Powerlifting student

Student profile: Jo Whiteley
, head of finance, Flair Rugs, UK

A self-confessed data geek who likes nothing more than completing spreadsheet models and analysing data, Jo Whiteley manages to combine studying ACCA with managing an SME finance team and training for the World Powerlifting Championships. You might say she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders; so how does she do it and what motivates her?


My journey to ACCA
After selling my business I spent a couple of years studying for the AAT qualifications and got an accounts job, then a finance manager role. When I got to the end of the AAT I wanted to keep going, so I started studying ACCA – I'm currently on the final foundation papers.

Loving the numbers

Data analysis! I'm the kind of geek that likes nothing more than a completed spreadsheet. I'm a company accountant rather than a financial accountant, so I work with data analysis more than a practice accountant would. And I really enjoy that – building huge spreadsheet models of clearance lists, or how we discount our stock, or maximising our warehouse space – that's the sort of thing I enjoy.

Studying and managing

It's very difficult to do both. My assistant, who's a management accountant, is also studying and I'm really only one step ahead of him. I manage a team of seven and I'm taking the other six through their AAT at the moment – I'm providing in-house support for them. 

No secret to success...

Unfortunately it just comes down to: if you put the work in, you'll get the results. There's no short cut or secret to success... if you put the work in, you will succeed.

Real-world knowledge that works

I think the qualifications are crucial because you're coming up against something new, so having at least the book knowledge of how it should work when you come across something for the first time in the real world is a huge benefit. And, also, sometimes it lets you know you've been doing it wrong all these years!

Lifelong learning
Before I came to Flair Rugs I hadn't had much experience of balance sheet forecasting, or budgeting for cash flow, which is what I'm dealing with now ahead of our financial year end in June. These are all things I wouldn't have been able to do without the book learning. Although I've learnt a lot from running a small finance office, budgeting and forecasting or balance sheets aren't things I'd be able to do without ACCA.

Key skills: looking beyond the numbers

I say this all the time to my team: 'don't just show me a number, tell me what it means'. If you tell me that our margins have dropped 33%, what does it mean? And I think that when you've only had book learning and no experience, it's easy to turn out a spreadsheet, but when asked 'what do the numbers mean, what should I do based on this?' – that's the understanding that's important. We test that at interview; we take people for a walk round the warehouse to try to get their commercial sense going because if you don't have that commercial sense you won't progress far. Commercial awareness is something that can be learnt; some people may take to it more naturally than others, but you can learn it.

Personal goals
I would like to become a finance director in an SME. I work under an operations director at the moment, so I guess that's my next step. I've worked in all kinds of companies – some with only six people right up to multi-million pound blue chip companies – and, to be honest, I'm comfortable in any of those situations.

Weight of the World Championships

I'm currently the British Masters 185kg Powerlifting champion and I've been selected to represent Britain in the World Championships in South Africa in June 2014. All I do is train, work, study, train, work, study. I train four times a week – that's eight hours in total – and I've got a bench press at home. I love it.

Neil Johnson, writer and editor

"Although I've learnt a lot from running a small finance office, budgeting and forecasting or balance sheets aren't things I'd be able to do without ACCA"