• Bio: From studying biochemistry at university to corporate finance, Debbie Clark gives us an insight into how her career has progressed to end up as the Head of Corporate Finance at CV Capital LLP (part of Chantrey Vellacott DFK LLP).
  • Role: Head of Corporate Finance

Debbie Clark

Who would have thought that a background in biochemistry would be useful in the fast paced world of corporate finance? I am always surprised when I look back and see many of the skills I learnt as a scientist were applied to further a career in finance.

My early career

After finishing my BSc in Biological and Medicinal Chemistry I was unsure of which career path to take. After a brief work placement in a laboratory, developing drug testing kits, I realised that the white coat and goggles were not for me.

I was living in Cardiff at the time and went to speak to a careers adviser at Cardiff University who suggested undertaking a two-year MBA in order to help me decide what I wanted to do. I had always enjoyed mathematics and also found some finance modules which I thought may be interesting.

This was my best career choice as it gave me access to all areas of finance from accounting and hedging to financial planning and forecasting. It was then that I knew a career in finance was for me.

Throughout my MBA I decided to do a number of vacation secondments. I felt this would help me gain an entry into a job when I graduated and I was not wrong. I worked for both NM Rothschild and HSBC, eventually accepting a position in corporate finance within the metal and mining team at HSBC Investment Banking. This was the start of a career in corporate finance and the break I had been looking for.

My first year within HSBC involved more training, study and sitting exams with the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) before being allowed to have direct client access. The training was crucial and even though there were times I felt I was still cramming at university, it prepared me for the work ahead.

Getting into Corporate Finance

Life in investment banking is interesting, fast paced and stressful, but rewarding. Especially when the transactions you helped to complete are quoted in the ‘Financial Times’.

So why leave investment banking? While I loved the excitement of the large deals and the continual steep learning curve I felt that I wanted to get involved in a broader range of industry sectors and with clients of all sizes. Luck was on my side and an opportunity become available for a short-term placement with PwC in Ghana, which coincidentally was also where I was brought up.

I jumped at the chance and immediately started working on mergers & acquisitions (M&A) transactions as well as putting their compliance and transactional teams into place. The cultural differences between investment banking and accounting partnership were large but I came to like the collegiate approach to advising clients.

At the end of the placement I decided I wanted to return to the UK and took up a position to further expand my private M&A experience with Mazars, a medium-sized accountancy firm. I subsequently moved to Chantrey Vellacott DFK, where I am now a non-accounting partner of an accountancy practice.

I head up the Corporate Finance team, including Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulated work as well as helping the firm on the development of its corporate and commercial client base. As part of this role I have to ensure I am up to date with all regulatory issues and therefore find CISI courses and its continuing professional development structure perfect to ensure I complete enough training during a year.

What does my role look like now?

Of my time, 70% is spent managing and creating transactions and clients, 10% on compliance management and 20% on developing the team. Over the years I have attended significant team building and management courses to help me further develop and manage my team effectively. Ensuring you have a good team to work with you on a transaction is imperative to building any successful corporate finance.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Variety – having advised both large listed companies and smaller entrepreneurial companies, I have found what they have in common are diverse and interesting challenges requiring different approaches. No two jobs are ever the same.

Every client and transaction is different but so often there are common threads. The more transactions you do the more you are able to apply a little known idea to a new client problem, helping to save time and ultimately the client’s money. Challenges are always around the corner so good problem solving skills are a must as there is rarely a challenge which doesn’t create a new opportunity.

I love working with entrepreneurial clients and learning how they developed their businesses – often over many years. It is very satisfying to help them achieve a goal in their business lives. Corporate finance is all about creating value for clients and good project management on transactions helping clients to continue to manage and grow their businesses, thereby protecting the business value.

The negotiating end of a transaction can be very enjoyable. It does not always have to be a hard negotiating stance which is taken although it sometimes is. Often, the most successful negotiations are those in which both sides come to the table with a reasonable expectation of not agreeing on all points.

We try to work with like-minded lawyers and other advisers on our transactions to ensure the negotiations go smoothly. When negotiations become problematic the best approach is often to walk away until the heat has died down and then return with a completely different approach.

Most of all I enjoy the thrill of watching the client when we complete a transaction, knowing that we have helped by being part of that journey.

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