Cogent Elliott Group Ltd (Cogent) is a well-respected, market leading creative agency. Cogents principle business is in delivering integrated marketing campaigns to client companies, driving their growth, building their brands and ensuring strong ROI in an increasingly digital world.
Following a reorganisation to fundamentally restructure the business operating model and subsequently successfully managing the transitional change, Cogent are now poised to embark on a 3-5-year growth strategy that is designed to see the business restore its turnover, profitability and employee FTE to pre-2015 levels. Additionally, the Board have strong designs on a future exit that will most likely be a Trade Sale or MBO.
With the current FD retiring it was important that the business identified a replacement that would act as a true business partner to the CEO/Board to help shape and drive the growth agenda and continue to build and execute strategic plans that delivered against the Groups Operating objectives and margin growth targets to realise its future aspirations. It was also important to understand Cogents unique culture and driving principles to ensure the ‘right fit’ and seamless integration.
Given the proposed growth agenda, it was agreed right from the outset that in order to succeed in the role the new Finance Director would need to exhibit core competencies around creating shareholder value, financial strategy and risk & control. We worked with the client in developing specific competency based questions designed to explore these themes in detail. It was also agreed that candidates would need to display a firm understanding of the Time/Billing environment and the associated commercial and strategic challenges aligned to this. Cogent indicated it was interested in evaluating candidates from a wide range of backgrounds including the advertising & communications vertical but also across the broader professional services domain.
We identified a slate of executives from advertising, creative new media, management consulting, accounting and law firms. The key was to identify an executive who demonstrated a sound understanding of the challenges facing the broader creative agency environment coupled with strong financial leadership with conclusive experience in proposing choices that align with the company strategy and be able to demonstrate a much deeper understanding of the business and all potential assumptions and outcomes.
Following an extensive search, we presented a strong and varied shortlist of 4 candidates – 2 from the creative agency sector, 1 from new media tech and 1 from direct marketing/professional services. Client interviews identified strong interest in 2 of the 4; 1 from creative agency and I from direct marketing/professional services. Second round interviews provided exemplary feedback on both candidates suggesting that either one could be offered the role.
Marginal as it was, the client hired the executive from a similar sized creative agency as their new Finance Director. At their former place of employment, the successful candidate was responsible for all financial aspects of the business, including the production and analysis of monthly management accounts and, in partnership with the CEO, for developing the company’s strategy which was focused on a 25% growth target (yr on yr) and which was being achieved. During their tenure, they had overseen a 3-fold increase in turnover with EBITDA running at £1.8m.
They were responsible for managing the financial performance of the business, which included creating and managing detailed financial budgets and forecasts, identifying key business drivers and managing KPI’s such as utilisation targets. They had been very involved with the billings process working closely with Client Services and Operations to ensure utilisation rates were optimised resulting in a material increase. They were also adept at managing and improving working capital citing a number of examples including cash flow improvements through more effective credit control, enabling the business to run debt free for a significant period of time.
David helped recruit our new Finance Director and was involved strategically from the outset in helping define the role itself. He also helped discuss various options as to how we could restructure the team, put together an excellent brief, plus a very detailed job spec.The long list provided was very comprehensive, to the extent we felt we understood the candidates available on the market. The area that was most helpful was the interpretation of the cultural aspect of our business, which as a creative agency, is crucial.In the actual interviewing for the role we felt that we would have been happy with either of the short listed applicants, which is a great place to be in hiring such a pivotal role.