Finance teams have a unique opportunity to put their stamp on businesses, compared with other internal teams, according to Zoe Cooke, finance director at performance marketing agency Journey Further.
“In finance, you have so much strategic input on what’s financially prioritised in a business,” says Zoe.
“Where I’ve found that has driven the most professional satisfaction for me, is that I’ve been able to help steer businesses to focus on mental health and people-focused initiatives, but also create more joy at work.
We’re conditioned to think that work should be a grind or a slog, says Zoe, but she rejects that notion.
Zoe remarks that the companies that are thriving at the moment are those who really understand the link between employee satisfaction and business and commercial growth – and allow employees to drive the initiatives that are important to them.
This values-based view of the workplace has been growing for Zoe since she started her career in the accounting department at ecommerce marketplace Groupon in 2010.
What started off as a three month internship turned into a five year stint at the business.
“They were incredible to me,” says Zoe. “I genuinely could not have found a better place to start my career.”
“They really drove home that if you can find something that you can improve in the business and you can prove that you can do it, that’s your job – now go and do it.”
“I really love that sort of entrepreneurial spirit.”
After five years, she moved to Ogilvy, working predominantly on American Express, and then on to programmatic media partner MiQ, where she headed up their FP&A function to lead their digital transformation for over two years.
Winning a Digital Finance Function Award
This again was a very people-focused business, and a place where she won a Digital Finance Function Award for Improver for the Year for a piece of work on improving scenario planning for the business around the pandemic and what might happen if you had an immediate cease of budget within the industry.
The number one aim of the planning was to ensure that no one lost their job and everyone could still pay their mortgage, which involved staff going down to four days a week and to have a sliding scale of pay decreases across the business.
“It was so nice to receive the award.”
“Everyone on my team at the time was in their first or second job, and I have quite high standards, and it was a piece of work and a time that was really stressful – we were literally remodelling the whole business and preparing for what could be really catastrophic,” says Zoe
“So then to have that external validation, to see that what we were doing was not just good for us, but also considered good for the industry, was really lovely.”
Where she’s heading now
Since joining Journey Further in January 2022, Zoe has been developing plans for an international expansion of the business, including a US launch.
“We’re hoping this quarter we’ll be able to get going on this, and it’s incredible because the company is only five years old and the success they’ve had is such a testament to the founders and the focus they’ve put on the company,” says Zoe.
However, despite the big business plans, the company remains very values-driven, people-focused, and encourages employees to have outside interests beyond the workplace, Zoe explains. For her, at the moment, this comes in the form of yoga teacher training.
“I think it’s important to have interests outside of work – I’m always someone who’s doing a course in something or other.”
“But it’s also helping me with public speaking and communication, because you can give the same instruction to a room of six people, they will all do different things. It’s been interesting to think about: how can I be clearer? How does that translate to work? And am I actually being understood in the way I think I’m being understood?”
Zoe takes a similar questioning approach within her management style, with the intention of creating effective, more joyful teams.
People are really what makes the business, she says: “I’ve only been there since January, so I’m really taking the time to get to know everyone on the team and what motivates them, what they enjoy, what they’re good at, and then trying to tailor what they’re doing around that.”
A lot of the time, we take people who are excellent individual contributors and promote them into manager roles, Zoe says, but there’s no focus on the qualities it takes to be a good manager.
“Businesses who have been really successful in the past have made that distinction between who is excellent at their job and who is good at getting the best out of people – and then tailoring teams accordingly.”
“That’s what I hope to do,” Zoe says.
Zoe’s Power Profile
What music empowers her?
“I’m completely obsessed with Jessie Ware at the minute and how she’s managed to create a career that covers so many different pursuits – and she’s a massive representative for South London as well which I’m always behind!”
Who is her hero?
“I think being a hero is quite a heavy burden to put on someone. But something I’ve really learned is that there’s something in almost everyone that I’ve met that I love, and qualities that I’d like to dial up in my own life.”
Want to hear more from finance change-makers?
Last year, Zoe spoke at our GENCGO live Summit. This year, it’s back again in all its virtual glory! Elevate your strategies at the virtual GENCFO live Summit, in partnership with ACCA, on the 8th and 9th of June 2022.
Learn from over 50 innovative industry leaders as they deep dive into finance’s hot topics like ESG, the death of Excel and more…