Altum Consulting recently spoke to Richard Barker, Director of Finance and Resources at GOODENOUGH COLLEGE to learn about his role, team, hiring challenges and how the pandemic has altered the skills needed by a financial professional.
Why and when did you join Goodenough College?
I was working as CFO for a membership organisation when I became aware of the role at Goodenough College in 2014. I was excited by the breadth and the key senior position of the role. I manage the finances, governance, estate and the commercial activities, for an organisation with great resources and ambition. I have very much enjoyed challenging and restructuring the financial and commercial position of the College, whilst supporting our students, Governors and commercial clients to the highest of standards.
How has your team developed during your time with Goodenough College?
It has been great to see members of the team grow in their roles and develop their skills. I’m committed to empowering my staff and supporting their professional and personal development. My finance team are all either in training or qualified. Seeing that team in particular leverage their training and experience to either get new roles in our organisation or get new roles outside of the College, has been particularly rewarding. I am happy to lose good staff if they have developed beyond what we can offer them, we had the benefit of them on their journey and I wish them luck.
What have been the biggest challenges when hiring?
Clearly finding the time to commit to a recruitment exercise when I have a very busy workload has been the biggest challenge. But I am committed to finding the best people for roles and I refuse to compromise. Getting good people, and developing those people has been the only way I have found to succeed. Getting that skills and expectation match on appointment is absolutely key, and getting those candidates in front of the interview panel the biggest challenge.
What do you look for when working with a recruitment firm?
I look for a recruiter that understands me and my organisation. I expect them to be honest and engaging with me. I want to be able to trust my recruitment firm in shortlisting and only presenting candidates that they know I will value. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting everyone’s time on candidates that are clearly unsuitable, it is equally unfair to the candidate. I expect the firm to have met the candidates and have confidence in the candidates’ ability to delight me. I also expect a firm to challenge my preconceptions and unseen biases, and surprise me with candidates that I may not have considered on paper. That challenge takes skill and confidence from a firm, but is necessary for the best candidates to shine through. I want the firm to work for their fee and shoulder much of the burden of recruitment.
Working with Leanne and Robbie has been a real pleasure. Altum’s systems and processes have been very transparent and frank. Their candidate briefings have been some of the best I have seen and their honest, friendly approach has exceeded my expectations. When a first round of recruitment of my new Head of Finance didn’t find an appropriate candidate, we just went at it again and took that as a learning experience. I now have an excellent appointment in post. Altum very much met my expectations, and pleasingly Altum are also very well regarded by the colleagues we appointed.
Do you think the pandemic has altered the key skills needed of a finance professional? If so what are they?
Overnight we had to challenge many of our norms and expectations of ways working. We had to look carefully at how we could best support our staff in being able to deliver their roles effectively, whilst maintaining key controls, oversight and opportunity. It has required the development of skills in more deliberate communication. I encourage my teams to speak to colleagues and not hide behind email, it is more difficult but necessary to maintain relationships and gain clarity and share engagement. I look forward to returning to the office but I think we have gained some helpful insight on the ability to flex working arrangements and communicate that we must retain and continue to develop. Such skills will be seen as ever more important going forward.
As an FD I have found many of the challenges of the pandemic professionally engaging and interesting. The impact of COVID on the College has challenged the very basis of our views of financial resilience and sustainability and working through that with Trustees and the senior Executive team has been a very substantial development opportunity for me personally. I have so far been luckier than many over this terrible period for humanity, my heart goes out to those families more damaged by this awful virus.