" “If you can be ruthless at prioritising, you can make more progress.”

By Joanna Argent, Writer, GENCFO

Kathryn Sherratt

Finance Director

The Post Office Ltd.

Growing up in rural North-West of England, Kathryn would never have imagined her career and life would involve so much variety. But seeking variety and continually learning seem to be at the heart of what has driven her success to date. 

So, what can we learn from Kathryn’s path and the qualities that drive her?

The start of her journey

Early on, Kathryn studied a subject she loved, Chemistry, at Durham University, with some Summer work at Touche Ross & Co (now Deloitte & Touche). This informed her decision to study accountancy.

Her path involves a heady mix of finance roles, travel, languages and learning. 

“I'm a great believer that through travel, you also learn different things that you can bring back to your day to day or your company role to good effect.”

She spent 12 years at Deloitte after university, crediting it with providing her a huge range of experiences and roles. 

“I trained in audit, and then worked across different departments, for example, corporate finance, corporate recovery, tax, internal audit, administrations and receiverships, and legal cases.”

Travelling and building her career

Her work at Deloitte culminated in 2 years living and working in Melbourne, Australia, which she loved. 

Following a further travel stint and time based in Italy to learn Italian, she started at Barclays, becoming the Financial Controller for retail and business banking, involving travel to India to support different transformation initiatives.

“Moving from professional services to retail banking was arguably like joining the real-world; making decisions rather than reviewing them.”

Since then, seeking more breadth of responsibility within Finance, her roles at Financial Services Compensation Scheme and now the Post Office have both had a social purpose -  which Kathryn values.

“A CFO role at the FSCS gave me the chance to get involved at a strategic level, as well as having specific accountability for the finance responsibilities that sat there.”

“At the Post Office, I’ve done 3 or 4 different roles already,” she continues. “For example, I am currently heavily involved in the technology transformation office agenda.”

Her professional focus is on transformation to improve business performance, the appeal of finance roles, and service for end-users.

Where did her passion for transformation come from?

Kathryn is clear that her motivation and belief in finance transformation stems from wanting to make improvements. She sees a benefit not only at the business level, but for her finance team’s quality of work and engagement.

“Sometimes finance departments and individuals are just viewed ‘as back office’ which can be demotivating.”

“Anything that we can do to improve their experience, so that they feel they're contributing more to the overall strategy or purpose of the organisation, is something that's important to me.”

At the Post Office, their current transformation initiatives involve replacing their existing computer system and supporting their postmasters

“Transformation in my current role is essentially about replacing the old with the new - but it’s across our entire branch network - about 11,500 branches. That is one of the challenges.”

Kathryn notes that the transformation involves several components. She says 

“First, you have to build the new tech, then you have to deploy the new kit across all the branches to the postmaster’s satisfaction. We are working to support our postmasters and building the tech while gaining their views all at the same time.”

“This is a multiyear programme,” she explains. “We are seeking to build a system which will continue to evolve with the times.”

How Kathryn cuts through the silos

As well as replacing the old with the new through transformation, Kathryn also puts significant energy into breaking down the silos that inherently exist within organisations.

“I'm a big fan of cutting through the silos, trying to get the communication channels working and bringing teams together.”

How? She holds a lot of what she calls ‘cross-silo meetings’. She says, even in a virtual environment, you can still do a lot. 

“Bringing people together and giving them the opportunity to say what's on their mind in a safe environment pays dividends,” she says. 

“You get into a routine, people feel the value, so they come back. They feel so much more engaged and included. It’s very powerful.”

“There are always lots of difficult and serious things to talk about, but you can try to have a bit of fun along the way too.”

Challenges to the industry

“While it’s true that change is a constant, there can also be change fatigue,” she says.

She cites industry-wide challenges for this. These include funding being tight, a gap in skills and talent, people having a different relationship with work post-COVID, increased oversight and risk management, and general expectations on delivery times being over ambitious.

Her advice? Keep it tight and small. 

“It’s too easy for projects to gather requirements that include everything but the kitchen sink,” Kathryn says. 

“If you can be ruthless at prioritising, you can make more progress.”

“You need dedication and resilience,” she notes.

Another challenge Kathryn identifies is that because change has been happening for years, “the low hanging fruit has already been picked.” 

“So, now you've got to be standing on the stepladder to get to the higher fruit. And the quick wins may not actually be that quick.”

Advocate of continual learning

Kathryn is the type of character that seeks to learn and enjoys new input from travel, learning languages, new ways of thinking and advice. A self-confessed ‘self-development junkie’, Kathryn thrives on continually learning. 

“I'm a hugely curious person. I like learning new things across a variety of disciplines.”

“I think my curiosity brings different dimensions to me because finance professionals tend to be stereotypically put in a box - that’s just not me.”

On a personal level, she enjoys the rich South-Korean culture. She’s travelled there several times, and is learning the language.

“There’s nothing like learning a new language to be a great leveller. I often feel really stupid in my class, but this is good.”

“It’s important to learn new things, start at the beginning and feel what it’s like to be a novice every now and then.”

Power Profile

Who is your hero?

"One person I do enjoy listening to is an American called Mel Robbins. She trained as a lawyer, but then pivoted her career and now is a podcast speaker and a New York Times bestseller. She talks about how you can be the best you can be. I admire anyone who starts off doing one career and then pivots to doing something else truer to themselves. I think that is quite brave. She also just gives some spot-on great advice about life."

What music inspires you?

"“I listen to a lot of music, I play the piano, I like classical - an eclectic mix. One song that really energises me is ‘It’s My Life’ by Bon Jovi. It’s got a ‘seize the moment, make the most of the time’ mantra which I like, and it’s a good reminder to everybody that life is precious and short, so make the most of it.”"

Author

Joanna Argent, Writer, GENCFO
GENCFO Team

Joanna is an interviewer and writer at GENCFO. Read her finance leader and industry expert interviews for The Shift.

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