Part-time FD, Principal of David Blair Associates
How did you get where you are today?
From a very early age, I have always been interested in business. Not as much the capitalism side of things, but helping people meet their goals.
In the 1980s, there weren’t as many business schools. Chartered accountancy was known as the “British MBA”, so I followed that route and qualified with Price Waterhouse. After four years in corporate finance and restructuring, it became clear to me that ‘big corporate’ and I were not good bedfellows. So, at 28, I left to join a furniture manufacturing business as FD.
Three years later, in 1994, I made a conscious choice to pursue a portfolio career and found my niche with early-stage and VC-funded companies, mainly in the technology sphere.
I have a science degree and, at that time, early-stage technology companies were poorly serviced. They had people helping them raise several million pounds, but had no strategy and systems in place to ensure they spent the money efficiently or cost-effectively.
I’ve helped around 50 of these companies so far, raising just north of £200m.
What does your role entail?
On a day-to-day basis I do lots of different things, all revolving around helping people achieve their objectives. Planning and execution is at the heart of everything I do.
At the moment, I have about half a dozen projects that I am working on. Two of them, a project of international financial services, and construction of a unique and world-class aerospace facility, both involve raising tens of millions in funding. At the same time, I am working with some local, early stage businesses where we’re watching every penny while we manage working capital.
FDs tend to focus on tasks. Companies of any size will benefit from our input, and if they don’t have the resource in-house, they can look to a part-time FD to help on a very cost-effective basis. We can help them get to their objective, whether that’s developing a new product, developing a new market, or preparing the business for exit.
I’m also the current president of the East Anglian ICAEW, an organisation that I’m very proud of. I’m at the stage where I can put something back and help others who are developing their careers. We recently introduced a programme to help professionals develop their soft skills, which has since been adopted by other regions around the UK. That has been very gratifying.
What makes a great FD?
A great FD will think about the “who” and the “why” of something, as well as the “what” and the “how”. They will talk to the client to understand what they are trying to achieve and how they can help, rather than turning up and implementing a standard set of FD functions. It’s the bigger picture.
With the development of technology and the acceptance of more flexible career paths, it’s easier to opt for a portfolio career these days. But it can have its ups and downs and will be stressful at times. It’s important to have a plan, and to keep reviewing it. You can’t just fall into it, you need a clear idea of what you’re good at, what your offering is, who needs that offering and how you can help.
I’d recommend BusinessModelYou.com for anybody interested in pursuing a portfolio career.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
Good food (my wife is a fantastic cook), good wine and the company of good friends!
I’m also the chairman of the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, which is quite exciting. I have always been fascinated by history, so when I hosted a dinner for the club recently we invited an expert on Wellington to give a talk about the Battle of Waterloo, which was great stuff.
Who or what inspires you?
I never cease to be inspired by the people I meet every day.
I was talking recently to the mother of a gold medal-winning paralympian. She was, of course, tremendously proud of her son. When I asked how many of his trophies they had at home, she told me lots, but that they were only displayed on one shelf. When I asked
why, the mother said it was because her daughter is a theatre nurse in the local heart hospital and she saves lives every day - but they don’t give out gold medals for that.
We are surrounded by so many amazing and inspiring people, we just need to take time to get to know them.
Date Posted: July 31st 2015
Posted By: David Pilkington