Before her move to her current role however , Julie was a senior figure for 16 years at what, in one sense, was the same company throughout but, seen from another angle, was really four different businesses as it changed hands and strategies over that period of time. This combination of continuity and change involved challenges which are distinct from moving across separate firms and even sectors. It means a demand for flexibility and imagination from an FD/CFO that is outside that of the mainstream. It also meant, as will become apparent, that the company too had to be flexible to retain its talent.
Julie was born in Bedfordshire where one of her formative decisions involved her higher education. She had been all set to embark on a relatively conventional degree in economics at Warwick. As part of the then UCAS process, and to keep her options open, she attended an Open Day at what was at that moment still Middlesex Polytechnic (soon afterwards Middlesex University) to learn about the degree that they offered in European Business Studies. To her surprise, she was sold on the notion.
This was not a typical course by any means. The first two years of it were conducted in Germany and in German with the remaining two years back in London (and in English). It involved students from a very diverse range of European countries and backgrounds. Julie had an A-level in German, but it was, as she put it, “sink or swim” on the language front both academically and socially. Much of the lecture material related to Mathematics (which was a real strength for her) but it still meant that notes had to be taken and translated. This was very hard stuff as a degree. It really stretched her.
It had, though a number of beneficial side-effects which would prove their value in later life. One was the importance of self-reliance and proved that with hard work and determination she could achieve anything. She also met a much more extensive range of fellow students than she would probably have done on a more orthodox course, and she travelled extensively. It also assisted in narrowing her range of career choices. She did six months with Siemens in Munich inside their marketing department as part of her studies and repeated this with the company in the UK.
At this stage, marketing seemed where she was most likely to land. However, her enthusiasm for Maths would pull her towards accountancy instead. She has an elder sister who had signed up for EY and was enjoying her time immensely. Julie decided to do the same and headed for Leeds to start her qualifications.
Her stay in Leeds did not last for long. Her husband-to-be had to move back down south because of his own employment prospects. As this was intended to be a short-term move, she relocated back nearer home in Luton and has ended up staying in that vicinity ever since, which was “never really the intention”. She was a young Mum to a son at 26 and found the family support that she received to be of enormous assistance throughout the years. After five years with EY, having qualified as a Chartered Accountant she would assume a new post.
This was to be locally with Dacon Electronics as a Financial Controller and then the Finance Director. Dacon was a supplier of call-centre equipment with BT as its most prominent customer. The Managing Director in the UK was a strikingly progressive figure with a passion for family-friendly flexible working arrangements that was pronounced long before such an approach became more widely adopted and this proved invaluable as Julie added to her family with two daughters during her early years at Dacon. The company was a subsidiary of an American business based in Connecticut (itself relatively liberal by US standards). Julie therefore reported to a CFO located on the eastern seaboard and learnt a lot about implementing new systems, Board reporting and cash flow in this first role in industry.
In 2005, Julie and the MD, Roy embarked on a successful MBO together which changed the character of the company as a consequence. Barely was the ink dry on that deal, however, when external events intervened. A massive explosion at the Buncefield oil depot in Hemel Hempstead inflicted major damage across the surrounding set of business buildings, including what was now the rebranded Dacon Ltd. The company found itself operating from a Portakabin for over a year and understandably it caused a significant disruption to the business. Much of Julie’s time was taken up with the complicated insurance claim that was necessary to deliver appropriate compensation to them. This was the source of incredible frustration as they had ambitious plans for the company’s future.
These had always included the possibility of a sale to a larger competitor. The buyer was Symon, a private equity backed company which specialised in providing software to extract KPIs from the telecoms switch for contact centres and displayed these on large screens (the world was moving on from the call centres of the 1990s). It already had a British subsidiary but a reverse merger ensued and the new UK subsidiary was named Symon Dacon with the Dacon management team retained. So, it meant being part of a transatlantic team again (this time based in Texas, which is very different to Connecticut).
It was a much bigger firm and as a result Julie became much more international in her activities. She launched an office in Dubai from scratch which was an intriguing enterprise. The company had major interests in India, so she spent some time there as well as shuttling to the mothership in Dallas. Their acumen was being noticed elsewhere as signalled by an official visit from the Duke of Kent and then the Queen’s Award for International Enterprise (Julie met Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace as part of the ceremonials). This third incarnation of the business was very different from the first version she had worked at.
There was to be a fourth turn in the saga. The private equity owners listed the business in the US. It was now a substantial public company. What had been Symon Dacon was to be recast again as RMG Networks. It was likely to evolve yet further. Partly influenced by accompanying one of her children on the university applications circuit, Julie determined that after more than 15 years she must move on.
That was November 2014. The company where she became the CFO was Springboard, again local, a comparatively small provider of retail and shopping intelligence to that sector. As a SaaS company with high profile, blue-chip clients and a recent injection of funding it proved to be a great move for Julie. It had less than £3 million in revenue when she arrived (it has considerably more than that today) and what she found as her inheritance was a company with a great product and reputation in the market that was focused on providing first-class service to customers but with no investment or focus in the financial systems and internal reporting. As Springboard had just received investment from a VCT via YFM Equity Partners, a dramatic change and specifically, professionalization of the finance function was required.
There was “so much to do” including installing a robust CRM structure, putting a new contracts system in place and establishing KPIs to aide the new Board to review performance and influence the strategy going forward. This had to be implemented at speed while the company sought to grow rapidly in what was a pioneering market.
One might have thought that the arrival of COVID-19 would be a catastrophe for Springboard. It was certainly more than an inconvenience when the lockdown put property and retail into mothballs. In many ways the pandemic proved how important data is to companies at times of change. Companies continued to monitor footfall and indeed many government departments looked at this as an indicator of economic activity. Above all else, it was the catalyst for a deeper expansion in the US (where many states had shorter, looser, lockdowns) and many customers continued to trade and still required the data from Springboard. Fast-forward to 2022 and Julie was very happy to oversee the sale of Springboard to a leading US Proptech company, MRI Software.
Which means that a woman who had been a leader at a company that had been owned by US entities of three different kinds, was the CFO of a UK business for 8 years with a successful subsidiary in the US. This has now gone full circle again as she is now the finance leader of the UK subsidiary of a US entity. All of which, as she would certainly not have expected in her early career, has been whilst Julie has still been based in Bedfordshire!