Vivienne Maclachlan is Chief Financial Officer at the impact asset manager ThomasLloyd Group. There, she is responsible for the central finance functions which include accounting, tax, treasury and corporate strategy. She is a member of the ESG Stewardship committee and a member of the Board of Directors. Fondsfrau Anke Dembowski talks with her about her career and what she thinks is important.
Today, there are large numbers of women in the finance functions of major corporations but disproportionately few women Chief Financial Officers (CFOs). How can and should successful women CFOs navigate to the top spot?
I think that it is both, an individual and a broader society issue. And it is definitely a two-way-street. That means: Women, don’t give up! Speak up! But we also need a culture change at the board and management level. I do see change there, but not as fast as what’s needed.
What does it mean to be a female leader in the financial sector?
I always try to be myself, not just my work persona. Being a leader means that you develop a relationship with your people, that they trust you. My door is generally open. I am not scared to give opinions and to take decisions. Also, I am not scared to change a plan when the situation has changed. Bravery is important and re-evaluating and admitting a mistake is difficult. This is important: you don’t have to stick with your original plan!
Tell us more about your career and how did you end up in financial services? I saw that you worked for PwC. Are consulting houses good stepping stones?
I never had a grand master plan. I studied law at university and then joined PwC first as an auditor and then in the capital markets group. There, I loved the M&A business, but I also advised companies in issuing bonds and on IPOs. For this, I travelled a lot; I worked in Russia, Paris, and the US. I found it interesting working in diverse cultures and industries am very grateful for all of the opportunities PwC gave me and enjoyed working with so many different people. But in 2016 I got the opportunity to join a tech-company in the City of London to take them through an IPO. For me, it was quite a culture change when I moved into the public listed area and then more recently joined ThomasLloyd – an authentic, pure-play impact investor.
Do you feel you have particular responsibility to encourage more women into the sector?
Absolutely, 100%! I encourage diversity in general. The more diversity you have – not just of genders but of experience, cultures, tenures, backgrounds etc. the more valuable the output is. Diversity makes the final decision more complete and robust. How I do that? I try to lead by example and to create a great place for women.
What were the significant moments in your journey to becoming a CFO and your current role? Why were they important and how did you come to these moments?
I always wanted to be the best in what I could do. I had very good partners when I was at PwC, and actually, I was never focused on title or status. What I liked was the strategic discussions, problem solving, and the challenges in creating and leading a team. Here at ThomasLloyd, I also have the opportunity of bringing about transformation and automation. We all need to use technology to increase our efficiency and enable us to scale at pace.
As you look back, what were the significant relationships that helped you in your journey to CFO?
I had some of the best bosses at PwC. They spent time developing me. One of them told me that no question is too silly, and that work life balance was important. His wife was hugely successful in a bank, and they took turns when they needed to take care of their children. He told me that family was more important than your individual career. It was very empowering to see a successful professional partnership working to enable each of their careers.
What are the skills important to being a CFO, and how did you acquire them?
There is much more around it than education. It is more than being an accountant or a technician. You have to have a good understanding of the entire business. Of course, you need to have accounting professionalism, but you also need commercialism, building a team and the knowledge and humility to take people with you on the journey, rather than just simply telling them what they need to do.
What advice would you give other aspiring women professionals on managing their journey to leadership?
You shouldn’t compare yourself too much others. There will be always points in your career when others are moving faster. Find out what you enjoy, and do it! Then you are going to get celebrated and valued. That’s really important: Enjoy being at work!
What are the critical challenges you currently face in your CFO role?
Twelve months ago my answer would have been different. Now I say: Keeping the team engaged and happy. Pre-Corona our team was focused on 80% of their time doing, and 20% analysing. This has now flipped around. I’ve also just welcomed another senior female member on team. We have a lot of exciting plans and initiatives coming up at ThomasLloyd. We are seeing increasing global interest in and demand for what we do which is investing in sustainable real assets (infrastructure) in high growth and emerging markets. People are also looking for genuine leaders in this field and I’m really proud to work at ThomasLloyd where we are authentic impact investors and take our responsibilities seriously.
As a CFO and leader what would you like to accomplish and leave as legacy as a CFO?
I am quite excited of where we are as a company. We are expanding…..rapidly and have global aspirations. And I feel honoured to be part of this. I think it is a great thing to connect impact investors everywhere with sustainable real assets and provide technology to connect them. It is hugely exciting what we can achieve. And I am still learning so much on ESG and on rolling out the distribution network. No day is the same and I thrive on this.
What do you like to do, when you are not a CFO with ThomasLloyd?
Hm… writing a book, may be a criminal story.
Thank you Vivienne, for this inspiring interview!
Vivienne joined ThomasLloyd in 2019 and is responsible for the central finance function which includes Accounting, Tax, Treasury and Corporate Strategy. She is a member of the ESG Stewardship committee and a member of the Board of Directors. She has significant expertise in transforming and establishing financial procedures and processes, on maximising public reporting and external communications to facilitate communication with investors and analysts, whilst promoting the highest standards of governance and transparent communication.
Prior to joining ThomasLloyd, Vivienne was the CFO of Alfa Financial Software Plc, a technology company based in London, with operations in the United States of America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Vivienne joined Alfa to lead them through their listing on the main market of the London Stock Exchange in June 2017 and oversaw the transformation of the finance function prior to and post listing. She has more than 12 years of capital markets experience at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she assisted and advised management teams and owners of companies on raising capital in UK, US and European markets and on M&A transactions.
Vivienne is also an independent non-executive Director and Chair of the Audit Committee of Tungsten Corporation PLC, an AIM listed technology business based in London.
She holds a Bachelor of Law (LLB Hons) from the University of Aberdeen and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Scotland.