Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Michael Holton, CFO, Siderise Group

C-suite spotlight OG image - Michael Holton

Q. Can you give us a brief introduction to your career background?

A. I joined Deloitte in 1995 and spent five valuable years learning about businesses of varying size and complexity across multiple sectors. I had a short period working for a former client on their disposal to a listed company and then joined FTSE 250 Kidde PLC at the tail end of their de-merger. I worked there for their five years as an independent group, ultimately working on the sale and disposal of the group to UTC. During those five years, I expanded my knowledge considerably.

I then spent six years with what became Alliance Boots, joining Alliance UniChem PLC just before their merger with Boots PLC. Those six years were divided equally between group reporting, financial planning and analysis, and finance transformation in a period of significant change.

Seven and a half years with Infinis, a renewable electricity generator, followed, with five as Group Financial Controller and two and a half as CFO. I led the transformation of the finance function, helped the business with its exit from private equity, first via IPO and then in its carve-up and disposal to 3i Infrastructure and JP Morgan. I then worked as part of a new executive team in leading the 3i-owned business under their new ownership.

In 2019 I took a sabbatical and in 2020 embarked on an interim career, operating in manufacturing, software and rural broadband as the CFO, with a focus on growth, transformation and funding. I joined Siderise as CFO in January 2023, a role of such potential that it took me away from being an interim!

The big questions

Q. What’s been your biggest success in your career?

A. I've had the privilege of working for great businesses with some incredible people across a variety of exciting projects and transactions, the highlight of which was my involvement with the disposal of Infinis – so good we did it twice.

However, I consider my biggest successes to be the transformational projects: changing the way organisations work, helping people to operate smarter and driving a culture of excellence into those businesses. These transformations result in better performance and happier workplaces, and they yield results you can see and feel every day.

Q. What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

A. Overcoming imposter syndrome.

There are, I believe, many people like me in the workplace: people who work really hard to be the best they can be and push themselves to be successful, but, having earned the next step, find themselves doubting their place at the table. I firmly believe this detracts from optimal performance and the adjustment required can be surprising to those around you. Finding coaches and mentors to help you through these periods of adjustment is invaluable. That's certainly been a game changer for me.

Q. What has been the biggest regret of your career?

A. I don't have regrets, but I learn from mistakes every day.

Q. How do you develop your skills and knowledge?

A. My approach is to never fear being outside my comfort zone and to never stop asking why. Early in our lives, we don't have a comfort zone, we ask ‘why’ a lot, we play, and we learn at our fastest – then comes the ego. Keeping that almost childlike approach to learning, I feel, is important; it's about being vulnerable and that takes courage.

With that in mind, I develop my skills and knowledge by not worrying that I've not done something before while recognising the need to get the job done. I will read, ask questions, get training, speak to others, try, fail and learn – I'm a problem solver and so that ambiguity sits very well with me.

Q. What has been the biggest learning opportunity of your career?

A. Every day is a school day. I like to think that the biggest is yet to come.

Q. Who have you learnt most from?

A. We need to be prepared to learn from anybody and so, I cannot count the number of people who've helped me to learn. That said, I've had some wonderful line managers in my career and the time spent with them on a one-to-one basis has been really powerful. Likewise, I think back to colleagues who have inspired me.

Having said all that, it is my wife and children who have given me the greatest learning experiences of my life and shaped me to be more empathetic than I could ever have imagined.

Q. What's the biggest challenge in your marketplace at the moment?

A. Siderise is a fantastic business with great products, growing markets, strong margins and a robust balance sheet. In that environment, the challenge is selecting the right opportunities and remaining focused.

Tips from the top

Q. What advice would you give to your younger self?

A. If I could give my younger self one piece of advice (in the hope my younger self would listen), it would be to relax a bit. Exercise, practice mindfulness and take some time for what matters – don't put yourself and those around you under undue pressure, as this will ultimately be counter- productive.

Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring CFO?

A. Enjoy the journey.

Try to communicate using three key principles - kind, true, necessary:

  • Do you need to say something?

  • Is what you're saying based in fact?

  • Say it in the kindest way possible.

Don't sweat the small stuff.

Q. What do you think is key to managing a successful team?

A. Choose brilliant people – it starts with attitude.

Recognise what they currently have, what they need and work to encourage the former and develop the latter. Be open, authentic and be human as a leader and encourage your team, being clear about where you are, where you're going and co-agree how you're going to get there.

Q. What's your top tip for managing work-life balance?

A. When the fun stops, stop.

Future gazing

Q. How do you see the CFO role changing in the next five years?

A. That's a great question.

I'd like to think that company boards and CEOs will demand that the basics are done brilliantly – which too often is not the case – and recognise these are table stakes if you want to be able to make and seize opportunities, and manage risk. At the same time, I hope that CFOs have the courage to secure the investment needed to ensure they don't compromise quality nor put their teams under undue pressure.

The best CFOs will lap up increasing responsibility if it is forthcoming and embrace technological change to deliver insight ever more rapidly in a fast-moving world.

Q. What technological advances do you foresee within your role?

A. I've had a number of interesting conversations with developers looking at the role of AI. This could be the tool for finance which unlocks the kind of efficiency that robots have had in manufacturing.

Q. What do you see as the future of work in the UK?

A. I envisage ongoing debate over homeworking and hybrid working, as we wrestle with technological capability and employee expectations versus building and maintaining culture and collaboration.

I have no doubt that AI will play its part, and I’m intrigued as to exactly where it will make a positive difference. I'm keen to see if autonomous travel becomes a thing and its impact on productivity and homeworking.

Finally, I worry about customer service. Businesses continue to automate and send customer services overseas and, based on my experiences of waiting up to an hour for the next advisor available, it feels like a race to the bottom.

Love Mondays: At Reed we are on a mission to help everyone love their job and improve lives through work

Q. What do you love most about your role and why?

A. I love the variety, the collegiate atmosphere of operating in multi-departmental teams, and working with customers and suppliers to create win-win scenarios.

Q. What does your average Monday look like?

A. I work in a fast-paced environment in which business-as-usual is a tiny part of my day-to-day.

Other than a weekly call with my executive colleagues and one with my leadership team to get the pulse of where we are and where we're going in the forthcoming week, I've not experienced an average in my seven months to date – and I look forward to that continuing.

If you are looking for a talented accountancy and finance professional for your business, or looking to find your next role, contact one of our specialist consultants today.