Although there has been no grand plan that has been meticulously implemented, there has always been a sense of momentum. During all this, she has elevated the Latin for “trust your gut” (confidis ventrem tuum) into a personal mission.
Ellie was brought up in Winchester and apart from a period in London in her twenties has stayed in that area throughout her life so far (with important exceptions). Her father worked for PwC as a tax accountant and he had plenty of opportunities for travel. When a toddler she lived in Chicago (of which, understandably, she can remember nothing, just as well allowing for how appalling the weather in that otherwise admirable American city can be) and a decade later (with rather more memories) spent six months in California. All of which meant that from an early age and stage she had a sense of what the corporate world was and how she might fit.
This was not, however, initially at least as anything akin to an accountant. For reasons that she does not fully recall she aspired to be a lawyer, an outcome on which she was focused for a considerable period of time.
She changed her mind. She “fell in love” with Maths. She came to the firm realization that numbers rather than words were her lodestar. She went to Royal Holloway, University of London, to read Maths for her BA and ended up staying on for another year to study for an MSc in Cryptography and Financial Mathematics thereafter (this was long before anything to do with Crypto was as in vogue as it has become in the 2020s).
Her final year at university coincided with the global financial crisis. Possibly out of a sense that she could not make more of a hash of matters than the likes of the investment banks had spectacularly done, she was determined to enter the realm of corporate finance. She enlisted on a “try business in London” course, which as the name implies, was the mother of all taster menus of an exercise. She came to the calculated decision that the rational course of action was to join one of the Big Four, rattle up an accountancy qualification, and then come to a view on what she should do thereafter.
This meant making a choice a year before she actually started but with the prospect of a higher degree in Cryptography and Financial Mathematics firmly in the frame this was a serious bonus. She dug into the detail and decided on EY as it appeared to be the best fit for her. A happy and productive period with that firm then occurred.
She joined the Corporate Finance graduate program deciding that was a better path to follow than audit as it may “open doors” where she wanted to cross the threshold. Her one regret was that there appeared to be no role for pure mathematics in any of this, an absence which was so profound that it triggered a “period of mourning” so deep that the thought of becoming an academic mathematician briefly floated across her mind.
By her third year at EY, she was finding herself attached ever more intensely to projects and coming to the conclusion that many of the projects motivated her more than being an in-house accountant. She wanted to go into business and, ideally, she wished to do that from within the Winchester area.
The opening came with Arqiva, a global provider of data, network and communications services for broadcast and utilities. This was a local business and, although not very well known, a rather big business. Ellie was a Project Accountant in the mobile infrastructure component to begin with (which was extremely commercial) but then expanded her empire from there. While 38 weeks pregnant she agreed to take on the entire capital projects team. Having returned from maternity leave, she deduced that her CV was short on certain accounting fundamentals – profit and loss, cash flow, core reporting tasks – which should be corrected if she was to continue to progress. She set her sights (successfully) on becoming the Group Reporting Finance Manager.
She had now done six years at Arqiva and it was time to contemplate other options. She joined Total Rail Solutions , a private equity owned company that served the railway maintenance network.. This was a far smaller business than her previous one but she considered that a virtue as it was hard to exercise influence and force change in a bigger institution from a comparatively junior position.
As was to be true in this case. Ellie became Financial Controller there three days before the first COVID-19 lockdown was introduced. She found herself in charge of the whole team, in a firm in which almost every aspect of the records was paper based, working from her bedroom with two very small children to look after.
Yet in a surreal way she absolutely “loved it”. She threw herself into it and for the first time came to appreciate the “trust your gut” sentiment that would become her ethos. She learnt so much and so quickly in circumstances which (hopefully) will never be repeated in exactly the same manner again.
She had had support of some champions in her career to date, but it was here where she met her most significant, Susan Cummings, the CFO, who also proved to be a valuable advisor.
Susan had moved over to One Beyond, a software development company, as the COO/CFO. This was also private equity backed Ellie was initially Head of Finance but became the FD about six months after arriving. When later the opportunity arose to take on the CFO role, she asked herself whether this was the right place to become a CFO for the first time. The answer to this she felt was no.
She instead bid her time a little longer and is now the CFO at Inclusive Employers which, as the name suggests, advises businesses on how to become effective inclusive employers. Ellie was after a company that “shared my values” and it would be hard to beat Inclusive Employers on that score. It is also PE-backed (from Palatine’s Impact Investment Fund) and it has expanded rapidly of late. It is an extremely stimulating environment in which to work but also a flexible one (Ellie is hybrid and is partly at the London office and partly functions from home). At some stage there will be a value realization event (private equity houses do not exist to hold on to companies indefinitely) and that will be a fascinating time to be the CFO at such a company. To be so barely in your mid-30s is fantastic!
So what, to conclude, are Ellie’s top tips from her experiences (to date)? They are that champions are important not least in providing you with the self-confidence essential to move through the ranks. Added to this is a “Go for it” mindset so that you do not create glass ceilings for yourself. Finally, and to return to a key theme, in going for it, “trust your gut”. It may not be in accounting manuals but the maxim of confidis ventrem tuum has much to commend itself to a prospective CFO.