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Five things you should know about being a CFO

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 10 Aug 2021

ClearScore CFO, Guy Buckley-Sharp, shares expertise learned from his pathway to financial controller of a household business exclusively with ICAEW Insights Q&A.

Guy Buckley-Sharp, CFO of financial wellbeing business, ClearScore, didn’t have the most conventional career path from financial controller to CFO. Sharp was ACA trained by 2003 at Arthur Anderson in the corporate restructuring team before diverting to lending at ETV Capital, a lender for venture capital backed businesses. Then Sharp took a leap from lending into the financial controlling world with Borro, a collateral loaning company he came across while working for ETV Capital. After growing the team at Borrow from 12 to 60 and breaking into the U.S market, he then joined Gazoob (a fintech in the educational technology space) as their CFO.

Sharp’s next role would be the CFO of ClearScore, an online marketplace for financial products. He joined the business when there were just 20 people there at the time and became their first CFO. Along the journey from chartered accountant in restructuring, turned business lender, to the CFO of ClearScore, Sharp has gained invaluable career insight which he chose to share with ICAEW Insights.

What is the biggest challenge as a CFO?

“The biggest challenge is keeping up with the pace of growth. In terms of people, it’s shifting a company from 20 to 200 or 300 people, turning a company from a single jurisdiction to a multinational business. All these things create regulatory challenges, much greater financial complexity, much greater constraints on the business, treasury and liquidity. As they scale it’s a real challenge, but it’s also an attractive part of the role because you are given these challenges and it’s kind of a little bit what you’re there for.”

How can the job affect you emotionally?

“You’re going to work very closely with the CEO of this business if you’re taking on a CFO role. You’ve got to be able to work night and day. At ClearScore, the CEO and I have been through extreme emotional highs and lows. You’ve got to look at the character of that individual and the team around you to make sure you’re with the right people to be going into the trenches with.

“There’s going to be loads of balls thrown at all of you, so you’ve got to think someone has your back and you can all stand shoulder to shoulder and take it. However, if you learn/earn enough over the next year or two then it would be worth taking that leap and continuing onto the next job, and that’s how I would look at it from a career perspective.”

How do you pick the right CEO?

“The successful CEO is generally extremely passionate, driven and hardworking, very ambitious, super optimistic and totally obsessed with the mission that they’ve created. They founded the business on it. That creates quite a lot of energy and drive, and you can see the CFO’s role as slightly the Ying to the Yang.

“You’ve got to be a little more level-headed as you can’t have two fiery energetic people bouncing off each other because it probably doesn’t work as well. That is why I’ve worked so well with the CEOs that I’ve worked with.”

How important is building a network?

“I still work with people now from a legal and finance perspective, even if I don’t work with them contractually, I still speak to them and get advice from them. This includes people from 10/12 years ago when I started as a CFO under a different company.

“Use that network as it's super helpful and no one knows the answers to everything. That network is important as it’s a very small world. No business is more important than you and the people around you because you’ll all be around longer than any of these businesses.”

Was it a straight path to becoming a CFO?

“The journey will never be linear, very often there will be days where you’re taking one step forward and two steps back, and there will be problems coming in that you have to deal with. Be prepared that it’s not going to just flow’ if you do have a straight journey then you’re very lucky."

For more insight on:

  • what to expect when working in a finance role at a start-up;
  • what Sharp wishes he’d known before joining the exciting world of start-up;
  • how the finance guys ‘the grey-haired doomesdayer’ build a good relationship with founders and marketing team; and
  • maintaining a work-life balance as well as your own sanity,

watch the full Career Conversation between ICAEW and Guy Buckley-Sharp.

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