Success story

Michael Mills ACCA, Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar Land Rover’s finance and transformation director Michael Mills ACCA is working hard to deliver in a sector investing furiously in post-petrol technologies

Conscience of the business

Mills sees finance as the conscience of the business. ‘There is a healthy level of tension between the business and finance. Innovation costs money and can push boundaries. It’s our job to hold the innovators accountable, but at the same time allow them an element of rope to be creative and explore the possibilities. We need to get the best possible return on investment, so our engineers know they can’t go crazy – there needs to be a business case for the investment.’

Inevitably, this means his role is more about people management than it is about crunching numbers. ‘I do less “doing” [in terms of core finance work] than ever before,’ he says. ‘We have fiduciary duties, but that’s only 10% of what the finance function is today. It’s not a back-office job any more; you can really add value to an organisation, and ultimately, it comes down to relationships, people skills, emotional intelligence and your ability to influence the outcome. There are big characters in both camps – in finance and in R&D – and if you are at loggerheads, the work of both will be inadequate.’

Mills was born into a military family and had intended to join the RAF (‘I had a love affair with Top Gun,’ he says) before a rugby injury forced a change of plan. The maths graduate chose accountancy and a commercial route to qualification, winning a coveted place on the graduate programme at Johnson & Johnson. ‘I was given the option of a couple of qualifications but I chose ACCA because it felt more comprehensive and touched more bases, like law and ethics,’ he says. He spent a year working on an acquisition in Moscow before a call came about a role at McLaren Automotive, which was developing a supercar for the commercial market.

Mills describes the then CFO at McLaren, Richard Molyneux, as ‘an inspirational man’, who became his mentor, so it was no surprise that Mills followed Molyneux in moving to JLR a few years later, although he acknowledges the switch was a risky one. ‘I was looking for a change and the next challenge, and I knew I wanted to stay in the automotive sector, but I was nervous of the step-up to JLR and where it was going,’ he says. ‘It was in a period of change, but as I see it, that means there is an opportunity for you to add value. And they have invested billions into innovation and future growth, have strong aspirations and good people. It’s very exciting.’

Michael Mills ACCA

Ultimately, though, he is not convinced the automotive sector will alter beyond all recognition, at least not in this immediate transformational phase. ‘We have no idea what the business will be in 10 years, because everything is changing, including the retail model. How are we going to sell cars in the future? Through our phones? No one can say for sure. But while the model is changing quickly, I don’t see it being completely torn up and thrown away. Customers still want what they want.’

Liz Fisher, journalist

This article was first published in the April 2019 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

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