Business Spotlight: Romesh Jeyaseelanayagam, the FD consultant
15 December 2020: Applying the financial best practices of a FTSE 100 giant to growth-hungry startups might seem like a tall order. However, for Romesh Jeyaseelanayagam, it’s a killer proposition that is paying dividends to his growing stable of SME clients.
Romesh cut his accountancy teeth with Ernst & Young (now EY), qualifying with the Big Four firm in 2001, before moving to FTSE 100 listed Bunzl plc, a British multinational distribution and outsourcing company headquartered in London. He spent six years with the company across a number of senior finance roles. “I had a fantastic time – I learned how to run best practice financial processes,” he tells ICAEW Insights.
When Bunzl bought a stake in London Bio Packaging, a secondment as finance director of the eco packaging company was to prove something of a turning point in Romesh’s career, although he admits the first day in the job was a bit of a culture shock. “I turned up in my suit and there were people there who didn’t even have shoes on!”
Despite the sartorial differences, the experience was so positive that Romesh decided to join the company as a full-time employee. During his time as FD, the company enjoyed a nine-fold increase in revenues and won the food packaging contract for the London 2012 Olympics. A nine-year stint with student accommodation company Student Cribs followed, where Romesh was instrumental in growing the company from a four-employee, 20-property start-up to a business with over 600 properties and over 3,000 beds across 25 cities.
The dynamic nature of growing companies is something Romesh loves, although the transition from a FTSE 100 organisation did involve a period of adjustment, he admits. “One of the biggest differences was the pace of work. If you’re in a successful high-growth business, you need to work at pace, be flexible and lead from the front because you’re expecting a lot from your colleagues and constantly pushing to improve and keep up with the business. You want to support the CEO with measured opinions and as much quality information as possible.”
It also showed Romesh that applying the financial rigour learned during his time with big business presented a significant business opportunity. Having decided that he was at the right stage of his career to take the risk, in February this year, just as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to bare its teeth, Romesh became a gun for hire and started The FD Consultant.
Romesh’s CFO consulting business offers a range of flexible strategic and financial consulting services to SMEs and high-growth organisations. “CEOs of growing companies are very busy people. There’s a big focus on growing the top line as quickly as possible. What sometimes happens is that business and financial processes don’t always keep up with the pace of the business, so a lot of resource gets sucked into sorting out operational issues.”
The bulk of his involvement tends to focus on accurate and timely financial reporting, robust forecasting with sophisticated models and developing KPIs to help focus management on making the right decisions to meet their objectives. It’s his role to ask questions about how they’re going to achieve their goals and whether they have the processes in place to make that happen.
“It’s about building relationships – being genuine and straight-talking. I’m there to provide technical expertise but also business support. I love it when you have that chemistry with people who value your input and it’s a successful winning relationship.”
This year hasn’t been the easiest to go it alone but Romesh’s focus on networking has landed him a healthy stable of clients despite the challenging business environment and being incapacitated for short period by COVID-19. In addition to nurturing his existing support network, he made the most of lockdown to pen leadership articles and develop the skills to create his own website, alongside some pro bono work for potential clients.
It’s a strategy that has more than paid off. Today one of his clients is the managing director of a film location company Romesh shared a cab with on his way home from a Christmas party last year. “I’d kept in touch and when they were struggling during lockdown, I was able to step in with some technical and emotional support for free. They got through it and now they’re one of my paying clients. Sometimes you’ve got to take some risks – it’s a judgment call, and I enjoy building potential new partnerships,” Romesh says.
Training provided free to ICAEW members has also proved invaluable, Romesh says, especially courses on networking and communication.
Barely 10 months into his consulting adventure and Romesh continues to develop and add new strings to his bow as the flavour of advice being sought by clients shifts beyond finance to broader business support. What started out as offering strategic advice to one of his clients, Swiss watch manufacturer CuleM, has evolved into Romesh taking on the role of Chief Sustainability Officer as well as being the FD for the company.
The issue of sustainability is only going to grow in importance, Romesh believes, and could occupy a greater proportion of his time in the future. “How can sustainability be linked to growth and success? It’s about leading from the front and following a roadmap to success that’s sustainable and transparent. Authenticity and a true desire to make a difference are key, rather than it being merely a PR exercise in greenwashing.”