Christian Jennings is a digital finance leader with over 25 years of experience, including time spent as Group Finance Director at Zoopla and Finance Director at Moonpig. In 2018, he was appointed his first CFO role, taking the position at Virgin Experience Days. Speaking with him, it’s clear that his route to the number one finance role within a private equity-backed consumer branded business has been considered and deliberate.
“I’ve consciously tried to fill in the gaps in my experience,” he explains. “My career has been built out based on what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work in finance within a business before leaving school. Starting from my first job as an accounts payable clerk, I worked my way up from the bottom, took night classes four nights a week and studied at weekends to be CIMA qualified by the age of 22.”
This approach, which developed confidence and a multifaceted skill set over a number of years, empowered him to go for a CFO role and it continues to drive him. As he puts it: “I’m always thinking about what experience I need to be the best finance leader. You can’t rely on chance. I’ve always deliberately reached out and sought to get experience, and I’ve actively managed my career to ensure I was achieving this.”
Christian’s experience to date includes a commercial management accountant role, Head of FP&A, and a technical financial controller position, followed by a broader commercial controller role, before moving to Finance Director and then CFO. He notes that the move into a B2C company is proving to be a good one as eCommerce has become his focus. He’s currently building his reputation and skill set as a CFO who understands eCommerce in a branded consumer business. Working in private equity, his role is to secure the best value for the investors as well as managing and growing the business, which he’s managed to do, despite the turbulence of recent years.
When asked about the impact of the pandemic on his current role and how the finance function was viewed, Christian notes that the situation gave him the opportunity to bring his leadership skills to the fore: “I stepped even further forward in the business. People know me and feel comfortable talking with me. It’s important to be present and visible as a leader.”
During the pandemic, the finance function needed to speed up cash flow forecasting and focus on stakeholder communications. They had to be accurate, logical and transparent in explaining the numbers in order to give confidence that the business was going to be able to weather Covid-19, and look after their customers and employees in the process. “People were looking to finance for reassurance but also for answers,” he explains. “Our work during this time reinforced finance as a go-to function in the organisation. We made quick decisions but not rash decisions – they were well-considered but decisive.”
To further future-proof the company, Christian currently works with his Financial Controller to ensure the finance function is set up for success as well as being engaged and motivated as a team. Succession planning is important and, with many examples of previous promotions within the team, he is focused on developing his team so that any member could potentially step up into a managerial role.
With aspiring CFOs in mind, he offers some advice: “Job titles can be good strategic goals but don’t let them dominate your focus - gain the experience you need and enjoy the journey along the way. If you’re not enjoying it, you need to ask yourself why you are doing it.”
Download BIE's CFO & Finacial Leadership report here.