At the 2010 CIMA annual awards, David Tyler FCMA, CGMA was awarded the honour of ‘Outstanding contribution to business performance by a CIMA member’. Ahead of the 2011 event this month, he tells online magazine editor Adrian Clifton about his highly successful and varied career.
‘It’s been interesting and I’ve been very lucky,’ says David Tyler (left), reflecting with a broad smile on over 25 years at the top of business. How did he do it?
Leaving Cambridge University in 1974 with an economics degree, he joined Unilever and spent 11 years there, taking his CIMA exams along the way. Then, feeling he wanted to understand the City, David moved on to NatWest Investment Bank. ‘I spent three or four years there, but didn’t want to go on being in the financial world in the City,’ he says, partly because of his discomfort with the developing ‘casino banking’ culture (more about that later).
Instead, he moved back into business as finance director of international auction house Christie’s, and subsequently CFO of wide ranging conglomerate GUS. ‘Then, in early 2007, I decided to go ‘plural’, and I now have an interesting non executive career.’
He says it is a ‘great honour’ to be involved as non executive chairman at Sainsbury’s, ‘a very significant business in the UK. When you meet people and they ask about what you do, everyone has a comment about Sainsbury’s. Hopefully a nice comment!’ he smiles. ‘There’s a wonderful culture here and it’s a privilege to be able to help influence it.’
CIMA, with its focus on business, has been vital to his success. ‘I didn’t want to just become a chartered accountant,’ he stresses. ‘I was really interested in getting involved with the running of businesses and in particular, the financing of them.
‘I felt CIMA was much more involved in analysing real business issues, helping businesses make the right decisions on the basis of financial information.’
Keys to success
How has he reached the top in so many different industries? ‘You need a keen analytical intelligence and an ability to use that in a business context,’ he believes, ‘but you have to combine that with emotional intelligence: an ability to understand people, persuade people, lead people; to bring them together to solve business problems.’
Being a CIMA fellow doesn’t hurt, either: ‘There’s a little bit more cachet associated with being an FCMA, and it suggests you’ve got a little more experience and a little bit more capability.’
David was truly surprised and humbled to gain his outstanding contribution award. ‘I’m not an ‘accountant’s accountant’; I’m someone who has spent his life using financial information and financial skills to help businesses drive themselves forward,’ he says.
‘What I did within GUS – an unreconstructed conglomerate when I joined, which eventually became focused on three or four different activities – demanded financial skills, but also management skills and insight. Those are the things CIMA members can add, because they often have a wider perspective of how business can contribute than people trained in other fields.’
The state of business
Having worked in the investment banking sector, David was not surprised by the crash. He highlights a ‘freewheeling culture – some of which I saw, and didn’t like; a concern about making principal profits rather than working as an agent for your customer.’
Yet despite the well documented problems of the last three years, he believes businesses on the whole are better run today than when he started his career. ‘The commitment of senior management to a business I think wasn’t then what it is today. It’s very difficult today to get to the top of any PLC without real skills, commitment and – in nearly every case – principles.’
Survive and thrive
With the economic downturn showing no signs of ending, how are CIMA skills especially vital in a recession? ‘You can cut to the basics,’ he says. ‘Obviously you’ve got to control your costs, and during a recession that’s even more important than during the good times.
‘But it’s not just about cost. A successful business in a recession, just as in good times, is looking to find products and services that can grow.’
It’s about both surviving and thriving, then? ‘Absolutely. Very often in recession you find that people have started businesses that in time become very successful, because they have established themselves on a sound basis in difficult times.’
A global qualification
David is enthusiastic about CIMA’s initiative, with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, to create a new worldwide professional designation of excellence in management accounting: the chartered global management accountant (CGMA). CIMA members will be automatically able to use the extra letters from January 2012.
‘I think this will enhance the authority of the institute,’ he says. ‘There are so many young people looking to develop their career, and the opportunity to become part of something that has that global tag, with a very respected UK and US institution backing it, is important.’
Hear more from David in the video below:
Attend the 2011 CIMA annual awards