Stuart Endacott, Manager at Investigo’s St Albans office meets Paul Ablin, Group Financial Controller at easyJet, to discuss his career to date, what attracted him to easyJet and his thoughts on a successful finance function.
How did you get where you are today?
I have taken a slightly unconventional route into the role of Group Financial Controller. I have a background in risk management, internal Finance control, assurance and corporate governance. This has given me a slightly different perspective to other GFCs who have taken a more traditional accountancy route.
I have always chosen to work in companies that genuinely interest me and have had the pleasure to work for some great companies including SABMiller, Marks & Spencer, and KPMG, each giving me a different perspective.
easyJet values people with different skillsets and experience, which played a key role in their decision to promote me into my current role.
What attracted you to easyJet?
I joined easyJet 5 years ago, at the same time as Carolyn McCall (CEO) and Chris Kennedy (CFO). There was a real buzz within easyJet about moving onto the next chapter of its life. easyJet was already set up for success, it had a fantastic network, young fuel efficient aircrafts, high calibre people and a strong balance sheet. Also the airline sector is really interesting it has lots of moving parts, is fast paced and competitive. All these combined to make a really good challenge.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your career so far?
I believe that you have to be passionate about what you do and the company in which you operate.
I once moved into a sector that failed to ignite me and when that happens I do not think you can perform to your best. I like the fact that I work for a company and a sector for which everyone you speak to have an opinion about.
Progression into the top job is an ambition for some trained accountants. What are the barriers for finance people becoming CFO and how would you suggest overcoming these?
The advice I give to our easyJet graduates is to focus on the fundamentals of finance. For example really understand double entry accounting and how the accounting works. Too often people want to rush through the early stages and not nail the basics. They therefore struggle later in their careers, especially when the level of complexity increases. Ultimately, hard work is key to performing in finance.
What are the key challenges facing the aviation sector?
Inherently the aviation sector carries risks and challenges that need to be managed on a daily basis. At easyJet we invest significant time to really understand each of the risks from both an operational and strategic level. If you just look back over the past few years, we’ve seen significant fuel and FX fluctuations, extreme geo-environmental impact (snow, volcanic ash, etc.) and industrial action. Combined with this, easyJet’s number one priority is the safety and security of our passengers and employees. This is a key area of focus and will continue to be our top priority.
What are the priorities for your business and how is the finance function helping to achieve them?
As mentioned above, our top priority is to ensure the safety and security of our passengers and employees. Our other priorities are based around our drive to make travel easy and affordable. This is achieved by maintaining our cost advantage, driving demands and disciplined use of capital. Finance plays a key role in each of these priorities, through leading cost initiatives, providing decision support and challenge and ensuring we continue to have a strong balance sheet. Finance needs to be more than just a score-keeper, they need to drive value into the organisation.
What are the qualities you look for when hiring for your team?
We really want people that have passion to work for easyJet and in the finance function - we want people with real energy. They need to be pioneering, in that they like finding new ways to do things. Also, they need to operate with integrity.
Finally, easyJet is a very delivery focused organisation, so this is key. How do you measure team success?
There are obviously a number of finance metrics we use such as accuracy and processing efficiency. However, these only tell a part of the story, more important is the ability to influence the business. To me a successful finance function is being pulled into key decisions as they are seen to add value. How do you get the best out of people? I believe in empowering the team, providing support when needed. I trust my team to do the right thing.
What is the public perception of easyJet right now?
Over the 5 years I have worked at easyJet the external perception of the company seems to have gone from strength-to-strength. We seem to be a brand that people relate to; the focus on value, strong digital offering and making travel easier, seems to really work.
What keeps you awake at night?
I have a young family, so it would normally be one of them waking me in the middle of the night. From a work perspective nothing, I have always been able to maintain a separation between work and personal life. Also, easyJet believes in achieving a healthy work/life balance.