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Finance Digest meets Alan Connor, CFO at Cordant Group plc, one of the top 100 largest privately owned businesses in the UK. It has sales exceeding £840m to January 2017 and provides services into the Recruitment, and FM markets. The business has operating divisions in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. Alan is a CIMA qualified finance leader with extensive board experience and a key member of the company’s ExecutiveManagement team.

Alan Connor, CFO at Cordant Group plc

Alan Connor, CFO at Cordant Group plc

Did you always want to work in finance?

I originally had it in mind that I wanted to work in the hospitality industry, with a particular desire to own my own hotel, as such I undertook a degree in Business and Hotel Management. During a gap year I completed a Management training programme at a large independent Hotel in Bournemouth which saw me quickly gain the trust and confidence of the senior leadership team, resulting in me promoted to Duty Manager within the first few months. I loved the service aspect and interaction with staff and guests alike, but soon found that what interested me was how the business ran.

How did you make the transition to accountancy?

On Graduating I moved to London and took up a role with Securiplan, a small independent security company. I initially worked within the payroll department before moving into general finance, and ultimately working my way up to Financial Controller. Given its scale there were plenty of opportunities for me to develop systems and processes, so making a tangible positive difference. To support my development and whilst holding down a full time job, I attended night school to obtain the CIMA qualification. I settled on CIMA for it provided a clear route into Management Accounting, with less of a focus on audit; I qualified in 2003, and at the age of 26 I was promoted to Finance Director.

When and why did you move to Cordant?

Following a complete business restructure and significant senior level management changes, in 2005 Cordant was born, and working alongside the CEO we sort to both grow and transform the business beyond Security and Cleaning, to become a market leader in the much larger Recruitment sector. This was an exciting time as over the next 3 years we borrowed in excess of £100m and acquired 7 businesses, taking the group turnover from £100 million to over £400 million. Whilst I had been involved in other acquisitions and integrations, this was a massive learning curve for me as I was responsible for leading the business modelling and facility negotiations to support the acquisition strategy and ensuring synergies were realised.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?

The financial crisis of 2008 required the group to significantly deleverage, so I had to ensure we clearly understood our cost and contract profitability drivers, preparing detailed business models that demonstrated how both could be optimised to deliver the desired leverage ratio. 

Do you enjoy your work?

Absolutely, mainly because of the variety it brings. My role isn’t just about financial accounting; I support and develop the business strategy. Legislation is constantly changing too – this year we are looking at significant changes that directly impact all of our businesses, from Off payroll working in the public sector, to Living Wage, Pensions and the Apprenticeship Levy, all of which have significant implications on our business.

Are you concerned about the impact of BREXIT on the business?

Like all businesses we must plan for BREXIT, but in reality there remain so many unknowns. Employing over 20,000 workers and with most of our activity based in the UK, a key concern is how BREXIT will impact our ability to source, train and supply the right skilled workers to our customers. In the past, much of our labour has been supported by migrants, however, as the labour pool changes (which we are already starting to see), the benefit state evolves to make work pay, base line pay rates increase, and price inflation is factored in, BREXIT will be a very different landscape in which our business must operate.

What key qualities do you bring to your role?

I am extremely passionate about building this business, I’m proud to have been on the journey that has taken Cordant from a small private niche business to a diverse large entrepreneurial enterprise with sales not far short of £1bn per annum.  There are clearly always many challenges, but with a clear strategy, a strong aligned operating team, and a desire to always learn makes for a formidable and focused combination.

What would be your best advice to anyone reading this?

Enjoy what you do and follow your passion, always seek to push yourself and ensure you learn from mistakes.

“Original publication in Finance Digest Issue 1
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