After a relatively brief stay in Cape Town, she visited Jordan and the wonders there that are Petra. Returning to her sporting theme she went skiing in Italy, Austria and France, before catching some sun in Greece. After that it was mountain biking in Morocco, a big flat cycle ride in Majorca and an intense hiking session in the Dolomites. Then it was back and forth to France including attendance at the Rugby World Cup during which she shouted so much that she contracted laryngitis. After 15 trips in as many months she was, by November 2023, ready to return to work full-time after Christmas.
As the schedule above indicates, Kat has an unusually high level of energy and considerable stamina. These are qualities that she has brought to the office as well as the outdoors. She also has the right aptitude and attitude for extremely hard work. Which is just as well as that ethos has been needed.
She was born and brought up in Hertfordshire. Although both of her parents (and an uncle) were accountants, she did not believe that she was destined for the world of numbers from the outset. Her formative fascination was with science and at a highly academic level. She secured a place at Cambridge University to study Natural Sciences and specialised in Pathology, developing expertise in the likes of bacteria, viruses and parasites. This is quite a long way from P&L and the balance sheet.
She did not, however, find the day-to-day life of laboratory work that inspiring. If anything, it was a somewhat isolating experience. She would wonder about medicine at a later point, but decided to take some time out to think and to look for a management training programme that would suit her.
Which is how she landed at KPMG. As a sociable soul she found the notion of being part of a large cohort of young people an attractive idea. She sensed that there were subtle but significant cultural variations within the Big Four accounting firms and chose KPMG because she was confident that it would be a comfortable fit for her. It was indeed the case and she “enjoyed it a lot” with the firm.
She was initially in the audit practice and focused on the “ICE” sector (information, communications and entertainment). This meant comparatively glamorous clients such as ITV and Virgin Atlantic.
From there she took a detour into transaction services. The timing (this was 2008) was not ideal. The global financial crisis had hit this area hard. There was not enough work and what there was failed to inspire. Having discovered what she did not want to do (often a useful finding early in any career), it was back to audit. Even in this more familiar terrain, the impact of the recession was considerable. In an enlightened move which allowed it to cut costs but not lose talented people and regret that later, KPMG introduced a scheme which allowed for time-off on reduced remuneration. Kat took it up and seized the chance not merely to travel but to contemplate what she really wanted to take on next.
Which, it turned out, would lead her to Talk Talk. This was a high-profile business that appeared to be in a condition of constant change. She started on the commercial side which would extend her skill set. Her role rapidly evolved as she became closely involved in the creation and launch of new products. This offered enormous variety and was exceptionally stimulating as she darted between the mobile and media aspects of the company’s output. It certainly could not be described as dull.
She was promoted internally to be a Group Planning and Reporting Manager. This involved a new set of responsibilities (such as investor relations) and made a lot of sense in terms of her development, but it lacked the action-packed character of what she had done before, so she returned to her old haunt but now as a Commercial Financial Manager (Mobile), which was an exciting if turbulent area.
By now she has spent almost six years at Talk Talk and was running out of conversation with it. She looked for a fresh opening and, entirely at ease with switching across sectors, signed up with Laird, a large business, initially as a contractor and then permanently as a Director of Finance.
The extent of the challenges ahead swiftly materialised. Almost immediately after she arrived (but not as cause and effect) a profits warning was made public. A Rights Issue followed in a scramble for cash. The share price (unsurprisingly) headed south rapidly.
At which point, Advent International, one of the largest private equity firms globally, approached the board with a take-private proposition which by 2018 had been accepted. Kat was sought out for the CFO role on the clear understanding that the company would require fundamental restructuring. The whole was worth far less than the sum of the parts might be. If it were to have a long-term future, then Laird would need to be fast divided into distinct parts, some of which would be sold at high speed (the first such split took place barely six months after the acquisition) and then the remaining sections would need to be knocked into shape before they came to market.
In a sense, therefore, Kat’s task was to fulfil her function so effectively that at some point a total divestment would occur with the certain consequence that her own post would also disappear.
This might not have seemed the most enticing notion to some, and it would be highly demanding. Yet it was also exhilarating, and the experience was immensely rewarding. In a series of moves, what had been an excessively big business became in stages much smaller but also far more profitable. A huge disposal of one segment of the old Laird for US$ 2.3 billion demonstrated what could be done. By the summer of 2022, the end was in sight for the divestment process and Kat could start to turn her attention to what she would do with the big break that she had promised herself as her end reward.
It also altered her outlook on business more broadly and where she would wish to work in future. The take-private was a turning point for her as well as her (by the exit) former employers. She would not want to be a CFO in a PLC again and be contained and constrained by the many demands of the quarterly reporting cycle. She had come to see this as a ball and chain. The radical surgery that had been applied to Laird would have been impossible to enact if it had remained a listed company. The flexibility and comparative freedom associated with private ownership was what she was seeking.
After a period of personal adventures , Kat has become a CFO once more, moving sector once again to Corndel, one of the UK’s fastest growing training and development businesses. Batteries have been recharged. Ambition remains second to none. The experience exists to match the opportunity. Who knows what else between them Greenland, Rwanda, Jordan and Morocco will have taught her?