In this interview and video, Insight editor Adrian Clifton found out how she did it.
Emma Blake’s career path has certainly been varied, encompassing everything from global aerospace and defence to an online store for women in business. Her versatility, helped by her CIMA qualification, has been critical to her success in breaking the glass ceiling.
‘CIMA has been the backbone, the foundation to my career,’ she states. ‘It has been the baseline of knowledge to draw upon in every situation from tactical financial discussions through to strategic planning.
‘It has given me that extra confidence women in business often need to push themselves forward for challenging roles. CIMA has been a great leveller for me. It evens the playing field by stating that you have already achieved a strong level of competence.
‘What I love about CIMA is that it gives you that qualification level and skill set that you know will always be valuable and that you can never ‘fall’ below. For a women in business it is extremely valuable – it allows you to compete in the job market straight away, even if you been out for a few years raising a family.’
Reaching the top
Emma started her career as a graduate at global aerospace and defence giant BAE Systems, and leapt on the fast track to success. ‘I was selected for a finance leadership programme, won a CIMA young business manager of the year award, and worked my way up to leading my own finance function,’ she recalls.
She subsequently moved on to Deloitte to lead their CFO advisory practice, delivering large scale finance transformation programmes across industries as diverse as oil and gas, telecoms, media and banking. Her ability to adapt was proven successfully.
‘Moving from an operational finance role into a consulting role was a big change but I loved every minute of it,’ she smiles. ‘Clients always respond really well if you have ‘real life’ finance experience supporting your advisory skills – it helps build instant credibility and meant I could roll up my sleeves to fix problems and genuinely empathise with the challenges they faced.’
Mentoring new talent
Her CIMA skills have also proven invaluable in her role as a mentor to SMEs. ‘CIMA gives you the skills to contribute to strategic business discussions down to tactical decision making on cashflow – and allows you to deliver real change and impact quickly, which is exactly what SME owners are looking for,’ she states.
‘Mentoring SMEs is fascinating: you see change happen almost overnight and decisions getting made by the owners in a heartbeat. It’s dynamic, rewarding and very different from the hierarchical structures of larger organisations.’
CPD is critical to success in this field, she believes. ‘As a mentor and as a consultant, one of the best things you can bring into any business team is examples of best practice and thought leadership that people can turn into practical steps and genuinely take action on.’
A new start
Emma’s latest project is providing venture capital funding to a new start up called Pinstripe & Pearls, an online store which delivers office wear for women in business.
‘It’s unique because we are working with a number of retailers to deliver the whole corporate look in one place,’ she enthuses. ‘Most women in business have the pressure to look the part but zero time to spend looking for their perfect corporate outfit, so this is a practical solution.
‘The store retails business wear and accessories – everything a businesswoman needs – but also has a growing community aspect to it, supporting women in business with style, career and general ‘survival tips’!
‘Pinstripe & Pearls is about shopping by who you are, not the specific commodity you want to buy – a very different approach to traditional retailing. It’s a world built completely around our customers – women in business – whatever their needs might be.’
Wherever Emma’s successful career continues to take her, she is sure that CIMA will play a significant role. ‘Being able to get underneath the numbers and challenge your organisations financials will always be an important skill and will help you succeed in a variety of senior roles,’ she emphasises. ‘Just take a look at how many CEOs in the FTSE 100 are CIMA qualified.'
She also espouses the virtues of the new CGMA designation. ‘It’s a fantastic opportunity for all CIMA members. It creates a global language and reflects the reality of how we do business today – globally.’
Hear more from Emma in this video: