As part of our finance leadership interview series, we’ve been sitting down with finance directors and CFOs to discuss their experiences, insight, and views on what it takes to become a successful finance leader. Today it gives me great pleasure to introduce James Franks. James has had an impressive career to date. After qualifying in practice in 2013, he worked within the sports sector, firstly at Kentaro Group and then at SEM in 2015. James then joined GWI, which is Global Web Index, where he quickly progressed to finance director and was made CFO in 2020. GWI is an audience insights technology company, its SaaS platform and customer data products are trusted by the world’s biggest brands, media organizations and agencies on a daily basis to gain a deep understanding of their audiences at speed. The company’s flagship survey represents 2.7 billion people globally. Through a combination of survey data and analytics, clients can gather in-depth insights into behaviors, attitudes, and interests. James, nice to meet you. How are you?
James Franks: Good, thank you. Thanks for the intro.
Phil Dye: Do you recognize yourself there?
James Franks: I do recognize myself. I wonder who wrote that. I really appreciate you taking the time to come and join us today. You really have had an impressive career to date in finance. What made you decide on a career in finance in the first place?
James Franks: It’s an interesting question and actually quite an interesting journey for myself because I sort of fell into it. I did history at university but had no interest in maths or accountancy. And during the summers, I did a lot of work at the local accountancy office, which I actually qualified with – HW Fisher. Those jobs were basically filing. But I learned during that time that it was really important to understand businesses. I never thought I would be an accountant, but what I had a real firm interest in was how businesses run and how finances run. So I was very fortunate enough to get a training contract to HW Fisher. And for me personally, it was a struggle to get through my ACA. To go from history to accountancy, going from writing to math was very difficult. But I thought for myself and actually from my parents is to have a profession, something that you could always fall back on, was incredibly important.
Phil Dye: The interesting route into it. So as you say, you almost fell into it.
James Franks: Fell into it. I was very lucky to work with some fantastic people at HW Fisher. The local offices, which gave me the opportunity to push forward.
Phil Dye: Well, it’s worked well for you so far, hasn’t it? So I mean, you’ve had a stellar career trajectory to date and you’ve risen to CFO at GWI. What drew you to the business in the first place?
James Franks: I think the first thing is people. It’s always people. For me, when I met Tom, the CEO and founder, when I met the senior leadership team at GWI and when I met everyone through that process, you could see the appetite to one be entrepreneurial, two grow as quickly as we could, but just be good people. And what we always say and what’s something that’s really important for me is surround yourself by good people who want to grow and challenge you on a daily basis. And that’s exactly what I saw from day one. On top of that, when you have a look at the industry we’re in, when you have a look at the business model that GWI was in, it was not “we’re gonna be successful”. It was how quickly are we going to be successful? And that really, really gave me the appetite and encouraged me to join GWI at a time when I was actually doing something also that I really loved. I was working in football, which is one of my big passions as well.
Phil Dye: So it was the vision really in many ways that you bought into it, and Tom, the Founder, as you say…
James Franks: Yes. Hundred per cent, He gave you an opportunity, I guess, to come in as financial controller. Were they bringing finance in-house at that point?
Phil Dye: We had a bookkeeper at the time.
James Franks: And what Tom wanted to do is we were actually going through our first debt fundraiser. We were looking to change banks, and Tom thought it was very important to bring someone in from a professional perspective who could help him through that journey. So what he wanted me to do from the start was all about modelling, forecasting, producing a data room for the bank and giving them confidence in GWI. What happened, then transpired is he allowed me to take over the whole operational function then and to go back to the people aspect; he trusted me to do what I wanted to do. What I am really about, and the character I am, is I needed to do it my way. And he gave me the freedom to do that