Tracy Balachandran

12th Oct 21

Tracy balachandran portrait

If you had told the teenage Tra­cy Bal­achan­dran what she would be doing now, the com­pa­ny with whom she would be employed and even where she would have cho­sen to live, she prob­a­bly would not have believed you.

This CFO has had a fascinating voyage to that destination and in so doing has accumulated a diversity of experience that is seriously impressive.

Options open

Tracy was born in Northampton and grew up in and around Newport Pagnell. She attended the local school and became the first of her immediate family to enter higher education. Her A-levels were in Maths and Science but she did not want to close off other options too early. So, she plumped for the distinctly unusual combination of Biochemistry and Management Studies at Sussex University, a coupling so unconventional there was only one other person on her course that year.

As she reached the end of her degree, she was uncertain as to what she wanted to do next other than that she “did not want to wear a lab coat for the rest of her life” and aspired to “something to do with business”. As was the norm at that time, a careers adviser then took her in hand and some psychometric testing was undertaken. The pronouncement was that she would be well suited to accountancy. This was not merely a surprise to Tracy but something verging on an insult. “Are you mad?”, she recalls answering back, “square people do that kind of thing”. Despite being, as she put it, “mortified”, she agreed to consider the matter a little further. As she did not really know what she wanted to do (other than “business”) the advantages of a qualification in chartered accountancy as a means to an end rather than the end in itself became clearer. She applied to the largest firms in the field and accepted a placement with KPMG. The conversation with her senior academic tutor, who had convinced himself that as she was closing in on first-class honours she would embark on a PhD, was “interesting” once she said that she was set on becoming, as she remarked, “a bean-counter.”

Pharmaceuticals to pubs to property

After four years with KPMG she had decided that audit was not for her and wanted to work in a more commercial role in industry, moving away from technical accountancy. She moved to what was then still called SmithKline Beecham. This was the first (and arguably the last) time that she would make a tilt into a sector which might have been predictable, allowing for her passion for science. She admired the company but was keen to edge towards the “commercial side of finance”. The role had also obliged her to move to London and having become engaged, it suited her to head back towards where she had come from originally. This would entail becoming a resident of Milton Keynes, a shock development once again for Tracy because as a child “I never thought that I would live there.”

It also meant a change of sector as well of scene. She landed at Scottish and Newcastle based in Northampton, wanting to work in an industry she could relate more to. She had an intellectually stimulating role alongside the Operations Director and became deeply knowledgeable about bars, premium brands and nightclubs. The firm was also as fun as one might imagine. Her colleagues were largely at early career stages and the alcohol flowed as the Mixologists, whose role in life was to create new cocktails, experimented on the (willing) finance and operations team. If a good time was all that one was looking for in life then a lengthy stay at the company would be logical.

There is, though, more to life than Long Island Iced Tea (apparently!). She sensed that she had learnt all that she could from the part that she was playing and would need to change tack to move ahead. In something of a shift, she chose to work at Gazeley, a largely autonomous sub-division of the Asda Walmart empire, which specialised in building and maintaining warehouses for the likes of Amazon and John Lewis. It also attracted the interest of pension funds seeking to make stable investments.

She found the property dimension especially intriguing. The company was also expanding horizons with Belgium and Spain entering the equation. Her life was, however, about to change as a result of the imminent arrival of her first child. For reasons that she cannot quite explain, she had always assumed that once she went on maternity leave she would set up her own business, although she had no real notion of what that would be. Returning to Gazeley was thus more a shock than it might have been otherwise. She had a sense of being personally and professionally rather lost at this time.

This would have a benign side-effect. She started a course in Neuro-Linguistic Programming that she found absolutely fascinating. At its simplest, this is an area of research which observes that success is often less the result of aptitude than attitude and understanding this is potentially very valuable. It was to prove a very important additional arrow in her quiver as her career and life was to develop.

Barclaycard and beyond

That evolution would now involve a pivot into financial services. She went to Barclays/Barclaycard and took on a series of functions in almost a decade with the company. These ranged from being the Head of Global Change Finance (what a fabulous title) to being deeply involved in an initiative which was launched in collaboration with Big Issue Invest whereby start-ups with a strong social impact were invited to pitch for what would initially be seed investment. She volunteered to assist the two co-founders of Digital Mums put together their opening application for funds (which they received) and then again when they sought a second round of what would be Angel backing. She hence had a split position in that for four days a week she was working for a very large company indeed and one day a week morphed into an all-hands-on-deck de facto super Finance Director for a fledgling organisation.

This led Tracy to the conclusion that being a ‘Finance Director Plus’ was what she really wanted to do and that there was a buzz to being part of a rapidly expanding business that Barclays could not offer. She moved fields once more to Community Dental Services CIC (CDS) where she wore multiple hats as Finance and Commercial Director with oversight of data and technology and also the company secretary.

CDS was and is an atypical institution. It provides special care dentistry mostly as a result of referral business from the National Health Service. It was also growing at pace – by 164% in the five years that Tracy served there. It mushroomed from a cluster of 15 clinics in Bedfordshire and Suffolk to 67 clinics across a wide swathe of the East Midlands. From it, Tracy acquired a taste for the thrills and spills of a rapidly changing company but also appreciated that she herself was also changing and becoming ever more attracted to questions involving new technology and the application of data.

CFO in a VC backed SaaS

All of which made transferring to an explicitly tech business an appealing notion. She sought out her role of CFO at QV Systems, a fast-growing VC backed, SaaS business, with a unique B2B proposition for those in its segment of financial services. To that extent there is some similarity with her background at Barclaycard but the comparison cannot be stretched much further. This is frontier territory and future-readying the firm is an extremely high priority. She joined at the beginning of August 2021 and the team has already risen from 22 to 28 including herself and is set to increase again before the end of the year. As she asserts, her arrival at QV Systems “all came together at the right time for her”. It is both a role and a sector which is potentially transformative as we (hopefully) enter a post-coronavirus economy and society.

Tracy’s career, in summary, has been that of a ‘Human Heinz’, if not quite 57 varieties then a striking range of roles, sectors and company sizes.

She will not, therefore, lack a full in-tray or an array of challenges. When not at work she now has a house in a village just outside Milton Keynes, two sons, and a lockdown cocker spaniel puppy called Pepsi who is as fizzy as the drink after whom she has been named. She also has personal interests in areas as different as Biblical History and Behavioural Science (which is some way from Biochemistry and Management Studies). Tracy’s career, in summary, has been that of a ‘Human Heinz’, if not quite 57 varieties then a striking range of roles, sectors and company sizes. Not many people have the ability to be as flexible and effective. It is just a matter of how fast she and QV can accelerate.