Insights: Suzanne Burrows, Chief Financial Officer at Influencer
In the final of our series celebrating key female leaders from across our portfolio for International Women’s Day, we spoke to Suzanne Burrows, CFO at Influencer about her career route including valuable lessons she learnt from working in the US.
1. What do you see as the challenges facing today’s business leaders and do you think there are any additional or different ones for females?
The two obvious ones are: the post COVID impact on company culture with the new ways of hybrid working; and the current skills gap, the shortage of strong candidates and the resulting escalating payroll costs. On the first point, I think there are more negative views from leaders than there needs to be on this topic. Having worked for US headquartered companies and reported directly into a US based executive I was rarely in the room with my leader. This did not prevent culture being set from the top. There is a concern that company culture is more difficult to establish or maintain with hybrid working. I challenge this, I only see the opportunities to improve company culture, to really prove people are at the heart of what we do. It does require a different mindset, doing things differently and arguably more thought and planning. Getting the hybrid model right also helps with the candidate shortage.
The hybrid model widens the net for candidates, helping with the current shortage of good candidates. One member of my team is based in the North East of England, in the pre COVID world her CV would never have passed my desk. Additionally, the hybrid model provides greater flexibility for working parents. Again this will help to increase the available candidates. As long as my team delivers their work, why do I care if they are unavailable at the time of the school run, tea time and bath time and are back at their desks once their little ones are in their beds. I get a happier, more productive and focused member of my team by supporting them and giving them the opportunity to be present at the important moments of their child’s day. Loyalty, trust and commitment needs to work both ways.
2. How did you get into your career?
I qualified as a Chartered Company Secretary (recently rebranded to Chartered Governance Institute) whilst leading a financial policy team in local government. Many of my male colleagues assumed it was a typing and shorthand qualification, if I were male I doubt they would have assumed the same. The qualification covers amongst other topics: Company Law and Accounting, both of which I enjoyed and was good at. This led me down the accounting route; qualification and career wise. I always loved maths at school, not that accounting is maths, but it is very logical and rules-based, like myself. As a child I would do my older brother’s maths homework for fun! A career in finance definitely felt like a natural home for me.
3. What words of advice would you give to women looking to accelerate their careers today – what are the three things you wish you’d known?
This advice applies to all genders equally. I don’t think I have advice exclusively for women, but doesn’t that prove the point that we are all the same.
Three things I wish I had known – I don’t actually think there are things that I wish I had known. I am glad that there are things I did not know. I was somehow unaware that there was a ceiling for women, possibly because these issues were not discussed or covered in business news. Despite frequently being the only female in the room, it never occurred to me that my gender might stop my progress. I never felt that I was not capable of performing the role of a more senior male colleague. I believed that I could be sufficiently skilled at a point in the future to do any role senior to my own that was occupied by a man with the appropriate experience, training and development. As a result of this naivety my ambitions and self-belief were not dampened in those early years. It definitely helped that I spent a good part of my career in US media companies with many US located senior female role models. Although, where I was based in the UK, I was surrounded nearly exclusively by senior males. It was only as I became older and more senior that I became aware of the bias that exists around males in senior roles and boards. It helps that accounting is more of a meritocracy and more diverse than other professions and careers.
4. What does a typical day look like for you – or is every day different? If you could have an extra hour in the day what would you spend it on?
A typical day is up at 6.30am, shower and coffee, I can then function. I try to work from home two days a week which then means I start my day with 45 minutes on my bike. The daily activities are similar to anyone who works in an office, I spend my days between meetings and working at my desk, working towards the company’s goals of high year-on-year growth. Due to the significant growth there is nearly always a new issue to resolve each week: ensuring processes, procedures, along with corporate requirements, remain fit for purpose and within legislation.
Before having a family I volunteered at a holiday home for the disabled. There really is nothing more precious than the gift of time. Even if you are not able to physically assist, just sitting, talking and listening to people is so powerful.
5. Who do you most admire in business and why?
This is a tough one, there are so many great leaders and business people out there. As a cohort I hugely admire entrepreneurs: the single minded self belief needed in their product or service, the risk of failure and the risk of losing everything when creating a new product or service. My father was an entrepreneur and growing up in that environment it is boom or bust. He was at the forefront of the frozen food industry. As for named individuals:
Carolyn McCall, ITV CEO (mother of 3 children) and Alex Mahon, C4 (mother of 4 children) for getting to the top of their fields and having families. Additionally, Carolyn establishing herself at Easyjet, yet the airline industry is so male dominated.
Afua Kyei, CFO of the Bank of England, the banking industry does not have a reputation of being female friendly.
Adam Crozier moving industry sectors from the Royal Mail to ITV and then prioritising production over broadcasting, despite the doubts from many experienced media professionals.
Richard Branson for his constant innovation and quite possibly being the smiliest CEO on the planet.
6. Where do you see your business or division in five years’ time?
In five years’ time I would see our business significantly matured and converted to an SaaS model with a material presence in the US, with revenues circa x 6 that of our 21/22 results. I would anticipate a third of our revenue to be UK, a third US and a third rest of world. With offices in several more physical locations across the US, MENA and Europe.
7. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business, what would it be?
A more diverse organisation and if I am allowed a second one shooting through our sales projections, but what company wouldn’t want that.