It was an exceptionally difficult time. It was also very predictable in a rather depressing manner. A citizen knew what they would earn (not much), where they would probably live (not much choice) and what they would do with their spare time (the options were very limited). Television was available for two hours per night. Other forms of entertainment were also finite. There were many certainties in life. One of which was that you would never be anything near well off.
Within that structure, Manuela already knew what role she would occupy. Her mother had been an accountant and that is what her daughter aspired to be as well. She had fallen under the spell of numbers (and still is in many respects). They were like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. At the age of 14, she was allowed to specialise while at High School and opted for finance and accounting.
At the very end of 1989 everything suddenly changed. Capitalist accounting had become a pathway. Manuela chose to work for Coca Cola (a franchise outlet of this enormous American company). The scale of the transformation was stunning. Concepts such as profit suddenly entered the equation. It was the first time that she had ever encountered a computer in an employment context. It was the age of the Wild East but that was a real breath of fresh air compared to the time before it. She mastered credit control and became a Team Leader. She would be with Coca Cola for the better part of eight years until 2001.
She had also got married to a fellow Coca Cola worker but were unable to spend much time with each other due to incompatible working arrangements. She and her husband would need to make a dramatic move if they were to see more of each other. They decided to come to the UK.
This was a brave move. Manuela spent her first year working in a coffee shop to learn the language and to understand the culture of her new surroundings. It was only after that apprenticeship that she felt able to return to the world of figures. This was with Eafton & Co, a chartered accountants that had a relationship with a larger law firm. She ended up spending much of her professional time dealing with applications for visas to the UK from fellow Romanians and Bulgarians alongside the more conventional agenda of self-assessment. This was, nonetheless, a solid grounding to experience. It hardened what had become her dream to be at the financial centre of a thriving company.
This would take time. She had a son and also had to start what would be many ACCA examinations. She would take those essentially alone, simply by purchasing the books needed, studying at home late at night and paying to enter the exams when she felt ready. There was no “school” or even a shared experience with others following a similar line of travel to her. She was becoming, in many ways, a highly disciplined and proficient self-taught accountant.
She had by then switched to be a credit controller at Pubs ‘n’ Bars, a company which as the name implies was deeply involved in the property aspect of that part of the hospitality sector. It had the virtue that she was being exposed to a much wider range of accountancy techniques than had been true previously. It had the vice that the global financial crisis and subsequent recession hit the firm hard and by 2009 it would fall into administration leaving Manuela to have to look for new work.
A couple of short-term assignments emerged to assist this enterprise. The first was with Close Premium Finance where credit control was again the primary focus. The other was with a small company called CD Writer. She did absolutely everything and became a fully-fledged bookkeeper. The business, though, could only afford her on a three-day basis and she needed to be full-time.
As matters transpired, she would receive two offers of employment at almost exactly the same time and would have to choose between them. The first was with a services company based in Fulham and it offered the most money. The second was more in the manufacturing arena and being based in London Bridge offered the most convenience (it was a fifteen-minute walk from her home). With a sense of obligation to her son at the front of her mind, she decided to forego the extra income and take up the less financially enticing experience. It would prove to be a truly pivotal moment.
It led her to Harvey Jones Kitchens. It was an opening which, combined with the support of strong mentors and her rapid acquisition of ACCA qualifications, would allow her to make serious progress. She started in accounts as an Accounts Assistant quickly moving to a Management Accountant position and then moved on to be a Financial Controller. From there she became Finance Director in a team of seven people and at a time of real expansion in the business. All of which was the cause for real satisfaction.
She did not think of it as a final appointment. It was the perfect opportunity to shine joining the business as she did as a first MBO took place and leaving at a second MBO in May 2022- a good moment to hand over to a successor and then perhaps take a deserved break for a while.
After about a month on this leave she was bored and by two months in was looking for a new role. She has found it as Head of Finance for Apricot Clothing, a firm founded around 21 years ago but which has not only survived the pandemic but thrived in its aftermath. It is in one sense significantly larger than Harvey Jones Kitchens (the turnover is five times bigger), yet the finance team is tiny with two in this country and another individual located in Canada. It has 17 stores in and outside the UK in total with the ambition for expansion. If it is do this, then Manuela will have a lot on her hands and will require her, having been mentored by others, to become a strong mentor by herself. There is already plenty of evidence that she will enjoy the challenge. Her impact will be real and considerable across the business.
This is really a story of, to quote Churchill absolutely accurately, “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. Her life in Romania was turned upside down (albeit overwhelmingly as an improvement but a disruption all the same) as she became an adult. The decision to come to the UK could have been a disaster. She seems to have obtained more qualifications that one might imagine existed. She has had to learn the ropes the hard way but she has backed herself and has placed herself firmly in a role with real business impact.
I started in accounts as an Accounts Assistant quickly moving to a Management Accountant position.
I joined the business after the first MBO happened. I was part of the second exit only.