When business conference company Hanson Wade was set up in November 2008, growth was always the intention. Four years later, the company has more than 70 employees and expects to create and run more than 100 events in 2013.
The three founders brought with them plenty of industry expertise but no financial specialists. To start with, the accounting was completely outsourced but the directors soon realised that they wanted more financial control and visibility. Within a matter of months, the company recruited a financial controller. And a little more than a year after the company was founded, Darren Francis was appointed finance director.
Although Darren’s own background is not in the conference industry, he had what the board was looking for: ‘Obviously, they wanted someone who could get the basics in place, but they also wanted somebody to help grow the business.’ A qualified accountant with broad experience, Darren’s initial consultancy work for the company was enough to convince the board.
Management information is vital in a business with tight production cycles. Budgets, rolling forecasts, weekly event forecasts and daily sales reports are all needed. Yet the work is not just a question of sending out reports and forgetting about them.
‘I’ll sit in on the monthly sales meetings as a matter of course, and sometimes the weekly ones’, Darren explains: ‘I’m there to help identify any issues and see how we can address them’.
Financial management is also a key part of strategic decision making: ‘It’s a highly competitive industry, so pricing is critical. We regularly benchmark ourselves against the competition’.
Board-level modelling falls to Darren too. ‘I’m doing three- and five-year projections, but also financial modelling and evaluation as and when an opportunity arises. If someone approaches us about a joint venture, for example, I’ll assess the proposal and make recommendations.’
Perhaps most intriguing is the way financial data are used to help the board decide just how quickly the company should be growing. ‘We have a capacity model that tells us what the business could do – with our existing resources – and compares that with the revenue we are actually generating. That helps us understand when it’s time to invest in further growth.’
Despite the company’s very rapid pace of growth, Hanson Wade’s highly capable finance function remains a remarkably small team. Darren works with a single colleague who looks after the sales ledger and credit control. Accounting is handled internally using Sage, though payroll is still outsourced to a bureau.
With continuing growth, plans are in place to strengthen the team. Darren expects to appoint an additional financial controller early next year, freeing up some further time to concentrate more on the bigger decisions. Meanwhile, Darren is looking at his existing colleague’s training too. ‘I come from a background where I was sponsored through my own studies, so it’s something I do like to encourage. As it happens, my colleague’s brother is CIMA-qualified but I’m keener on my own ACCA qualification – so I’m giving him the option.’