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.