The biggest change recently has been the introduction of financial regulations and a cost cap in the sport, which has meant tight budgets and reporting on what exactly the team has spent.
“We are very used to working within a budget,” says Gemma.
“But what has changed is that we need to have a different mindset, it’s no longer about having the biggest budget, it’s about how efficiently you spend your budget.”
“We want to get the most out of every £1 spent, getting the resource allocation right could be the difference between winning and losing races.”
This involves needing to accurately forecast and constantly adapt to the challenges the team faces.
“We can’t tell the business in November that there’s space in the budget to do something, because by that point it’s too late,” she adds.
“The season is almost over. We’ve got to know where we’re going to end up well before the end of the year so we can react.”
Gemma began working for Alpine around 14 years ago, during which it has been under the Renault name as well as Lotus F1 and since the 2021 season, Alpine, but initially she “didn’t know anything” about the sport.
“When I came for my interview, I knew nothing about F1,” says Gemma. “But I think that was part of the reason I got the job – I wasn’t a fan of the sport but I was interested in the content of the job.”
Prior to F1, she wanted to work in journalism, but after pursuing a media course at college she found it wasn’t the right fit.
“I knew that I was academic and I wanted a higher qualification, so it was pure chance that an entry level finance assistant role came up which offered study support to complete AAT,” says Gemma.
She then spent two years working for medical device company Penlon, then another two years at Oxford-based company OPP. While there, she realised she had a keen interest in tax, and was considering taking a purely tax role before she stumbled upon a finance analyst role at what was then called Renault F1 team.
“I finished my ACCA qualification there and within a matter of months, the team was sold to venture capitalists,” says Gemma.
“So, overnight, my job completely changed and I got involved in things that I never thought I’d be involved in because of it.”
That change in ownership in 2010 and the subsequent years brought up some of the biggest challenges Gemma’s faced in her career.
“Suddenly overnight all of our corporate reporting went away and instead we had very different reporting to do, we had to reinvent it. The new owners had different priorities, so it took a lot of adapting and changing quickly,” she says.
During this time, many team members – including the CFO – left, which meant Gemma went from being two or three levels away from the CFO to directly reporting into the COO and working closely with the CEO.
“It’s no secret that towards the end of their ownership, we had a really big cash crisis on our hands,” says Gemma. “It was a very different five years, full of valuable experiences.”
But in 2015, Renault repurchased the team.
“I will never forget the day the sale back to Renault went through,” says Gemma.
“It’s probably the thing I’m most proud of in my career. It’s rewarding to have played a part in such an important process and to see the company grow thereafter.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of Group Renault and the Alpine brand”
Though her initial plan was just to stay for two years, Gemma has ended up staying for 14.
“So many opportunities have come my way and I feel like I’ve had a new job every two years,” she says.
“Covid again just threw in another 360 and we didn’t know what was coming next.”
“We had to do all we could to navigate the unknown again.”
But ultimately, Gemma says that’s where she’s at her strongest. “I thrive in those situations,” she says. “The best comes out of me when there’s a crisis to deal with.”
Along with a crisis, Gemma says she’s considered the “in-house guru” of complex accounting issues within the business. “They all seem to come my way,” she says.
Gemma has also come back to her initial love of tax, as she’s now responsible for the whole tax function.
“While the racing team actually travel around the world, I always joke that I metaphorically travel around the world to many of the different jurisdictions that we have activity in, and handle all of the tax compliance for those countries,” she says.
“I have a very broad role which means I have to know a little about a lot.”
“But when we deep dive into complex tax and accounting topics, I get to work with experts in those areas and become an expert myself for a day. Being able to upgrade my knowledge is something I really love about my job.”
"In business I wouldn’t say I have a hero, but I do have role models. Someone I look up to is Deborah Meaden. She has shown me that women can be successful leaders in business and I love her ethos. In life, my hero is my Grandad. My fondest memories are the phone calls I made to tell him each time I’d passed an exam and knowing it made him proud."
"I’m a huge fan of dance music, like anything by Eric Prydz. I’m really into fitness and I can certainly say that dance music has helped me reach the top of a few hills or push out a few more reps."
Chris is the founder and MD of GenerationCFO.com and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!
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