Ed Renaut is Chief Business Officer at Ennismore, the largest and fastest growing lifestyle hospitality business. Their brands include Gleneagles, Mondrian, The Hoxton and Delano. Ed started his career at Big 4 accounting firm Deloitte before going on to work with a variety of business ranging from owner managed SMEs to FTSE 100 groups.
When you started your career in finance, was there a long-term game plan?
I think two of the most important things you get from a job are: being happy in what you are doing; as well as financial security. I didn’t have an appreciation of that at the beginning of my career and was more focused on the financial side. Therefore, initially I thought I’d work my way up in Practice and hopefully become an audit partner. After a few years in audit, I realised that audit wasn’t for me so I moved into industry and I set the goal of working my way up to being a FTSE 100 CFO. Then as I started to learn more about CFO roles, I realised that FTSE100 wasn’t really where I wanted to be either, and actually I wanted to be a CFO in an exciting company that I was passionate about. So as my career’s gone on, where I want to land has changed purely based on what I’ve learned about myself as I go.
What experiences on your journey were critical to enabling you to become an MD / CBO?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily anything I’ve experienced along the way. It’s what I’ve learned I’m good at and what I enjoy, more than anything that I’ve come across. What I really enjoy is growing businesses and motivating people. I wouldn’t say there’s any one or two experiences that I’ve had in my career that have led me to this role. It’s more about following a path of what gets me out of the bed in the morning and gives me fulfilment.
What strengths do you bring to a general management role because of your career in finance?
Number one is the understanding of the P&L. I think that appreciation of the bottom line shapes all the decisions that go above it and that is an invaluable skill. Now, that’s not to say if you don’t have that, you can’t be a CBO or an M.D. I think another invaluable skill is recognizing what you are good and what you’re not good at and hiring great people to plug the gaps you have. But for me an understanding of the P&L has helped me to be successful in non-finance roles successful.
What are the skills gaps of making the move from CFO to general management and how do you overcome them?
I think the first thing is really being able to take that 10,000 feet view of the world. When you’re an accountant, you’re used to being into the detail of the numbers and it can be unnatural for an accountant to say “I don’t need to know about those small amounts of detail – what is the bigger picture?”. So, I think that’s been the first thing I had to really master, actually taking a step back to see the bigger picture.
Secondly, is an appreciation for what other departments bring to the table. Again, when you’re in finance, you business partner the other departments, but that doesn’t give you a full understanding and appreciation for all the activities they need to do to make your business function. Once you move out of finance, you realize how much you need from those functions in order to make a business successful.
Another area I didn’t appreciate is how to find great people for those functions. If I need to find a really good finance person I know how to do it, I know what to ask them, I know which recruitment firms to speak to, and I know what good looks like. Finding someone who’s an expert in building a brand or a new tech platform is a new skill which I’m still learning.
Now, when I interview people, I focus on (a) what are their motivations because I think first and foremost for me, I need someone who wants to be successful with the company and wants the company to be successful and then secondly, (b) assessing cultural fit – just to make sure they’re going to work well with the team. Outside of those two, my advice is be prepared to get it wrong from time to time – because that’s how you learn.
If you’re a successful CFO, you know how to think about things in a number of different ways, not just numbers, across a number of different facets. You think about it and you make an informed decision and you move forward. Therefore you have the core skill from being the CFO, you’re just applying it to a wider net of things you don’t know.
If you’ve got to CFO, you are successful. You know what you’re doing and you can do the next thing. So you just have to trust your gut. You wouldn’t have got to where you are today if you weren’t able to make the right decision.
What would you say are the main challenges in moving from a finance to a general management?
You’re dealing with uncertainty and spending much more of your time working with the people side of things, and less of your time being in the detail yourself.
You have to trust people a lot more. When you’re a CFO, you will hire some great finance people to do the job, but you can still get into the detail if you need to yourself and unpick things and challenge things. Ultimately you know that you can fall back on your own knowledge and experience.
However, when you’re the MD you have to rely on and trust everyone in the company to do their job well and you don’t have the opportunity, the time, the inclination, or quite frankly the expertise to interrogate every single department in intricate detail. So, when you’re a MD/CEO, you have to find great people, provide them with an environment to flourish and trust them to do a great job.
If you can’t trust people, you won’t be successful because you certainly can’t do it on your own.
Would you ever go back into a finance role?
I like finance, that’s why I started in it. It’s a very comfortable environment to be in and there’s a lot to be said for that. If you’ve made it to CFO then you can walk back into a CFO role and you know what you need to do. You know what the role is going to entail. You know how to do every part of it. You know how to build a team. You know what people you need in that team. You can do it and that’s quite comfortable. When you move out of CFO and into CEO/MD roles, you’re massively out of your comfort zone. And in some ways, that’s great. And in some ways, that’s tiring, exhausting and challenging.
I don’t have any plans to go back but would I say never? Never say never! But I just love not having to worry about the audit or producing the stat accounts!!
Would you still go down the finance route if you had your time again?
Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Finance gives you a tremendous grounding in understanding the business. When you are in finance, you have a unique opportunity and ability to actually look at the numbers. It’s easy to forget when you’re in finance, the other functions in the business don’t get to see the numbers. So, don’t take for granted the luxury you have in finance that you get to look at the intricate detail of all of the numbers and how the business is performing whenever you want to and in however much detail you want to – no other function gets that and so make the most of it.
So, what key advice would you give to someone perhaps earlier in the finance career who does have an aspiration to be an M.D. or CEO
If you are starting out in your finance career or in the middle of it, make sure you spend time understanding how the numbers fit into the business. It’s all about matching the numbers with the business and the best way to do that is people.
If you go and speak to your head of marketing for example, and you’re talking to them about the monthly figures, how they’re doing versus budget etc, you’ve got the numbers that he or she hasn’t been able to see and you get to work with them to help them understand them. But on the flipside, make sure you take the opportunity to understand what they do and how their world works as much as you can.
It’s all about the “So What”? An accountant can understand the numbers, but you’ve got to get a sense of the “so what does this actually mean for the business?”; “How is this going to translate to performance?”; “How is the business using the information to make decisions?”. I think that’s one of the key things that differentiates a finance person who will be very successful in finance their whole career, and a finance person who’s looking to transition out.
A key part of that is being able to build really good relationships with all the different functions of the business, because then you learn about the different parts of the business. I think that’s how you can be successful in finance as well as in a career beyond finance. If you are successful at building relationships, then you can become a trusted ally for the whole business and you become invaluable to the entire business.
And you can never underestimate the value of what people will tell you at the coffee machine, at lunch, you know, even the staff party, once you have built relationships. Never, underestimate the value of that because it’s how you find out what’s going on in the business which helps you connect the dots and helps you move to the “So what”. If you want to be a business leader, then you need to know how the whole puzzle fits together and learning from your colleagues is the best way to do it.
If you add those things together, then you are in a great position to take on a central role and lead a successful business.
TalentEdge specializes in hiring finance across the Tech, Media & Consumer sectors. Since we were established in 2007 we have helped thousands of candidates take the next step in their career. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you meet your career or recruitment goals get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org