Interview with an FD; Ken Sutherland

March 5th 2014 | Posted by phil scott

Pictured; Ken Sutherland
Picture by Adam Fradgley

Ken Sutherland
Director of Finance & Business Services and Secretary of the National Farmers’ Union

How did you get to where you are today?
I got into accountancy by accident. After graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, only that I wanted a professional qualification. I thought that training and qualifying within a practice would offer me that, while occupying me for a few years as I worked out what I wanted to do.

Working in a practice wasn’t for me, although I did take to the work. I moved into industry, where I was more able to concentrate on one project at a time and see it through to the finish.

I have held three FD roles now, and joined the NFU in 2012. I grew up on a farm, although I’m not sure that affected my decision much. I was more drawn to working in the third sector, and the size and the scope of working with a national organisation.

What does your job entail?
We are a policy-focused group working on policy and representing our members, and we have offices in Westminster and Brussels. I don’t get involved with that, I take care of the back office and I have three main roles.

My first is as a director of a number of departments: finance, IT, business services, compliance and tax. I delegate much of the day-to-day work to the heads of department.

I also look after the NFU’s investment portfolio of stocks and shares, properties and pensions. The third part of my work is governance as I’m also the company secretary, which is a fairly big role. We’re very democratic, meaning there is lots of elections and meetings.

What makes a great FD?
Qualifications are important. The days of learning by experience are largely gone. But experience is necessary, too. I have been an FD at the NFU for 12 years and worked as an FD for other organisations for another seven. This all gives you the confidence to know what’s right and to know when someone is talking nonsense.

You have to be able to delegate, and this means having the right systems and people in place. Again, this gets easier as your confidence grows.

I think it’s also important to fit your organisation’s culture. You’ve got to be able to adapt, and those that can’t don’t tend to last very long.

What do you enjoy outside of work?
I watch too much football. I follow Dundee United, but Scottish football is a bit grim at the moment as only Celtic can win anything.

I used to be into photography, but that has fallen by the wayside recently and that’s something I should really pick up again. I like travelling, especially to France where my daughter is at university, and I enjoy walking. Nothing too exotic – although we did go to the Alps last year.

Who or what inspires you?
My main motivation comes from within. I think my values and how I look at the world comes from my father. I used to work with him on the farm when I was younger, and when I’m faced with a situation I will often ask myself what he would have done.