Interview with Katherine Grover, finance director, Knowledgepool
Katherine Grover joined KnowledgePool as finance director in 2004. KnowledgePool is a managed learning service provider and is listed as one of the top 20 global training outsourcing companies. Lucia Knight of Page Executive’s CFO practice speaks to Katherine about her career and life as a female FD.
Katherine was chosen by the owners to be part of the new management team in 2004 to turn around the business and now outsources the country-wide training needs for its clients. Following a period of restructure and redesign, the business has quadrupled in size and is weathering the economic storm as more and more businesses wish to outsource and more effectively manage their training budgets. The business has grown from £5m when she joined to £40m today. With acquisitions, international growth and a merger of one of their smaller businesses afoot, things are really hotting up for Katherine at KnowledgePool.
Katherine also holds the position of MD for Right Hand HR, a small consultancy which she acquired and is responsible for operationally. The owner of the business is also the CEO on a part-time basis which means that Katherine, as his second in command for the group, is essentially overseeing both businesses on a day-to-day basis.
How would your peer group describe you?
In character, I’m tough but fair and I am someone who can be relied upon to make things happen. As FD, I think everyone I have worked with would say that whilst my core skills definitely lie within finance, over the years during my time working in leadership positions within two SME environments, I have also become adept at turning my hand to HR, legal and the operations side of those businesses... and anything else that doesn’t fit neatly into sales or marketing. I now spend about 20% of my time doing finance work exclusively because I have the right people helping me in that area and the other 80% of my time doing everything else.
What is your recruitment philosophy?
Since leading in a range of CFO positions within SMEs I have found that my most successful recruits are those whom I have brought in at an early stage in their career and trained. They stay longer, seem hungrier and are more valuable as they grow up in the business. Within KnowledgePool, we have appointed four apprentices over the last two years in our finance division who are working out really well – there are so many smart, keen and driven 18 year olds who historically would automatically have gone to university, but are making different decisions about their careers. With experienced hires, I value: a) attitude, b) personality fit and c) technical fit – in that order – with the role I am recruiting.
Do you think being a woman impacts your performance as a CFO?
Whilst hating to generalise, I think that my ability to juggle many balls in the air at the same time makes me able to perform in a broader FD role than some men, but that is a complete generalisation! I think it is more to do with individual characteristics. Some time ago I performed a psychometric profiling exercise, the dominant characteristics being: achievement, focus, detail and interaction.
Anything surprising we should know about you...outside of work?
Since I work full-time, my holidays are very special to me as I get to enjoy uninterrupted time with the kids. Recently, I took my elderly mother and kids (Megan, six, and Zack, four) to Sicily where we relied somewhat heavily on the sat nav in the deep dark depths of the night to get us to our hotel and ended up in a dry river bed. Also, every year I organise a massive multi-family holiday somewhere in the UK where we take over a small hotel or youth hostel for a long weekend – this year we have 44 people attending!
If you weren’t doing this job what would you be doing?
With my sensible head on I would like to be some kind of major project manager but in an ideal world I would be managing a wildlife reserve in Africa. (Katherine considered forestry as a career but was swayed into accounting.
Best piece of life advice you have benefited from?
A partner in an accounting practice that my careers adviser arranged for me to meet advised me that if I was serious about a career in accounting that I should study a degree which really interested me and NOT accounting and finance. That was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. It meant that I enjoyed learning something different, kept my options open but ultimately came back to finance and I continue to be enthused by the financial impact on all businesses.
Last book you read?
Solar by Ian McEwan.
Brief career history:
Present: Right Hand HR – MD
2004 – present: KnowledgePool Group – FD
1998 – 2003: Rubus ltd – FD and company secretary
1993 – 1996: Biocompatibles International plc – FP&A Manager
1989 – 1993: Xenova Group plc – FC
Previously: Graduated with a 2.1 BSc (hons) in Chemistry from the University of Southampton and qualified as a chartered accountant with PwC