassess their priorities post-COVID. However, us finance folk are naturally risk adverse! People can, in my experience, get stuck, as they don’t know how to go about making portfolio work their reality. To de-risk the journey for them, and to give them support to make this leap of faith, I have developed a course which covers everything I’ve learned over the last 18 months to show them how to make a quick and profitable transition. The course covers legal requirements and the business set up, but its more about how to sell what you do, how to market and network so you’re front of mind when opportunities come along. These areas do not always feel that comfortable to finance professionals, so it is a mindset shift, especially on the selling side. Once I was comfortable with this aspect I started to gain traction. I cover a range of how to make all of this feel more relaxed and authentic. I was inspired to put this course together because the only thing I really miss from the corporate world is mentoring and developing people. I think that being able to provide this support will give me so much in return, in terms of feelings of fulfilment and purpose”.

Mercia is committed to building a vibrant, engaging non-executive and board advisory network that has an enviable depth and breadth of skills and experience. Our driving passion is to make a real difference beyond the provision of capital, through both strategic and hands-on support to our portfolio companies.

We are continuously expanding our network of individuals across a range of sectors and geographies. Please contact Victoria Robson if you would like to explore working with Mercia as a portfolio finance director.