Karen Shearer is the Financial Director for Novosco; she is a member of the Chartered Institute of Directors, and when not overseeing all-things-Novosco, she likes sunshine, walking, gardens and gin.
Question: Karen, you’re our Finance Director, what does that actually mean?
Karen: I guess a high-level summary would be that I oversee all of the financial aspects of the business. Everything in the business that has a financial implication, I’ll have a hand in or oversight of it. Things such as what we’re spending our money on, and the controls of how we’re doing that. One of my main duties is looking at the strategic elements of budgeting and forecasting our cash flow - managing cash in any business is always an important task.
Q: What about working on customer projects, how involved do you get?
Karen: The level of involvement depends on the scale of the project or the deal, and how appropriate it is. I do look at certain projects, and help in the overall strategies of what we are doing, now and in the future; what will it cost, how it will be financed. We’re always judging things on the basis of risk. So what’s the right level of involvement for projects that appear to be greater risks, that’s the aspects I’m involved in. But we have such great people who know exactly what they’re doing, I know I can rely on my team.
Q: So you’re working behind the scenes, saying yes and no to things, as appropriate?
Karen: Not quite! One of the most important parts of my role is ensuring that the right people have the right information to make the right decisions where there are pound or euro signs involved.
Q: How long have you been with Novosco?
Karen: I’ve technically been here longer than Novosco! Novosco was formed following a merger between 4Sol and Real Time Systems, back in 2007. I joined 4Sol three months before the merger, so my first job was the due diligence in bringing the two companies together, as Novosco.
Q: In 10 years, how has your job and your duties changed?
Karen: Scale. In 2007, the company had a turnover of just over £3 million and we had a staff of 30; currently we have over 150 employees and the group turnover is at almost £30 million annually. It’s that level of growth which has influenced my role and its growth over the last decade.
A lot of the basics, however, don’t change just because there’s an extra zero in our turnover.
The team is bigger, the services we offer have much more complexity, we’re adding new solutions. We’re also geographically spreading; not much of our business back then was in England, whereas now England accounts for upwards of 50%.
It’s exciting to be a part of that growth. We’re doing things today that ten years ago, when I started, hadn’t even been invented yet!
Q: That technology diversification has to present questions for you as Finance Director, how have you approached it?
Karen: Well absolutely, it’s all about having the right experts around us who know where the industry is heading, that can see what customers’ needs will be, often before the customers have seen it themselves.
Take Disaster Recovery, for example, in 2007 it had nowhere near the prominence it does now, the levels of data involved back then were hugely different than now too. Whereas now, something like the WannaCry attack becomes the main story on every news service in the country – and organisations are acutely aware of protecting their data should disaster strike. It’s that foresight that’s been essential for Novosco’s continued growth.
Investing in the technologies, the expertise, and ultimately, the people, is a large part of what has kept us on our successful trajectory.
Q: And has the business model changed much in your time as Novosco’s Finance Director?
Karen: Hugely. Back when I joined, we were mostly buying and selling equipment, with some project services alongside. Now though, many more customers want to buy something ‘as a service’, over a contract term and they want steady billing, which this enables. So Novosco has a cash outlay at the beginning, and we provide the services with a regular and predictable cost over the term.
We now live in an as-a-service world, which is very different from an accounting and cashflow perspective.
Q: What are your highlights, so far, with Novosco?
Karen: Other than seeing the continuous growth of the company, which as Finance Director, I’m hugely proud of, I would have to say our site expansion.
Only five years ago we moved to the Northern Ireland Science Park (now Catalyst) which was an absolute sea change for us as a business, it kicked us all into another gear. Then just four years after that, we have moved into a second building in Catalyst to our current state-of-the-art headquarters; a superb environment for our people and business to grow even further.
Our expansion further into Ireland and England has also been a real high point, most recently with the full integration of what was NetDef into the Novosco group. All these positive changes add up to help us grow into an even bigger and more successful company.
We’re a very proactive company and Patrick and John (Lennon, Sales Director) are extremely entrepreneurial. They are always looking for the next thing, the next development, the next way to expand and improve.
Q: Novosco is always taking steps to do more for its staff, to offer things well beyond the norm; how do you justify the expenditure?
Karen: Well, the investment isn’t on perks, it’s in our people. Things like Westfield Healthcare, fresh fruit for staff, and all the other standard things that Novosco does for its staff all help make this the type of place and the type of company that people will go the extra mile and a half for. Then there’s the occasional things too, such as Pizza nights or facilitating a party every so often, it’s all about the small gestures that have a real influence on the wellbeing, attitude, and mindset of our team.
Q: As the company has grown and expanded how has the admin and support infrastructure developed and supported you?
Karen: It has grown steadily over my time here; for example we have a financial controller now, which is a role we didn’t have five years ago. We’ve probably expanded the support positions by a person per year, but that rate is increasing as we grow further.
I’ve been very lucky that my team have stayed within the business. People have been able to move up and develop. We continually look at multi-skilling and expanding what people can do and what their roles are. Professional development is a huge part of working at Novosco and that’s not just on the technical side of the business.
As the company grows faster, there’s even more opportunities for people (and their roles) to grow with it. Novosco is definitely not a static environment for peoples’ careers, that’s for sure.
Q: How do we attract and keep the best people to support your role as Finance Director?
Karen: First off, working in an incredibly professional environment.
As a finance team we are supporting a genuinely top-class engineering team and customer-facing team, too. These are all people at the top of their game, you know that you’re playing with the A team which makes us always strive to be better. It’s that symbiosis that contributes to our company mantra of, “Fearless Champions of Better.”
People who join Novosco quickly learn that there is a continuous push to improve. When you’re working with the best, it keeps you striving to improve further and further.
Novosco also greatly encourages flexibility for staff, where possible dependent on roles. We do what we can to ensure we’re a responsible and understanding employer. It’s not just about the high quality facilities and the ‘perks’, or the great bosses... We consider the needs of our people, in their professional and personal needs.
To put it simply, we care about our people and in turn they care about Novosco. It’s because of this mutual respect and confidence that our customers know that they’re getting the right partner with the right people to give them what they need.
Novosco has incredibly low employee turnover, this has been crucial to our success. People can learn their job in a month, but our people hone their skills over years and years. You come to know things that you can’t easily teach. In my team, for example, those working with finance and accounts have expertise and knowledge that has expanded and improved over their time here, it’s what makes us so good at our job, and why we’re an award winning company to join and work for.