FD Insight: Waqas Butt, Finance Director of Diversity Travel
“…given ongoing macro-economic challenges, FDs will need to be able to manage risk more dynamically.”
To tell us all about the role of a Finance Director, Finance Monthly speaks to Waqas Butt, who joined the award-winning travel management company Diversity Travel just over three months ago and is the first new board level appointment at the company since it was established eight years ago.
Waqas trained and qualified as a Chartered Accountant (FCA) with KPMG in Manchester. His first move into the industry was with the the largest member-owned mutual organisation in the UK Co-op. He remained with the Co-op for 15 years in a number of finance and commercial leadership roles across its different businesses.
Immediately prior to joining Diversity Travel, Waqas worked at an international marketing communications and print management company where he held interim roles as Finance Director and Transformation Director.
You have over 20 years of experience across different industries including retail, financial services and travel- how did your career path lead you to your current role?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with KPMG and the Co-op, gaining valuable skills, experience and professional qualifications. Both were large, established organisations in their own right and having gained such diverse corporate experience, I wanted to join a smaller organisation where I could utilise that knowledge to contribute to its future growth.
In my current role I am working with a very experienced, customer-focused board on our strategy for investment and growth by continuing to provide market leading services for our customers.
My experience in the co-operative sector should help me balance the company’s ambitious service innovation and growth plans with the wider requirements of a diverse set of stakeholder groups.
Diversity Travel’s board and our 120+ colleagues combined have many decades of experience in this unique sector. Drawing on existing experience within the company, alongside my own diverse experience, I am working with the team to drive our online proposition and continue to raise the bar for service levels and the way business travel is purchased in the charity and academic sectors.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you? What are some of the day-to-day challenges of working for a multi-award-winning travel management company?
In addition to my role as Finance Director, I also have board level responsibility for HR, recruitments and administration, so no two days are ever alike, which is an interesting aspect of my role. As with all finance functions, the month end process is deadline-driven and therefore always intense.
I tend to start the day by catching up with emails and my team, reviewing KPIs around customer service, operational efficiency and performance.
There will always be the odd matter to deal with urgently, so it’s important for me to be able to delegate tasks to my team, and focus on anything that requires my personal attention.
Having recently joined Diversity Travel, I am currently scheduling in more meetings with our customers so that I can better understand their needs and priorities, and ways we can help them to achieve these. I am also working towards gaining a good insight into other areas that we need to focus on over the coming months as a business and finance team.
What motivates you most about working for a company whose clients are from the charity, academic and not-for-profit sector?
Unless you’re actively involved with the charity, academic and not-for-profit sectors, it is easy to underestimate the global significance and positive work undertaken by these organisations.
Whilst each of them have differences, one of the consistent threads across all of them is the incredibly rewarding nature of the work they do and the contributions that they make.
The ability to manage different stakeholders – often with multiple competing requirements – is another common challenge for many of our clients. However, not being accountable to shareholders enables them to make decisions focused around the longer term and on a sustainable footing.
It is amazing to see the selfless commitment and courage of the people working to provide support and relief for others, particularly in what are often very difficult circumstances in the humanitarian and disaster relief arenas.
Working for an organisation that enables its customers to carry out their duties and fulfil their critical objectives worldwide is one of the biggest motivations for me. Equally important is delivering value for money and an exceptional service for our customers in respect of their travel requirements.
What goals did you arrive with as Finance Director of Diversity Travel?
The main areas were to develop the finance, HR and administration functions to ensure that they are able to support the strategic growth objectives of the business.
Hand in hand with this objective, we want to be the employer of choice in the travel management sector.
The focus is thus on building our talent pipeline and continuing our ongoing development of some of the most talented and customer-focused people in the travel management industry.
Diversity Travel has seen an increase in sales of over 65% over the past three years – how do you plan to safeguard the company’s rapid growth?
Continued growth will be delivered by carefully considered investment in our people, processes and technology to maintain our market-leading customer service levels.
The finance team will provide support for business decision-making and risk management by ensuring that these processes are informed by a full analysis of relevant data and that the business is managed in the long-term interests of its stakeholders.
It will also be about ensuring that we build on our existing customer relationships based on trust and credibility and successfully onboard new clients; continuing to provide a consistently high quality of customer service and experience.
Another major objective for the finance team is to improve business productivity and capital efficiency. This will include working capital management, investment appraisal processes and maintaining a strong balance sheet.
The role of Finance Director is well positioned to drive cultural change within a company. What achievements have you made in your role thus far?
I am relatively new into my tenure, however, we have already started to focus on operational and capital efficiency as a business.
Given the growth we hope to achieve, delivering value from both our operating and capital expenditure will ensure that we can achieve our strategic objectives and also improve our customer service and experience.
In your opinion, what might the future of financial directors look like in the upcoming years?
Given ongoing macro-economic challenges, FDs will need to be able to manage risk more dynamically. They will also need to utilise the rapid rate of technological change and innovation to capitalise on opportunities for their organisations.
They will have to derive actionable insight from the disparate sources of data available to the organisation, such as financial, competitor and operational data, by creating a single, real-time version of the truth to support and challenge commercial and operational decision-making.
Recruiting and retaining a finance talent pool will require robust succession planning, mapping finance team careers, rotating high performers to other roles and investment in training and development, particularly around leadership and interpersonal skills.
The burden of transparent reporting and regulatory requirements will continue at a pace and, more than ever before, leadership and innovation will be critical skills in demand for FDs, alongside pure technical skills and competence.