As specialist finance recruiters for the media and marketing sectors we know that roles with a strong commercial element are in high demand from our candidates. In this series we speak to senior finance professionals who have developed successful, commercially focused careers. They talk about what they do and why they enjoy it, give some insights into what experience and skills are required and tell us how they decide who to hire for their teams.
To kick off our series, I recently sat down with Nate Lewin-Lloyd, Client Commercial Director at Superunion, to hear his thoughts on life in commercial finance. Nate is a qualified accountant with more than 10 years’ experience working within global media groups, consulting and publishing.
Can you tell me a little bit about your current role? I currently work for Superunion, which is a WPP branding agency based in Farringdon. My role with Superunion is their Client Commercial Director. I lead the Commercial and Resourcing divisions to ensure our quality and value remains high, whilst ensuring we strike a good balance between profitability and client satisfaction. Client Commercial Director can mean so many different things, but here at Superunion it sits between finance and the business. On a day-to-day basis I could be dealing with anything from a rate card negotiation, client issue, contract/proposal amendments, all the way through to understanding the revenue forecasting, data trends and people planning.
How did you become involved in commercial finance? Fortunately, my career moved towards commercial relatively early on. Though commercial is one of those titles that’s evolved over the years, born out of FP+A roles, it is not a management accounting role! My career started off in insolvency/business consultancy and then into a traditional accounting role. I’ve never really enjoyed the nuts and bolts of a traditional finance position, and a CFO role to this day is not a pull. From my perspective, it was more about being an analyst/business partner.
I was blessed to work for a few incredibly inspirational leaders in my career whilst at Edelman and the Financial Times, and it was through their leadership and guidance that my exposure to strategy, business performance and analytics matured. Strong Sponsors and business partners were vital for me and transformed my career, naturally with the help of a good recruiter.
What is it that you enjoy most about your role? I guess it depends on what day you ask me! No day is the same. I could be at work on a Monday and talking to my team about the revenue, or chatting to the new business team about what we are pitching for or battling procurement and lawyers on terms. So there’s lot of puzzle solving, and that’s my role. It also helps that I work with an agency that truly sees commercials at the heart of what we do.
What are the most challenging aspects? I think naturally for a person with an accounting or legal background, one might find unexpected things a challenge! I personally start to come out of my comfort zone when I feel that I don’t have all the information and need to make a quick decision. However it’s also in these moments that the real excitement of what I do kicks in. You have to think, you have to evaluate and have to move forward by pushing your own boundaries. Nobody knows the right answer all of the time.
How do you view the role of commercial finance within marcomms currently? And in the future? It’s funny as I don’t see the Commercial function as finance, it’s a neat hybrid between legal, procurement, operations, data as well as finance. Businesses are having to think differently, you now see Chief Commercial Officers sitting next to CFO’s and CEO’s, and very much at the heart of how you can generate and add value. Automation will always be a worry for some areas of finance, but data is key and the interpretation of these stats into actionable commercial decisions is really why you are seeing such a demand for this skill set in marcomms.
What is it that you look for when hiring for your team? I’ve done a lot of recruiting and have been working a lot with our Leadership team around Diversity & Inclusion. The three things I look for are: curiosity, passion and diversity of opinion. I will always look for people who don’t all think the same, who don’t have the same view of life, the world or to problem solving. You get so many CVs that give you a cookie cutter employee, that’s not what I like to see. I prefer difference.
Interviews can be quite formulaic. Why not ask about how the business runs, or how we work with our clients? Rather than “I’ve looked at your website”, or asking about our latest press release. I am always looking for that person who wants to know how we are dealing with, or tackling a current industry issue and their point of view.
Finally, I’m passionate about what I do, I’m also passionate about dance and fashion. I want to work with other passionate people and feel inspired. Bringing more of you to the interview helps me to gauge how you will fit into the team and culture. Even if your baking destroys my summer diet.
Do you think curiosity is the most important trait for someone in a commercial role? Absolutely. Without it, how are you going to negotiate a rate card? Or understand what the client is not saying but really wants.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to do a commercial accounting role within marcomms? It’s a difficult question, I think in order to be in this industry you have to be a people person. The easier routes to entry I tend to find are business partner/client partner or analyst roles. Look for roles where you are engaging with the business, and even if you can’t influence what those decisions are, something where your line management can. It’s those connections that will open the doors to the commercial world, and it’s their buy-in that will draw you into the commercial field.
Superunion (https://www.superunion.com/) is a next-generation global brand agency, and a part of the WPP group. With 750 people in 18 countries and expertise in brand strategy, design and communications. With over a thousand creative industry awards, including Cannes Lions, BAFTAs and Art Directors’ Club New York, Superunion is the world’s most awarded brand agency.