An aptitude for Maths was duly noted by her Dad, who recruited her as a part-time bookkeeper while still at school. She taught herself how to do it so well, it was not long before he decided to transfer some of the activities that his external accountants were charging him for to his daughter. It was her welcome to the world of business.
She moved on to Portsmouth University and spent her placement year with Exxon Mobil at their base in Leatherhead. It was here that she initially acquired a taste for data analysis. During her placement year, the university had changed the final year of her course radically. She decided to continue working with the company full-time and complete her studies at the same time through the Open University. This involved a 120-mile round-trip by car each working day, which many would find exhausting, but long commuting ran in her family. Father and grandfather had both regularly caught the train from Portsmouth to London and back in the course of their employment.
Natalie found work as a Trainee Account Manager at Menzies, the accounting firm which had been displaced by her when a teenage bookkeeper. In theory, the role was also in data analysis. In reality, it involved rudimentary technology (information stuck on sheets of A3, not even the basics of Excel at times). After two years she moved on. She took up an offer from Fat Face, mostly because the ICAEW would back her if she went there (both the FD and FC at the firm were chartered accountants) but the fact that Fat Face had a cool edge to it was also appealing. It also meant a shift from accounting practice to the realities of hard numbers in industry, which served to broaden her emerging experience.
The bright lights of London were becoming an allure for her. After a couple of years with Fat Face she moved to become a Group Business Analyst with Mosaic, then a fashion empire with a collection of different companies within it. To start with this meant travelling by train from Portsmouth with all the joys that life structured on the 6:24am involved, including clothes laid out the night before and bread placed in the toaster so as to save a few seconds when the slices were heated in the morning. If the capital city were to continue to be her place of work it would need to be her residence as well.
She was promoted very swiftly to become Finance Manager with Shoe Studio, one of the many parts of Mosaic at the time. This was a much more commercial role than her previous occupations. It also meant being thrown in the deepest of deep ends. A month after she arrived, the Finance Director resigned and Natalie found herself drawing up the annual budget, drafting a three-year plan and producing quarterly forecasts, all for the first time and almost entirely by herself. This would involve an incredible amount of work and learning in post and at almost ridiculous speed. Her budget was, nonetheless, accepted at the first time of asking. The difficulty was that although Shoe Studio was in reasonable shape, the overall conglomerate was obviously distinctly fragile. It fell into administration while she was partly through working her notice period.
She then enjoyed a relatively short foray at the Mama Group. This was an intriguing player in the music sector which included an array of businesses from individual artists to record labels. For the first time she had a sizeable team with wide responsibility for virtually everything involving finance. The Mama Group was, however, soon to be absorbed within HMV with whom it had been a junior partner in the ownership of the Hammersmith Apollo. Music would be exited. Sport would enter.
It did so initially in the form of OPTA Sports Data. It's charm for Natalie was its dominant position in terms of Rugby Union data (she is a huge fan of the sport and even lives in Twickenham). She helped it become profitable (most of the revenue actually came from football) and it had an international dimension to it which was new for her. When it won the data rights to the Premier League and the Championship it became an attractive target for acquisition. It was soon gobbled up by Perform PLC.
So, Natalie switched to Smartodds, a not dissimilar business, as the outright FD. She combined a demanding professional schedule with time on the river, acting as the Treasurer of Twickenham Rowing Club. Smartodds was owned by Matthew Benham, who had another interest as he ruled the roost at Brentford Football Club as well. She was asked to assist in the recruitment of a new FD for the club. When the person appointed almost instantly decided that the Beautiful Game was not for them, she was asked to take on the role, which certainly not been her intention, but she did it well.
It was a very different challenge to any that she had previously encountered. The finances of the football sector are a world of their own. Promotion from League One to the Championship had enormous implications and meant that money would have to be much better managed. Teams lived and died by their performance on the pitch and the “financial fair play” consequences of this. By the time that Natalie decided to leave, Brentford were on the verge of entering the Premier League for the first time and had been whipped into the financial shape that it had to be in to cope with this.
So, come 2020 she had been, by any standard, successful, but was she satisfied? That question when combined with the onset of the pandemic and successive lockdowns (with the need to home-school children aged four and two) led her to conclude that she needed a break and use it to think more deeply about how she really wanted her career and life to develop thereafter. She sought out some inspiring professional courses which might assist her in achieving those ends.
This proved to be a transformational experience. On the recommendation of Ngozi Weller, a friend who dated back to her time at Exxon Mobil, she enrolled with AchieveHer, an essentially new means of encouraging career development. This had to be conducted virtually between September and December 2020 and Natalie found it invaluable (and would recommend others to undertake it). She followed that up with another highly original course, GrowCFO, which she participated in throughout 2021, and again found it immensely stimulating both hardening her financial skill-set and allowing her to embrace a series of softer skills around the management of people within teams.
This was the backdrop to her decision to apply for the CFO role at Shepper. She had determined that she wanted to work for a serial entrepreneur in a fast-growing environment. She also wanted to be part of a business that had a strong ethical component to it and she needed flexible working hours.
She felt that Shepper had all of this in spades. It had been founded about five years previously by Carl Ameln and had a Series A+ raise of £6 million in 2018. It is based on an intrinsically simple idea, A large number of individuals in local communities, who are called their 'Shepherds', are paid a fee to check matters out for companies who do not have the resources to do it for themselves. This can be almost anything from the condition of their poster sites to where their products are placed on shopping shelves and, crucially, how these matters compare with that of their competitors. The data is collected by the “shepherds” via their smart phone on the Shepper app and then sent automatically to Shepper HQ where it is assessed and a full report is prepared for clients. There are already some 68,000 shepherds (most of whom operate on a flexible basis) and it managed a turnover of £1.8 million in 2021 (impressive as for so much of the first half of last year many businesses could not function as they previously did).
The potential for growth is almost infinite and is certainly international. Natalie’s primary target for this year is a Series B round of £10 million. This is a first for her but hardly the first first of her career. The additional cash would allow for more investment in the shepherds themselves through building a strong sense of shepherd community, build an even stronger technological infrastructure and build aa greater awareness of the proposition. This could be one of the great companies of the 2020s. The Series B bid is a vital step towards the vision of a million shepherds in the UK in five years’ time.
So, she will be kept busy. Not that she is a sitting still sort of person. Having squeezed in an MBA into her schedule as well, she has also returned to rowing after a break (so back on the water at 7am on a Saturday) and is learning German. Junior bookkeeping, it turns out, can take a woman a long way.