Full Stack Modeller
“Those of us who do not keep up with the latest developments in modelling technology will absolutely be left behind within a year or two.”
Tell us more about the mid-career moments that have led you to where you are today?
My career up to my 30th birthday was spent as an employee in various accounting and modelling roles. Literally, on the night of my 30th birthday, I had my first mid-life crisis and promised myself I would get away from the “9-5”, as I saw it then before I reached the next decade milestone in my life. Not long after, I handed in my notice and started my journey as a business owner (glorified contractor for a year or two in all honesty).
I’m now joint owner of Clarity Consultancy Services – a financial modelling consultancy company and Full Stack Modeller – a financial modelling training company.
Every important step I have made over the last six years has been about meeting the right people at the right time. I don’t think of this as luck, I think of it as putting myself out there and making my own luck. Communication skills have been important for me; having the ability to make a connection with people when I’ve met them has helped on a number of important occasions.
So, with the benefit of hindsight and after some bumps along the way, what I have had to do at every stage of my journey is continue to put myself in front of people; trust in my abilities, and be myself as much as possible. I always hated the idea of being stuck in a corporate hierarchy and I feel very fortunate to have built a life for myself where I no longer answer to anyone (other than my awesome business partners).
Tell us more about your journey with technology during this time, was it important to you and your vision?
I was a pure Excel-geek up until a couple of years ago. It’s actually quite worrying how little I knew about technology outside of Excel until recently. I was always the person others would come to for Excel solutions, so I quite naturally ended up quite siloed in terms of the work I did as an employee.
All of that has changed for me recently. Even the use of tools like Slack and Trello has changed how we work in our businesses, and how I organise my own life.
So, technology is now a vital element of the work I deliver and the service we provide for the Full Stack Modeller community. We know how value-adding technology is and will continue to be for financial modellers. Those of us who do not keep up with the latest developments in modelling technology will absolutely be left behind within a year or two.
What is your style of leadership and do you break down the hierarchy to be more connected and agile?
My leadership journey has been a significant one in recent years as I’m MD of Full Stack Modeller, with a team of partners who are all older, wiser (arguably!), and more experienced in terms of business management than I am.
That’s been a tough challenge for me to personally work through, and again requires an element of self-belief to succeed. What I have learned is that leadership is not telling others what to do all the time. It’s about understanding the strengths and potential weaknesses of your team and of yourself, and it’s about finding the right way to get the best out of everyone.
We only have two levels of hierarchy at the moment so we’re already very connected and agile, which we have to be as a new company. I’d say I’m very collaborative, but equally ready to make the big calls when they’re needed.
All businesses have core technology, so how tech-savvy does finance talent need to be?
For modellers, it’s becoming non-negotiable. I honestly believe that just having Excel skills on their own will leave your average modeller well behind the pace in the near future. Even within Excel, there are new levels of skill to consider. If you think you’re a pro at Excel and you can’t use Power Query, then I’d argue you’re already two steps behind the leading pack.
What’s your best “agility” hack? And how do you stay nimble and able to respond to change?
I’m still working on this on a daily basis. I believe agility and freedom come from discipline, so my best hack is to actually bring as much structure to what I do as I can – and that’s particularly true for my personal life.
My business partner Myles Arnott does the same for us at Full Stack Modeller. He’s a stickler for detail; he makes sure we stick to our objectives and the processes we’ve agreed to, and as a result, we’re actually pretty good at working through actions and challenges, leaving us with the space to be more agile.
What will be the biggest change financial modellers face over the next 5 years?
I’d say modular spreadsheet design tools. If you can reliably build a comprehensive three statement model with dynamic actuals and a forecast in 20 minutes rather than a week or two, then that changes everything.
What is the number one technology you couldn’t live without in a finance team?
Despite everything, I’ve said so far…. it’s Microsoft Excel, obviously!
What is the number one technology to impact finance, and how will that bring further / less challenges to the team?
In the modelling space, the one we see most interest in are tools like Power BI. This tool is great for dealing with big data in a way that allows you to investigate and share insights… although, you still need to have good data!
The challenge is that people get so excited by big colourful dashboards with lots of cool buttons to press that they often lose sight of the real value they can bring to a project and a team. We have a principle in our Full Stack community that we keep things as simple as we can at all times. That goes for new tools as well; use them where they can genuinely add additional value, and work on your own awareness levels so you can make good judgement calls regarding their use.
What is the best podcast you listen to for your work life?
I’ve always been a Tim Ferris fan. His book The 4-Hour Work Week is probably responsible for me becoming a business owner in the first place, and his podcast is just brilliant. He refers to himself as a human guinea pig, and I think he’s one of the most fascinating and curious people alive. He’ll have great guests on for long-form podcasts, and the conversations are always unique and memorable.
What is the best app you use in your personal life, and why is it so good?
As of this year, Trello. I have a ‘Personal’ Trello board with an automated link to my Full Stack Modeller board. So, if the team tag me on an action anywhere else in Trello it is automatically added to my ‘Work’ list on my ‘Personal’ board. But right alongside that list is my ‘Personal’ to-do-list… so I can’t forget that I need silicon sealant to fix the bath, or that I have three birthday presents to buy and send in the next month. It’s been a real game-changer!
Mental fitness in business is important, how do you manage your mental fitness?
This is a very important topic for me, especially after a year of lockdown living alone. I do a lot of exercise. Pre-lockdown I was a keen triathlete, and I am addicted to big physical challenges. I’ve completed Ironman UK, and Marathon Des Sables, and I’ll be looking for the next big challenge for 2022 (probably Comrades Ultra in South Africa).
I notice the change in my mindset after 3 or 4 days without exercise, so staying very fit is about protecting my own mental wellbeing as much as it is about my physical health.
Setting big challenges and achieving them has been the single greatest catalyst for the level of self-belief I have in myself these days. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who feels a bit stuck, or who believes they lack self-confidence, it would be to sign up to a half ironman right now. That’s what I did, at a time when I couldn’t swim front crawl and I’d never owned or ridden a road bike. Just do it, even if it’s terrifying. In fact, that’s exactly what it should be as that means it’s a challenge you’ll be proud to face down and overcome.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have started reading and taking ownership of my skills and personal development far earlier than I did. My thirties have been incredible, but I do feel like I wasted most of my twenties by being a bit unfocused. I suspect almost everyone feels that way though as it’s a typical case of “if I knew then what I know now…”
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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