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A day in the life: Patrick Dobson

Patrick Dobson left a career with a mid-tier firm to work as head of finance for a start-up in the music industry. He tells Xenia Taliotis why he loves what he does.

How I changed career

Even when I was at school I knew I wanted to work in business, preferably as an entrepreneur, so when a successful banker came to give us a careers talk I was receptive to her advice. She said that a professional qualification was the best next step after A-levels. That thought stuck. I chose accountancy. I had a feeling that the ACA would fast track me into business. After university, I joined Smith & Williamson and just after I qualified they sent me on a three-month secondment with VICE media.

I loved working in a creative, young, dynamic environment. During my secondment, they asked me to apply for the financial controller position. I was with VICE for three immensely fun years, and would have stayed longer had I been able to see how both the business and I could continue to grow together. I couldn’t, so I knew the time had come to explore other options. I still didn’t have my own business idea, so looked for a company I could help shape and where I could develop.

When I met Rafe Offer, the co-founder and then CEO of Sofar Sounds, I felt we’d be a good fit. Rafe’s passion, vision and mission aligned with my own, but aside from that, I absolutely loved the concept. Sofar Sounds reimagines the live event experience through curated, secret performances in more than 400 cities. Through the transformation of everyday spaces into captivating venues, Sofar serves as a platform for artists to connect with engaged audiences in cities around the world.

My responsibilities

I look after the company’s finance and business affairs globally. I see my primary responsibility as ensuring Sofar’s limited resources are deployed to the highest value areas of the business. I start each day with a large to do list – but I strip that list right down, identifying the must- and can-dos. Working in an early stage business means taking on lots of responsibilities. One day I’ll be negotiating a new property lease in New York and the next I’ll be researching Spanish employment laws.

The fact that we’re in so many countries presents some unique, global challenges. I try to act as a trusted business partner to Rafe, and to our new CEO, Jim Lucchese. Helping with this transition has been a hugely rewarding challenge. Particularly getting to work so closely with such talented people. One of my main focusses this year has been the launch our $25m (£19.7m) funding round, which was just announced in May and will go towards building our live infrastructure.

My typical day

I start each day by eating a frog! Mark Twain said if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen throughout the rest of the day. Using this principle, I check my emails first thing – often while still in bed – and tackle the most difficult job ahead of all others. My mornings are generally spent dealing with emails and one chunky task, and my afternoons in meetings and catching up with my team. I like to know exactly what’s going on. I’m home every night to cook, which I find very relaxing and which works best for my wife and me. She’s a corporate lawyer. After dinner, I’ll do another couple of hours’ work to stay on top of what’s happening in the US.

Once a month I’ll MC a Sofar gig. They’re a great chance to connect with our artists and audience, and also to practise my public speaking. In addition to my Sofar work, I’m also an angel investor in myvetbox.com, a start-up pet health subscription business. I normally do about two or so hours a week with them, which gives me the chance to flex my entrepreneurial muscle.

The challenges I’ve overcome

Sofar’s community is the lifeblood of the business. Balancing the need to build a sustainable business with the desire to support the various community stakeholders is a big challenge. It’s a constant push and pull between what we want to do for the artists, for example, and what we’re able to do. We’re still a VC-backed business, so we’re accountable to our investors, as well as to our audiences, our hosts, our artists and our staff. Another challenge comes from Sofar being a disruptive business, a pioneer in entertainment, which means we have no one to follow.

How the ACA helped my career

The personal network I’ve built through the ACA has been invaluable. I was mentored and supported by some amazing people, all ACAs, including Andrew Wilkes at Smith & Williamson, Rick Waterlow who hired me at VICE, and Adrian Dawe, former finance director at Sofar Sounds. I’m learning all the time, and what’s apparent is that the best finance professionals strike the right balance between being deep in the numbers, understanding them and also having a strategic view of the business. The ACA develops those three areas brilliantly. I can’t think of any other qualification that equips you to do so much and gives you so many opportunities and possible avenues to explore.

The habits of an accountant

This may surprise readers, but I suspect it won’t. Many ACAs are not as careful with their own finances as they are with their clients’ or employers’. We spend all our time holding on to the purse strings at work – and counter that by splurging at home. Or at least that’s what my wife says. She thinks I shop too much and would like me to be more careful with our joint account. It’s a story I’ve heard from other accountants.

Originally published in Economia on 6 June 2019.