Not that other careers too did not come into consideration (at least in the opinions of others). Gina had a somewhat unconventional upbringing in 1990s Dubai in the early days of a boom which would make it an international sensation. Her father was very supportive in terms of her pursuing a career, but not too inspired by the thought of his daughter becoming an accountant. His aspirations for Gina were more towards law, or better still medicine. He wanted Gina to take triple Science for her A ‘Levels a not too subtle hint perhaps that he could see her as a doctor or a surgeon. She duly obliged although her heart was not really in it.
She had an alternative role model and through his example a route to somewhere different. She had a grandfather who was an entrepreneurial businessman. Gina would watch him come home every night and tally his journals and balance his books with considerable diligence. She was fascinated. She also came to realise that numbers motivated her more than biology, chemistry and physics. She would, therefore, break tradition somewhat and pursue a path other than the family ambition.
To do that she would come to the United Kingdom. Any highly developed strategy to become a CFO or FD at the earliest moment then came against a rather dramatic change in circumstances. She had started at Honda as an Accounts Assistant and was determined to train as a bookkeeper initially and this involved studying for and taking just about every qualification that the ACCA could muster. At the same time, though, she married at the age of 19 and had her first daughter a mere year later. Never mind contemporary dance. An era of complicated career and personal juggling now beckoned.
Honda may make fine cars but the role she found herself in had a second gear quality to it. She knew she was in the right career zone but not in the right place to make the most of herself. There was too much repetition which she had to rise above on a daily basis. Another sector had to be sought out.
That company would be Crossplatform which manufactured compact discs (remember them?). It was a better option than Honda and she could work part-time but that did not stop her questioning how she felt about the difficulties she was finding trying to balance having a career and being a mother. Gina had an excellent support system with her husband and mother by her side every step of her journey.
She needed an escape route. The solution and the salvation, although hardly an obvious one, came in the form of BPS, where she would advance to be the Financial Controller. BPS was a distinctly niche company in that it specialised in the recruitment of nuclear engineers. It was, therefore, a completely different industry from anything that she had been associated with or familiar with before and that was a core aspect of the attraction. She needed a superior environment in which to continue her juggling act, especially as she had dedicated herself to acquiring more qualifications. BPS would offer such welcome breathing space in this regard that she stayed for almost nine years.
A major factor in this was her first “career hero” in the form of Adrian Conington, a co-owner and leading figure in the company. He would steer her on a voyage from entering as an Assistant Accountant and exiting as the Financial Controller. He became her mentor in so many ways. As the youngest member of the Leadership Team she would frequently be challenged on the basis of her experience (or her alleged lack of it). Adrian urged her to be brave and have the courage of her convictions. He was instrumental in supporting her through some revolutionary times in BPS. It was here that Gina began to enjoy the next rung in her career ladder.
She still had a relentless drive for self-improvement and, while nine months pregnant, sat an advanced taxation examination which she passed with flying colours. That zeal suggested that there was another move ahead of her. This time it was to Volume, first as Financial Controller and then to CFO. This was a digital marketing agency and so represented Gina’s first foray into tech. This was stimulating. It meant acquiring new skills and an international outlook. The five years spent with the company were great in terms of the career advances that it involved. As a strategic level, however, the company changed character when it took on the incubation of an AI agency. Having spent 5 years with Volume witnessing its strategic growth and change of sector direction, Gina still had a burning desire to seek yet another industry.
In another change of tack, this would mean being recruited by The Client Relationship Consultancy which had been co- founded by Paul Cowan, a charismatic and imaginative psychotherapist. She was the Global FD. Its primary service was acquiring high-quality feedback for companies from their clients. It was a more commercial role than Gina had previously undertaken. This was an amazing challenge made more reassuring by Paul’s determination to create a safe space and trigger free-thinking among those around him. He was another one of Gina’s extremely effective mentors.
But after just three months COVID-19 struck. It hit hard in both corporate and social terms. There was far too much time spent staring at screens. Hands had to be held virtually. An ethos of “Act now, think later” had to be accepted. Staff retention was vital. Gina had to show that she was not simply a numbers person. She also wanted to maintain a close alliance with the CEO, influence the board and impress the Non-Executive Director. There was also the strong prospect of a management buy-out, which meant in turn that she interacted with private equity investors for the first time, this was a steep learning curve in itself. She probably learnt more in a shorter duration of time than in any other post that she had held until that time. She came to realise that whilst the role was career defining, it also a very lonely position. Having completed the MBO, Gina needed some time out.
So, she took six weeks off to travel around South-East Asia and come back to a new berth. This is as FD for Event Concept, a creative event production agency. She has only been there for 6 months and is still learning the dynamics of the business but can already see scope for innovation. She is applying the core principles that she has deduced from her career to date. Her learning journey to date has taught her the importance of the relationship and connection between the MD and the FD. Creating a foundation of trust, summoning one’s EI and investing and nurturing key relationships are invaluable in this role. It is also important not to be afraid of the unknown. Ambition and hunger can compensate for the lack of a detailed acquaintance with an industry. You have to mobilise the strength within you to harness the opportunities that are out there if you look.
Better still, now that she had landed in events there might be an opening for a diminutive Salsa dancer!