Sarah Strachan

23rd Aug 23

SSTRACHAN PUB 2023 08 29 104305 dbfv

Some peo­ple seem sim­ply des­tined to become finance direc­tors! By cir­cum­stances of birth and upbring­ing, Sarah Stra­chan is one of these rare band of individuals.

Sarah’s mother was a bookkeeper for the Post Office. In that context, she met the man who would become Sarah’s stepfather, who had the same role for the same employer albeit at another branch. Their shared work would mean that they advanced their careers by moving around the country – with the young Sarah in on the ride.

Her mother was clearly determined to stimulate an interest in numbers in her daughter. On many a Saturday when she will still very much an infant, Sarah would accompany her mother in the office and be placed in front of a huge calculator with a large set of numbers on a sheet of paper and told to “add them up, please”. She “loved it”.

She was not much older (eight or nine) when she volunteered for a charity shop at weekends. It was not long before her strength became clear. Controlling the tills and the money.

As a teenager she took on a weekend role at a local care home. She found looking after older people a real pleasure.

This was, in fairness, not her only line of interest. Having become resident north of the border she was also an enthusiastic and very able Scottish country dancer – mastering the Highland Fling and acquiring the capacity to cavort around swords (another indicator that she would be an FD in time!). She was also a sporting type, reaching county-level standards in both badminton and netball.

She also had one other passion which almost led to a path other than that related to accountancy. As a teenager she took on a weekend role at a local care home. She found looking after older people a real pleasure. Even seemingly mundane tasks such as helping with the shopping, accompanying them on trips or just engaging in conversation with people who would otherwise be lonely was an enjoyable experience. She thought seriously about whether this was something that she might want to dedicate herself too full-time. Her mother convinced her that finance would be more lucrative. Yet, nonetheless, she kept working in care part-time to sustain herself while she was a student.

She attended the University of Leeds and read for a BA in Accounting and Business Management where she was an engaged figure, keeping up her sporting activities and in her final year was successfully accepted on to the Bombardier Transportation Graduate Scheme

Her time at Bombardier proved to be transformative as she started to acquire her further accountancy qualifications. Although the position was based very near to what was now her hometown, Matlock, she was far from limited in her horizons. Her training involved a tour of their offices across the UK acquiring a variety of experiences. Having done that, she was asked to transfer to the Berlin office and learn the ropes of the German accounting system as part of a newly assembled and somewhat experimental team. Although this was obviously akin to being thrown in at the deep end, she really enjoyed living abroad. The Head of Finance for Light Rail Vehicles recruited her to come to Vienna for a period and she switched back to Berlin for a session as an international auditor. In her free time came travel, always with a study book in tow, which paid dividends when she acquired her CIMA qualification.

Even early on her career, Sarah was never one to rest on her laurels. She signed up for a Masters degree in Paris, which led to a few weeks of eating Croque monsieurs as she attended her lectures in Paris.

She had by now spent four years with Bombardier and was probably going to have to move out to move up as swiftly as she would like to and by now felt that she was more than ready to. She had the chance either to join Zurich Insurance or UBS (based in Zurich). Of the two, banking was the less familiar territory but that in a sense was its appeal. UBS could offer something different to her while she could bring some diversity in background to them. She was in many ways creating her own role. It was exceptionally hard work with a steep learning curve, but it was also interesting and inspiring. Even early on her career, Sarah was never one to rest on her laurels. She signed up for a Masters degree in Paris, which led to a few weeks of eating Croque monsieurs as she attended her lectures in Paris. The next 18 months saw her engaged in the seemingly mountainous task of writing a dissertation on ‘How can the Management Bonus Pool within UBS be determined and controlled’.

Fate, in terms of wanting to be near a much-loved relative, brought her back to the UK after the better part of seven years in continental Europe. After some travel, she started to look for appropriate employment. She initially had a contract role with Gardner Aerospace, a prominent company in the Derby area.

There then followed an intriguing opportunity. It was with BMI regional, again located in Derby. This was the offshoot of the BMI airline which had collapsed into insolvency. BMI regional mostly concentrated on private charter planes. She became part of a team that had to know everything about the airline sector. She went on cabin crew training, she whizzed around regional airports in the UK and beyond, and even spent some hours on a simulator (where she acquired the ability, in theory at least, to perform the loop-the-loop, another FD skill).

This was enormous fun and confirmed her desire to travel but it was not exactly a forever berth. This came in the form of Band IT Ltd which had an office conveniently situated nearby in Chesterfield.

At one level, Band IT might have seemed a little dull for Sarah. Its main product was the metal plates and banding that affix signs, cables, etc. to lampposts. This might not appear riveting (although in one sense it was) but it was part of a very sizeable American parent company. This meant extensive travel to Denver and to Chicago, both of which she adored. She also had a boss who was a strong supporter and mentor. He urged her to play to her strengths and build on them rather than try to cover every base out there. If she had been asked to move to Denver, then she might have stayed with the company to this day, however the only available roles were outside of a commutable area within the UK, so it was instead time to look for pastures new.

Sarah instantly appreciated that she and hospitality were made for one another.

That pasture would be Renewi PLC and it was a very different one. It was again placed in Derby and the main customers were Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council. It was a pioneer in waste management taking rubbish, gasifying it and then turning it into electricity. As a result of working there, Sarah had the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and get involved with more contract and general management which would stand her in good stead for her future CFO role. The smell of visiting the landfill sites is one she won’t forget in a hurry.

Which is how, after a voyage that involved Bombardier, banking, the airline sector, Anglo-American lampposts and a cutting edge form of waste management, she finally ended up in … pubs!

In 2020, she became the Head of Finance at Punch Pubs with the head office in Burton-on-Trent. At its height, the company had had 10,000 pubs in its portfolio but, after a stream-lining process, now had a more manageable 1,300. Sarah instantly appreciated that she and hospitality were made for one another. Unfortunately, she had been at her desk for no time at all when COVID-19 arrived in the UK, unleashing utter chaos on the company as it had to cope with lockdown, then the massive surge in demand which the eat out to help out scheme prompted in August 2020, then (depending on geography) either off-site sales only, outdoor trading only, or indoor seating with social distancing, or a return to outright lockdown during the rest of 2020 and 2021. This was a baptism not merely of fire but of a full-blown inferno.

It may have been madness, but it did mean that Sarah now knew that pubs were the place that she wished to be (professionally as well as socially) and it was vital to be a CFO and to run her own show.

This is precisely what she has achieved now with Venture Capitalist backed ‘The Pub People’, where she has been the CFO since 2022. Sarah joined what was a relatively small enterprise (compared with Punch Pubs) but that is changing at a rapid pace. Sarah is not only at the heart of making the numbers add up, but all aspects of finance, IT, HR and most importantly the commercial strategy of the business, which has seen the business expand with the acquisition of a number of new pubs. Sarah finally feels that she has “arrived” and in some ways fulfilled her destiny! It proves that hard work, determination and focus do equal success……

FD Direct Limited (trading as Equity FD, Equity FC, Equity Interim and Equity Chair) has ceased trading.

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