One qualification. Multiple career options.On the road to her current position as Investor Relations Manager for fashion retailer New Look, CGMA Kirsty MacCallum has worked in numerous roles, including a secondment as Executive Assistant to the company’s CEO.
Kirsty always had an aptitude for numbers and an interest in business, but feared that a career in accountancy would be too dry to engage her. Instead, she started out working for a retailer as she studied for her psychology degree. Having graduated, she worked as a store manager, running a men's footwear concession in Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh, for Office Shoes. Being engaged in planning and merchandising there showed her that she could combine her finance and business skills with her love of fashion.
In 2007, Kirsty moved to a graduate-level merchandising role as an allocator at Warehouse in London, responsible for sending out stock to stores, tracking sales and ensuring that it was being replenished. She was soon promoted to assistant merchandiser, supporting the merchandiser in analysing past trends to forecast and plan stock acquisition and pricing, working both at Warehouse and then later at Dorothy Perkins in a similar role.
"I hadn't had any formal finance training, but I was learning a lot on the job – both technical skills such as forecasting sales and planning inventory levels, and also softer skills such as negotiating with suppliers and teamwork, which I later found were key elements of CIMA training." says Kirsty. "I was utilising my strengths in business and finance, whilst working in an industry that I find fascinating and engaging. I began to appreciate that the work I was doing for one area of the business as a merchandiser was very similar to what a management accountant would do for a whole business. "
Kirsty took on a commercial finance analyst role at New Look in 2011. The company believes that everyone should have the chance to discover their talent and to have the opportunity to develop and be 'their best self' and, to this end, is a CIMA Training and Development Accredited Premier Partner. Keen to formalise her financial learning, Kirsty started studying CIMA in the evenings and at weekends, while working full time. She had the motivation to succeed and completed the qualification in just two and a half years.
"As well as teaching technical accounting principles and methodologies, CIMA has a strong strategic element, giving me an understanding of what drives the business forward," says Kirsty. "Often what I learned in class reflected the way I was already working, so it was very relatable. CIMA helped me to develop a really good mental framework, teaching me how to take a logical approach to managing risk that promotes better decision making and fulfils the management accountant’s role as the ‘conscience’ of the business. CIMA also instilled in me a strong sense of professional ethical values."
Investor Relations Role
At New Look, Kirsty worked through various commercial finance roles. In January 2014, she moved into an investor relations role, responsible for the key external corporate communications, reporting between New Look and the company’s key stakeholders, working closely with the C-Suite executives, cross functional teams and corporate PR agency to develop a clear and consistent narrative on the company’s strategy and performance. Kirsty represents the public face of the company in investor meetings and at investor conferences as well as liaising with credit ratings agencies, banks and legal counsel and building relationships with the investment community.
"Having a CIMA qualification gave me the confidence to put my hand up for the investor relations role, even though I had no practical experience in investor relations or statutory financial accounting," says Kirsty. "It was a fantastic opportunity to broaden my experience and understand more about the wider business outside of the commercial and product areas. I work closely with the CEO and FD, producing information, corporate marketing documents and presentations for them to deliver, as well as managing relationships with our investors and other key stakeholders."
When an opportunity arose to be seconded as an executive assistant to the CEO some 18 months later, Kirsty was excited by the opportunity it presented to get more involved in analysis and projects for the CEO, and learn directly from him and the other directors what it takes to run a global business. She put herself forward and got the role, showing yet again her versatility and enthusiasm for learning new things. “Although I was working in analytical roles before studying CIMA, having this qualification has had a huge impact on my career," says Kirsty. "It really doesn't pigeon-hole you into one specific area - if you're willing to keep learning and trying new things, you can adapt to and succeed in many different roles and directions."