Recruitment, like most businesses, is all about building relationships, and meeting with people outside of their work environment is a different way of getting to know them.
I’ve been trying to get fit and thought a series of active interviews – out in the fresh air - could be a win-win. What I didn’t factor in was the embarrassment of people seeing how horrifically unfit I am, and, as it turns out, it can be hard to talk when you can’t breathe.
For my first outing, I went for a run with Dominic Hall, Director of Finance, Financial Planning and Analysis at Aston Martin. Not only is Dominic an automotive expert, but he is also an all-round good guy, a family man and technically my neighbour.
Dominic took me on his running route through the Surrey Hills. Bounding up steep hills with an experienced runner... what could go wrong? I tried to interview him in the brief moments where I caught up – covering work-life balance, growth plans, hiring talent and the evolution of the electric car.
Here’s what happened...
How has lockdown been for you?
Professionally it’s been challenging yet exhilarating. The company was mid capital raise when the first lockdown happened so finishing the process off remotely was a challenge, then there was a change in the executive team including a new Group CFO, restructuring, two further capital raises, a full debt refinancing and major new shareholder. I now associate lockdowns with business plans, bankers and lawyers!
Personally, I had worked away from home for four years, so it has been amazing to see my wife and children every day instead of escaping at 5am on a Monday and seeing them again on a Friday. Clearly it has been tough to not see extended family and friends although I was in a fortunate position that I gained back more time with my family.
What was the best box set you watched during lockdown?
Line of duty, fella! It’s great TV although it does make me suspicious of a black Ranger Rover when they pull up behind you. Your grey VW Toureg doesn’t set off my organised crime group radar though!
How has the changing landscape changed the strategic focus areas for Aston Martin?
Everything has changed as part of a reset of the business. Some of this was due to the pandemic but mostly it’s the new impetus from the two major shareholders changing, the executive and Board changing and then the focus on a new plan. The focus is shifting from financing the company for survival to improving cash flow and margins by controlling supply and demand and delivering exciting new products in new segments such as SUV’s, mid-engine supercars and hyper cars.
What exciting things are on the agenda for the next 12 months?
Every day is exciting in a small car company. This is the first full year of the turnaround (Project Horizon) so this year has many workstreams on top of the regular planning, forecasting and quarterly updates to our shareholders and bondholders. There is also a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) programme and cultural change programmes to help make sure the team and processes keep pace with the strategy and developments.
What is your take on the developing electric car market?
Electric vehicles are certainly coming. Hybrid and internal combustion vehicles will continue to dominate most of the next decade. For a small and luxury company, we need to be flexible to what consumers want so having access to more OEM cutting edge technology without investing is a good idea. There will remain infrastructure, supply chain and technology challenges to overcome for complete mass adoption, for example, jogging through the park will be more challenging in 2030 if there are cables running from everyone’s houses to their vehicles to charge them.
What do you think is critical when building a world-class commercial finance team?
The core need is people that are technically strong finance and accounting professionals but also people that are articulate in explaining these financial practices and rules to the business and commercial partners with metrics that are relevant to them (sales volumes, gross margin, cash flow).
People who are good at working with others to understand the narrative in the business and able to apply and check this to the numerical and financial impacts seen each month, quarter and year are also critical as well as those with local market insight and knowledge, as there are significant differences in cultures and commercial environments from one region to another.
Commercial finance for me was a great basis to learn about the key drivers for the business and how these transactions turn into the financial statements and forecasts and to apply the technical skills learned in practice and my first reporting role in industry.
What do you look for when hiring people into Aston Martin?
Intelligence and integrity are the key characteristics (as you need both to do well in FP&A!). At Aston Martin many amazing people are attracted to the brand, so I spend time making sure potential colleagues are ready for the challenge of a small automotive company that has high capital needs without a large scale. The small scale means you will have a broad role and a small team so our people need to be resilient to keep forging ahead. It really helps on the long days to be really interested in what you do and why you do it.
Who is the best recruiter you have been on a run with this year?
You are both the best and fastest recruiter I have run with this year…