Andy Cristin

Andy's LinkedIn profile

I wanted to be an accountant from quite an early age - I worked in a petrol station where the customers with the nicest cars all seemed to work in an accounting practice so it steered me down that road. After I qualified with ACCA, I got a place on a graduate scheme in industry. There followed a role in a start-up with a contract to serve food to the Ministry of Defence around the world, which involved building a business with 300 people across three sites. It was hard work but a great experience.

I then moved on to an even bigger start-up, which grew from nothing to 600 people very quickly, after winning a contract from Ford Motor Company. But it was when I was being interviewed for another job that I realised I wanted to do what the finance director interviewing me was doing. Two years later, I set up my own firm and I’ve spent the past 15 years working for a portfolio of owner-managed businesses as a virtual CFO. It’s a style of working that really suits me.

My clients are mainly 10–100-employee businesses, often growing quickly. I’ve had equity stakes in two of them, both of which we boot-strapped from nothing to around 40 people and then exited in trade sales. This has allowed me to stand out from the crowd, as I’ve done what many of my clients want to do: grow a profitable business and then sell it.

I tend to work with businesses that are knowledge-based or service-based. Over the years I have worked with architects, marketing agencies, IT consultants, designers and recruitment consultants – they’re all quite different but their business models are similar. They need talented people to deliver their service and they’ve got a niche or some sort of intellectual property – a system or other way of doing things which their clients need. Their biggest costs are always people followed by office space.

There are some common challenges and opportunities that most of them face. I’ll look at which business activities are profitable, and which aren’t – things they cannot see themselves because the analysis isn’t being done. Using experience with other companies, I can compare how a business is currently doing with how it could be doing, and then identify the root cause of the problem, and then set about improving profitability.

If compliance is looking backwards at what happened last month or last year, and doing the tax and statutory accounts, then the CFO bit is more looking forward and thinking about what you’re going to do over the next few months and years. My contract stipulates that clients must have a firm of accountants to do all the compliance work, so I always work in partnership with others and quite often it’s a three-way thing – a bookkeeper who might be internal or external, a firm of accountants doing the compliance work, and then I lead the financial strategy. The average small business owner has had very little formal business training so I’m often able to make a big difference in a small firm with my financial perspective. I’m helping them to make more profit and build a more valuable business which could eventually be sold. 

Helping someone to successfully exit their business is a fantastic feeling. I also enjoy telling or showing clients something insightful that they didn’t know. We can talk about an issue I’ve identified; I might already have the solution from a previous client that I’ve helped. Often these can lead to quite a change in the business. Unlike big corporates, small businesses can implement changes very quickly, so it’s satisfying to see a recommendation I’ve made actioned almost immediately.