Interview with an FD: Richard Grethe
March 29th 2016 | Posted by phil scott
How did you get where you are today?
During my accountancy degree I did a sandwich year with Glaxo Wellcome. I wasn’t looking for a role within pharmaceuticals in particular, but it was challenging and I’ve always been interested in the body so it turned out to be a great fit.
That placement was where I did the biggest deal I’ve ever done, a $2.6bn sale in 1992.
There were only three of us, and I was just some guy on a uni placement, but they came to me and said “The Americans want everything in Excel but we don’t use Excel, can you learn how to use it?”
The software was brand new and I got one week to learn it and another to put some models together, and that was my baptism of fire!
Following my degree I went to KPMG for three years to get trained, then went through various senior roles at pharma companies.
I was an analyst at Medeva plc, then UK finance director at Celltech after they bought us out. When I saw that we were about to be bought again, I decided to leave and became one of the founders of Focus Pharmaceuticals. That culminated in a sale to AMCo, where I was most recently helping to smooth the transaction before leaving at the end of March.
What does your role entail?
I’m quite analytical, and I’m quite fastidious about getting numbers right. I also like how finance allows you to touch every part of the business. You can get involved in all the bits you enjoy, be that legal, commercial, the infrastructure of the business or whatever.
Beyond the numbers, my main task at Random42 is to get our name out and grab the large amount of market share that’s out there for us.
It’s an exciting company. Big Pharma comes to us for Mode of Action videos, which they use as sales tools to help physicians understand how their products work.
Our PhDs create a script and explain to our CGI team how to graphically represent the information, then we add a voiceover. We’re visualising being in the body.
It’s really exciting, because 25% of our turnover now comes through Oculus virtual reality, which didn’t even exist last year. As we go forward, new products will come out at the cutting edge of tech and we need to be doing them well. The technology we’ll be working on in three of four years might not have been conceived of yet, and that’s a lot of fun to be involved with.
What makes a great FD?
Being a good FD means ensuring that the business runs well and that all the parts pull in the same direction. You’re not just the finance person, you need to be able to help out wherever you’re needed.
I’m also the channel of information to the private equity house. I report what’s happening and how it’s going. I’m on the phone to them more than anybody else, either running through stuff I think they’d be interested in, or asking questions. It’s good to have that sounding board.
The relationship depends on what equity house you’re working for, I tend to like the friendly ones. The guys I’ve worked with at Vespa Capital and Mobeus have both been amazing, friendly, helpful and constructive. You can always pick up the phone and say, “I think this, what do you think?” Having their opinion is useful.
I choose to only work with the people I like. If you’ve got a very aggressive house, the ones who are all-guns-blazing to scale something huge, that’s not interesting to me. I’m in a niche, at Focus we were trying to develop drugs and get them to market and at Random42 it’s all about increasing market share and using specific tech tools to do so.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I’m an England-ranked table tennis player. I’ve played since I was five and I coach kids and still play a couple of times a week. I play a bit of golf, and I’m involved with racketlon, which is all four racket sports together. You play to 21 at table tennis, get three minutes off, then badminton, then squash, then tennis, all against the same opponent.
You have to put a lot of hours into a sport to get to a decent level and I have dedicated a lot over the last 38 years. That same discipline is required to be a good FD. I try to keep my sport and my work separate, but – bizarrely – I find that if I’m doing well at table tennis then I’m doing well at work. If something from work is playing on my mind then it affects my table tennis game.
I also travel a lot with my family. My wife is English-Czech, so we have a place out there we like to go. I speak a bit of the language and we all speak Czech at home. I am an expert in Czech beer!
Who or what inspires you?
Steve Jobs was very inspirational, he overcame many obstacles to get Apple where it is today.
Sir David Frost also has an inspirational quote, which is: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.” It is really important to enjoy where you work and what you do. If you enjoy it, that passion is reflected on everyone you meet.