Finance

Graham Seddon

Graham is the co-founder of Altitude Accounting, a UK-based accounting and financial advisory firm specializing in founder-led, high growth businesses in Europe and North America. Graham has more than 25 years of experience in professional services and technology, and advises CEOs and senior leadership teams on financial strategy, reporting, preparing for investments and how to use data to drive business goals. Prior to founding Altitude, he was a managing partner at Menzies, a 450-person UK chartered accountancy, where he was responsible for the firm’s largest office, developing its digital finance strategy and creating a new service line offering part-time CFO services. Graham currently lives in London but is often in the US working with clients and attending any live sporting event he possibly can.

Why are you passionate about helping high-growth, founder-led businesses?

My passion to elevate business owners was born out of my own family experience. My parents ran their own business as a newsagent and postal office for their entire lives. Like most entrepreneurs, they were great at some aspects of business but needed support in others. Knowing what you are good at and how to use your gifts to help others has proven over and over again to be the most rewarding element of the job I do. I’ve been able to use my accounting and strategic skill sets to help people just like my parents achieve their goals and aspirations.

As the youngest partner at Menzies, a 100+ year old chartered accounting firm in the UK, you developed their digital strategy for finance. How has the cloud and digital tools transformed finance?

Technology has driven huge changes in accounting over my career, but cloud computing has had probably the biggest impact. The ability to see, manage and collaborate on the financial picture anytime, anywhere, on any device has made it so much more efficient to work across multiple businesses. One of the biggest areas it has impacted is forecasting. The tools available now make it so much easier to look ahead and plan for future growth. The ability to scenario plan, adjust as actuals unfold and report in real time have transformed how business leaders can operate in real-time.

You have been an interim CFO and advisor to a number of founder-led businesses over the years. How do you help them establish the right processes for growth?

The most important thing for me is to know the business and what makes it tick. There are many similarities across services businesses but every business is different. Taking time to really understand the key drivers to revenue and profitability are vital before you build the right process and systems. Once you know those drivers, you can make better decisions on the technology and data needed to run the business and look ahead to where the business is heading. How those systems can and should integrate with other elements of the business is also vital. Scalability is key to ensure that implementations are going to stand the test of time as the business grows and evolves.

As a services company looks to accelerate growth and scale, the move from cash to GAAP accounting becomes more important. What advice would you give CEOs looking to make the transition?

The move from cash to GAAP accounting is a necessary step for companies looking to maximize value for investment or a potential exit. Without the benefit of GAAP accounting, a business may be undervalued and the time spent in due diligence can be a distraction from focusing on the business.

Doing the work upfront will deliver real value and help create better business decisions, but it will be a transition and it’s important to understand the impact the move will have. For example, some of your fundamental KPIs may change and you will likely need to update certain metrics to reflect the new approach. When making the switch, I always recommend shadow accounting the previous 2 years, and re-modelling budgets for the current year based on GAAP accounting. This will provide management with greater clarity into how models will shift before it becomes the primary view for managing and reporting on the business.

Megan Nail

Megan has a knack for getting to the heart of a company’s culture and goals, and designing compensation structures that attract, engage, and retain the talent to achieve those goals. She is currently a leader in NFP’s Total Rewards Practice, advising clients on compensation strategies, pay equity, incentive pay structures, and how to use compensation as a key component of the employee value proposition. Megan’s career has been focused on professional services firms, and she is passionate about creating total rewards structures that support growth and scalability. Megan holds a range of professional certifications, is a board member for the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM’s) Indiana chapter, and is the co-author of Joy Powered Organizations. She’s also an active volunteer, sports fan and mom of two sons.

Why are you so passionate about helping people-based businesses?

People are the core of every business – but with people-based businesses, the connection is undeniable. I love working with services businesses because they are willing to invest in their talent, which they know is the only way to achieve their goals and ultimately success. This allows us the opportunity to think broadly and creatively about total rewards strategies, including compensation programs, that recognize and reward their greatest asset.

You’ve advised a lot of organizations on their sales compensation strategy over the years. How should CEOs and CROs think about compensation as they move upmarket and to larger accounts (>$1M+)?

As you move up market and grow your team, it’s important to make your sales compensation plans and strategy more sophisticated. An important note – this does not mean to make it more complicated! Sales compensation plans need to be simple and straightforward enough so they are easily understood by the team, but also clearly motivate and drive the behavior and performance you want.

The first step is to reassess your sales targets and cycles. Larger sales typically take longer to sell – and less frequent payments and achievements will impact your sales team if plans aren’t structured well. Then, evaluate your profitability on larger sales. Do you need to adjust your plan to account for different levels? If teams will be working on a sale, how will you share the credit and payments?

Finally, formalize your plan. In a start-up environment, it’s common to have little (or no) formal documentation of your sales compensation plans. Clearly communicating a plan so everyone is on the same page is key – and will avoid questions, dispute and ill will in the future!

What advice do you give to companies who are rolling out an equity incentive program to their employees for the first time?

Equity is a powerful tool – and employees are attracted to opportunities that provide equity because of its unique opportunity to create sustainable wealth. However, studies have shown again and again that equity compensation recipients do not understand their rewards. My advice is to take the time to educate your team on the awards and how they create value – and the important details like tax consequences. Also, invest in a meaningful and equitable way to structure the grants based on tenure, job level or whatever factors are most important to your business. The bottom line is intentional and clear communication around equity incentives will help ensure you and your team both perceive the high level of value that exists in these programs.

What impact do you think the move to remote work as a more acceptable practice will have on companies’ total reward programs and policies in the long term?

For many years, remote work was a key differentiator for consultancies; but that competitive advantage is fading as more and more companies are moving to remote or hybrid work cultures. For those jobs that can be done remotely, I believe this will become an expectation by employees and an imperative for companies to compete for talent. Total rewards programs and policies will become more consistent across the employee population and less focused on physical events and perks (such as free food, swanky offices and happy hours). Employers are demanding that all benefits be equitable for both remote and in office employees. Businesses must continue to evolve and rethink their employee value proposition.

How can companies structure their compensation and workforce policies to appeal to a more diverse workforce?

The workforce will only continue to become more diverse over time – which is a huge advantage. However, we have to recognize that with this diversity comes different needs and opportunities to structure compensation and programs. Giving options and flexibility will allow employees to customize a total rewards package that works for them. For example, while older workers may value a rich retirement contribution and the stability of a higher base salary, younger workers may value student loan repayment programs and a lower base salary with higher upside potential.