12/06/2024

An Interview with Alison Rose, CFO at Ebuyer

An Interview with Alison Rose, CFO at Ebuyer

Alison’s extensive experience across a diverse range of sectors provides valuable insights for those seeking to build successful careers in financial leadership.In our conversation, Alison offers a candid perspective on her career advancement, emphasising the importance of humility in navigating both triumphs and challenges. We also explore Alison’s thoughts on gender parity in boardrooms and the ongoing dialogue surrounding female leadership capabilities.

 

First and foremost, how did you decide a career in finance was for you? 

I thought when I was younger, I was going to be a musician. I spent the whole of my childhood playing clarinet and saxophone, so I thought that was my destiny. But then my grandma said to me ‘You will have to be the absolute best clarinetist in the world to make a good living playing, so you need to go and do something else just in case’. So, at 17 I studied A-level economics and that was the start of my introduction to finance, and I loved it. It was like I found my calling in life, I found it very easy to learn and very easy to understand, I flew through my economics A-level and then went on to Leeds University to further my studies in economics.

 

I think it would be a surprise to you, but I’m not very good at maths! I love following rules, the black and white which I found very simple but in maths itself, I could never quite understand what the questions were asking me. I didn’t know what I was going to do after my degree so I went through a process of applying to different graduate schemes and then ended up as a Purchase Ledger Assistant at Prince’s. That’s how I started my finance career. 

 

Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career in finance, how did you approach planning your long-term career goals?

Throughout my career, I’ve always gone for opportunities that I thought would grow and develop my career, never really anything that’s been planned specifically. I always talk to my team about having pointy elbows, just get yourself involved. I always say to them “You might not think it’s your thing but just understand and learn more about a business, even if there’s no finance driver because there is always some kind of lens that lends itself to finance, in everything that goes on in the business. So get involved.” That’s always been my mantra.

 

Since 2006 you’ve held managerial positions, how have you continued to impact, inspire, and get the best from your team?

I think you develop that over the years, don’t you? In my first managerial role at Hallmark, I was petrified. I remember it because most of the people on my team were older and more experienced than me. I realised quickly that you don’t always have the answers for everything. I’m not a leader that tells people what to do, that’s not the way I manage. That’s not the way you get the best out of people, it’s more about coaching, but also being open to continuing to learn. I understand that a team is made up of different types of people, everybody’s different, the way that they develop is different, and you lead, coach, and manage accordingly. Having said that, it’s not just about the people who report directly to you, I’m also aware that my role has an impact on other people’s teams.

 

 

 

Is leadership and team management something that you have enjoyed throughout your career?

I certainly feel as though I’ve developed as a manager over the years, and enjoy it for sure. There are very different styles in terms of managers and leaders, I would say I like being a leader. I don’t necessarily like being a manager because I don’t like being managed and that’s the one thing that I have to be more accepting of, and that’s probably why I’ve strived to be at the top because, individually, I hate somebody telling me what to do daily and so I wouldn’t do that to my teams.

 

It’s all about setting the objectives and saying to my team that I want them to develop and hit certain milestones, but also saying to them, how you get there is your choice. I do enjoy it. The further up the ladder I’ve gone, the more interaction with people outside of finance becomes a larger part of my role. I think being able to influence somebody for instance in sales or commercial, when it’s more about mentoring and coaching is very rewarding.

 

What would you say has been your biggest achievement or the most exciting point in your career so far?

When I look back at my career there are lots of things that I feel proud of. I’ve been lucky to work in businesses that have been on a growth trajectory and be part of great teams at various levels that were driving success. I think sometimes people think that you’ve got these massive achievements because you’ve been in these big, branded, high-growth businesses, but it’s being part of a slow and steady, predictable growth; the challenge, the changes, and adapting to that ultimately. I’m really lucky that I’ve managed to be in a big business that started small, so I’ve had the opportunity to be part of that, which is great.

 

 

One of those growth journeys was with Shark Ninja. How would you describe the journey with them, and were there any key learnings for you during that period?

It was crazy when I started, they were a £55 million UK subsidiary of a US-based business and just in floor care. We had some ninja blending products but when I started that had been and gone. Having operated within a very successful US business, their key to success was bringing new products to market as fast as they possibly could with no fear of failure, the fear of launching just wasn’t a thing. We would test it, do reviews and it was just about making sure you were putting five-star consumer products in the market. That was proven in the US business, and it had been going along for a few years in the UK business but hadn’t managed to get traction because there were big brands in the UK, established brands, especially in floor care and it’s hard to get a retail presence. At that point .com was a big investment to start challenging, people believed that all purchases started in-store which was a mindset change. Amazon was on its way up, people were researching on Amazon and then coming to the store, and it was a big change in that retail market.

