Interview with an FD: John Story
December 30th 2015 | Posted by phil scott
John StoryFD, Story Contracting
How did you get where you are today?
I had been in and out of the family’s contracting business when I was younger and had always been interested in joining full time. However, I started out on the practical side, within the rail division, training as an engineer.
In my teens, when I was doing my summer jobs at the company, the business was turning over around £20m and didn’t need a complex finance department. Working in that area came later for me, when I finished studying maths at university and was recruited by KPMG.
By the time I had spent a few years there, Story had grown in size and finance, structure, corporate governance was a much bigger factor. It seemed like the right time to join.
What does your role entail?
We have three operating divisions: rail, construction and plant hire. They each have their own challenges with very different types of clients in differing sectors, ranging from manufacturing to rail infrastructure.
My role is to run the central services function, so I oversee everything but HR. I’ve been in this role 18 months and, already, in the marketing department we’ve rebranded, launched a new website and increased our social media presence. In the IT department we’ve launched a new email server, going into the cloud with Microsoft 365, as well as bringing in a new phone system. For the accounts team, we’ve launched a new financial software system, changed to a business partner structure and updated our payroll system. The training department has also been added to the portfolio of departments which I manage.
On top of all that, revenue is up another 25% this year to £80m and we have been listed by the Sunday Times as the 33rd fastest growing company in the UK. There’s a lot going on.
What makes a great FD?
I have been given a lot of different disciplines to oversee, but I always run with the mantra: Always be happy to ask a stupid question. I leave pride at the door and speak up when I don’t understand something.
I also have a lot of very good people in each department. We have some superb managers, and while I understand their challenges and am able to give a considered opinion, I know that I couldn’t step in and do their job as well as they do.
Working in a family business is an interesting dynamic. I don’t think anybody could be more motivated to see this company succeed than me, because it’s my name over the door.
My favourite analogy is that it’s like hosting a party. You want to make sure everybody is happy, having a good time and is being looked after. I find that it makes management easier, to always care about our people.
The thing that keeps me grounded is remembering that it’s those on site that make this business. Doing a clever report isn’t what makes us money. I always make sure to listen to the operating divisions to see how we can help, rather than dictating to them what needs to be done.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I play second row for Wigton RUFC, which takes up pretty much all my free time.
If there was any common thread between sport and work it would be the reinforcement of the message that communication is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how good an idea is if nobody is behind it – you need your team on board to make things happen.
I’m also a governor and the chair of finance for my old secondary school. I think it’s important for the community to have strong comprehensive schools, and although I’m only 29 I have a lot of boardroom experience to offer.
And while my dad’s side of the family is all in the building trade, my mum was a teacher. I satisfy my urge to follow in her footsteps by mentoring for the ICAEW.
Who or what inspires you?
My dad still works in the company and I have learned a lot from him, as well as Steve Errington, the CEO of our sister company Story Homes. They have contrasting styles and I try to pick the best from both to improve the way I work.