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"Of course you have qualms. It's a much wider role and you have to question whether you will be able to cope. But it was easier for me because it was a move from finance into a general management role in a group I knew very well which minimised some of the risk. It also helped that I would be running a part of a group that I have a lot of empathy with and enthusiasm for and knowledge of in terms of the business and people.

"The FD role is a great platform from which to go into it because you do get to see pretty much all of the company's issues but more than that you have a commercial platform, you understand the drivers that can impact on business and that is always helpful. Obviously you have to embrace the other aspects of the business and develop other skills but it is a super and solid base."

Lynch began his tenure as CEO by putting together a new management team – a combination of internal and external hires with the full range of skills needed to run a business – a process, he says, which helped him manage aspects of the CEO role which his skillset as CFO had not prepared him for. "I have been lucky that the people I have brought in have gelled very quickly which has made it easier for me. One thing above all else is surround yourself with very good people."

Phil White, CEO National Express Group

Phil White found himself CEO of international transport group National Express, a listed company, in 1997, just 18 months after becoming MD of one of its subsidiaries. It was his first experience of working in a listed company and the learning curve was a steep one. "I had run a division for 18 months so I didn't have to learn how to manage the business but I did have to learn how to manage the City," says White.

White is something of a reluctant businessman. He wanted to become a Latin teacher but his Latin teacher sensibly, or not, advised him to become a chartered accountant instead. He took his advice and did an accountancy degree – something he wholeheartedly regrets. White doesn't believe in vocational degrees, a waste of time he says. He wishes he had studied a more creative subject such as History or English or Latin and it may be no coincidence that his FD at National Express has a Classics degree.

Accountancy took him in to an accounting firm and work in the public sector which is where he gained his knowledge of public sector companies. In the late eighties he found himself part of an MBO team at Yorkshire-based company Rider. "You learn a lot in a buy-out. It usually takes a year of highs and lows before a deal is complete and so in that time you learn to control your emotions. When you are doing an MBO you are purely focussed on that and there is a danger that you'll lose control of the day- to-day business. You learn to be wary of that."

He joined National Express in 1994 after it acquired the company he was working for. It wasn't an easy transition – when National Express asked him to stay on as FD he nearly said no. Why? "I was used to being main board," he says, by way of explanation.

A board change six months later saw him appointed managing director. A year later, in 1996, he was offered a place on the main board and shortly afterwards, in 1997, a propitious management shuffle saw him appointed CEO. How does he explain his meteoric rise to the top of the group?

"I changed things there [at the subsidiary], I had changed the culture and I had delivered everything that was required of me and I guess at the end of the day they had confidence in me." How valuable was his time as FD in his broader management role? "Accountancy gives you the ground work in understanding the technical side of business but you have to move on and learn through your own experiences and mistakes. I was also lucky to work for people who taught me a lot.

"My first boss taught me how to read a set of accounts. He used to say: 'Read me the story, Phil,' and you had to sit and explain the business to him without ever mentioning a number. To do this you really have to understand what the business is all about. In budget meetings I will ask the same. My second boss taught me how to listen and work as a team; the third how to speak but not be abrasive; the fourth taught me about preparation and presentation and my last boss taught me that the best deal is the one where everybody wins. Share it and let people come back to you."

White says you can't close your mind off and must continue to learn. The greatest lesson he has learnt as CEO is that business is about people. "I delegate a lot, I trust people. One of the companies I worked for was run through management by fear. You don't motivate people that way so when I was appointed MD of that business I decided to change the philosophy. Half of the managers thought it was brilliant but half were terrified because they weren't use to how to make decisions. I didn't spot that. I thought everyone would welcome the change. What that taught me was that no matter how long someone has been around they always welcome advice and assistance."

White doesn't concur with the view that being CFO is a natural route to CEO – the CFO role is not one that nurtures people skills, he says. What advice then, would he give to an ambitious CFO? "Learn how to deliver bad news quickly," he says. "It is something you cannot avoid. Also, don't look for the next job because the minute you do, the minute you stop focussing on your own job, you'll get it wrong. If you do your job well, the next job will come to you."

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