An Interview with Richard Hughes – CFO at Proactis

An Interview with Richard Hughes – CFO at Proactis

Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our tenth interview is with Richard Hughes, CFO at Proactis. Throughout his exceptional two-decade career in finance, Richard has successfully led a number of high-performing businesses, through his proactive leadership, meticulous approach and in-depth knowledge of the current market, across multiple locations and time zones.

Proactis is a leading Source-to-Pay software solution provider for mid-market organisations across a range of service-led industries. Their platform enables customers to control spends, manage supply chain risk, improve compliance and governance of their purchasing activities, reduce the cost of goods and services and deliver efficiencies through process digitisation and automation.

In this interview, Richard has given an insight into his impressive career, highlighted some of his greatest professional achievements and shared how he effectively responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, after only a year in post at Proactis.

Interview with Richard


Can you give us an overview of your financial career?

My career so far has been quite a journey, so I will try and simplify it a little.

I started my career in 1999 at a small accounting firm in Leeds and then moved to another small firm in Harrogate, but after completing my ACA qualification in 2002, I wanted to try something new and explore the world.

In 2003, still being very young, I followed a girl to Australia, and worked in a number of temporary finance roles in Melbourne and Perth, however, after a year, I returned to the UK.

I then joined the PwC Assurance practice and ended up staying there for 7 years, which funnily enough included a secondment back to Australia, working in Sydney for 18 months during 2007-2009.

Following that, I joined Pace plc on secondment in 2011 for 4 months and ended up staying with the business. I worked my way up through various leadership positions, from Head of Financial Reporting to Finance VP.

Pace was then acquired by a competitor, ARRIS International plc, in 2016, so I then moved into an International FD role for the following 3 years.

All of my experience has led me to my current role as CFO at Proactis, joining in 2019.

Were there any significant influences in your decision to pursue a career in finance? 

I don’t think I ever wanted to be ‘an accountant’, or at least the stereotype that people apply to that role. I was always good with numbers (some may argue otherwise!) so had a natural inclination to be drawn towards that area.

I do remember 2 specific examples that I could point to which may have sent me down the finance path – the first being that when completing a questionnaire about likes and dislikes, etc. at school, where the answers would point to a mostly likely career, Chartered Accountant came out on top! The second being my placement year as part of my degree – I worked for a logistics business in Leeds (Redfern International Logistics, now part of Ligentia I believe) where the CEO took pity on a lad who wanted to stay in the North but struggled to get a placement organised. As part of that role, I ended up doing some basic accounting to help out the part-time bookkeeper and I really enjoyed it.

As my career has developed, I’ve been influenced by lots of people (colleagues at the same level, some more junior and certainly some more senior, along with outside influences). I like to think that I’ve been able to take those influences (both good and bad) and improve myself.

What do you consider to be some of the biggest highlights of your career?

I have been very lucky that I’ve been able to see a lot of the world with work, that maybe I wouldn’t have seen or spent a lot of time in had I not worked in the roles that I have.

Having spent a lot of time in North America, South America, Europe, India, Asia-Pacific countries and Australia, I do like to think I understand various cultural differences in those areas that drive us towards our goals.

We obviously spend a lot of time at work, so having the pleasure of working with fantastic people is a great bonus and it makes the time at work a lot more enjoyable.

I’ve also been involved in some great and really significant projects over the years, whether it be M&A (I have bought companies, worked in companies that have been bought, and have sold companies over the years) as well as, some really tricky operational and systems projects – those ones that make your brain hurt!

How did you find responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, only a year in post, at Proactis?

We were very lucky in one sense (albeit you could argue that you make your own luck) that we started using MS Teams across all our international teams in November 2019, (we operate in UK, US, Netherlands, France, Germany, Manila and Australia / New Zealand) so the transition to remote working wasn’t that difficult overall. However, I do need to give credit to everyone at Proactis who facilitated a total change to remote working over a 3-day period, without any loss of customer service – it was a fantastic effort, which is all too easy to take for granted.

My finance teams were really adaptable during the initial period until it became ‘the norm’ and the business, being a SaaS business, was as insulated as possible against major disruption – the risks were ultimately customers having their own survival issues and then slower conversion of pipeline, just as we were really starting to accelerate the growth story.

Aside from the pandemic, have you experienced any major challenges/setback over the course of your career? If so, how did you overcome them?

Like most people in their careers, I have experienced a number of setbacks, some big and some small, but my mindset has always been that we take what is given to us and fight to move forward.

When I started working in 1999, straight out of University, I was very naïve and didn’t really know what I wanted in life or my career – it took me until my late 20s to focus on the hard work and dedication required to get somewhere in my career. The initial year working in Australia in 2003 really did open my eyes to the level of effort required to succeed.

Ultimately, every setback that I’ve experienced has made me more determined to show what I can do.

How do you believe you’ve added value to Proactis? What are the personal strengths that you bring to the role and the organisation?

That may be a question that others are best placed to answer, but the reason I took the role at Proactis was because I love the change management side of finance, and Proactis had been through a couple of years of bad press, but it had a really good plan to move forwards with substantial growth. We’ve changed a lot in the 3 years that I have been involved with the business in order to set the company up for accelerated growth.

I like to think that I’ve brought a lot of experience across international businesses and the development of high performing teams, along with a structured approach to all sides of finance – oh, and always bringing a smile with it!

What advice would you give to a finance professional with aspirations of making od leadership?

Your life and career aren’t always going to be straight forward – how someone deals with setbacks and the curveballs that life throws, are the real measure of a person. You’ve got to take the stuff that comes your way and keep moving forward.

Also – ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to give your opinion – no-one has the right answer for everything, and your opinion may be the one that is ‘right’ this time.

Finally, we should all keep learning in our lives and careers – if we stop learning, it’s time to give up and go home!

Outside of your successful profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?

My family and friends keep my very busy outside of work, but I’m also a big lover of all sports, whether it be Leeds United (don’t attend as many games as I’d like to go to), rugby, cricket, golf (don’t play as many rounds as I’d like to) or motor sport.

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

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