 

To get access in-store whether that be in Currys or Argos for example, you had to trade your way in because those retail partners had something to lose, it wasn’t necessarily incremental growth for them. Shark was a challenger brand challenging partnerships that were well established in that marketplace, so we had to justify and prove our position as an alternative to some of those big brands. We did well on the floor care side and got to about 40% market share based on one refined product, which was anti-hair wrap, a brilliant invention. Who knew that everybody in the world knows that hair gets blocked in your vacuum cleaner? It’s just amazing, it’s a very basic requirement that no other vacuum cleaner company had changed their product for, so we launched the anti-hair wrap, and it just went huge.

 

That’s a reason to buy, right? A reason to trade in whereas up until that point, it was either an aspirational buy with the brands at the top end or it was ‘Oh God, my vacuum cleaner is broken’. It was a desperation purchase, ‘Quick, quick, I need a new vacuum cleaner’ whereas with our product it was a reason to buy. We then brought cordless out, which was the reason to buy more than one, so suddenly you had households that had 2 or 3 vacuum cleaners, some upstairs, some downstairs. We started launching heated cooking products, with various levels of success. We’d brought out a small air fryer and then all of a sudden Covid hit, and everybody started buying Ninja products, and that accelerated the growth of the Ninja brand.

 

Is there any advice that you would give to aspiring number-one CFOs?

Certainly, aspiring CFOs need to think about building their network, I think building your network fairs you well for the future because you often have to call on the expertise of other people so building that network is always good. Also to be certain about what you want because you’re jumping up to a CFO role naturally there will be things that you have to take on that you haven’t done before whether you’ve come up through the technical finance or commercial routes.

 

Throw your hands to anything, and get stuck in. Believe in yourself and know with determination you can do anything. I’ve been in many situations where I’ve been out of my comfort zone, and I’ve proved to myself, I can do anything.

 

 

What would you say as a CFO do you find the most rewarding?

I think it’s having the ability to be outside of the finance lane. A lot of people say to me why don’t you go and be an MD? And that they would probably put me more in that role than the CFO. But my comfort is numbers, and my finance team. What I love having access to is the ability to challenge the market and work strategically across the entire business.

 

Shark Ninja gave me great exposure, there were three leads; myself, the E-Com Director, and the Sales Director. Between the three of us, we did everything in the business and it was a really good experience for me to be exposed to those kinds of things. I also enjoy telling the story, doing those quarterly business updates, and being the person who is sitting in front of the whole business talking to the people about the performance and about what’s next, what’s happened, what went well, and what the initiatives we are working on. I enjoy being the spokesperson.

 

One thing that you probably get more in the CFO role is communicating to external stakeholders, being that voice, and making sure that you’re telling a consistent and thorough story and representing your business which is something you don’t need to do when you’re internally focused. For example, we’ve just done a partner event with 50 of our top vendors which was a fantastic experience.

 

You’ve had an impressive career to date and have worked for some recognisable brands in interesting times of growth periods in travel, retail, etc. Are there any tips or recommendations that you could share for someone looking for a similar career path to yourself?

I would say be the master of your destiny, either in creating opportunities, or being brave and taking on the opportunities that are in front of you. Some things won’t work out, but what will be will be. As long as you’re developing in your role and getting additional experience then what’s the harm? But equally, don’t let somebody else tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Also, choose to work for companies that are right for you.

 

Reports tell us that only a small percentage of CFOs in Yorkshire are female.  What are your views on the effective diversity of board rooms and leadership teams in our region?

I’m a woman so I’d love to sit here and say that teams should be equal, but I’m also a believer in employing the right people for the right roles. I feel like I’ve earned my roles and positions, I would never want to feel like the token women in the room, and I never have. It comes back to working for the right businesses. I do feel Boards can sometimes be an exclusive club, and they ought to be a reflection of the business they steward. I also feel no point in having a woman or a man on a board that doesn’t bring some expertise or value to it. The reason why I think there aren’t a lot of women on boards is because it’s hard and scary, and unfortunately a good number of women don’t have the same level of confidence to push themselves forward and think that they’re capable.

 

Women are mums just like men are dads, it always feels like there’s a trade-off between work and having that balance, and I think that the “mum guilt” people refer to is hard. It doesn’t just come from men, but from other women quite frankly. One of the most frequent questions I get asked is ‘Oh my god what about your kids?’ or ‘How do you make it fit?’. But I make it fit the same way my husband makes it fit. It’s no different for me than it is for him but it is challenging for sure, you have to make sure that you retain that balance.

 

 

Is there anything you would tell your younger self at the start of your career if you could go back and speak to yourself 20, or 30 years ago?

The only thing I would say is you have to give yourself a break sometimes, I’ve held myself to a very high level and because of that I probably didn’t allow myself to stop at times when I probably should have pulled back a little bit. I would say take a breather and turn it down a notch but equally by not turning it down a notch, being able to run 150 miles an hour has meant that I’ve been able to get the opportunities that I have and been successful in my career, although my husband would say take a step back and enjoy it!!!

 

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