CFO Spotlight: Jeremy Summerfield, Dynata

We speak to Jeremy Summerfield, EMEA CFO,  at global digital data company Dynata about the changing finance landscape, how evolving technology is impacting the way we now interact with customers, bringing teams together and the importance of prioritising your mental health.

HedgerWay: You have extensive international experience working with Private and Public companies where you have focused on B2B service providers in the Marketing and Technology sectors. How have you maintained your passion for all things finance?

I’m lucky that from the beginning of my career I knew I wanted to be an accountant! I specifically enjoy the ability to be able to influence the business. I love getting involved in the operational side of the business  and working in finance meant that very early on, I could get involved in almost all areas. 

I am currently EMEA CFO of Dynata, an online data marketing business.  The business is at the cutting edge of market research and we are constantly evolving, being involved on this journey as part of the management team is extremely motivating

Throughout your career how have you seen the finance function develop as technology has evolved?

New and evolving technologies have had an impact both internally and externally. Over the last 18 months at Dynata, we have upgraded and integrated our systems whilst incorporating new tools into our day to day life. We have had the opportunity to invest in a new data warehouse which combined with data visualisation software enables us to spend more time drawing insight and making recommendations to the business.

Your first move from practice set you on a fast track trajectory to management. What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?  

I moved to New York very early on in my career. It was an amazing opportunity but extremely challenging. After arriving just before Christmas, I recall spending a short amount of time doubting if I had made the right decision. Looking back, it was an amazing experience professionally and personally. 

After 1 year at PWC in NYC I moved to Bristol Myers Squibb based in the NY headquarters as part of the Corporate Financial Reporting team.  I was part of a great team and we worked extremely hard, some nights not leaving the office, to prepare for Quarterly Earnings Releases and SEC filings.  I was promoted early on and ended up managing my peers. It was awkward at the beginning and there was some resistance amongst the team, but I very quickly demonstrated the reasons why I was promoted, and we were able to work well together.

In 2007 you returned to Ogilvy & Mather in the UK where you spent several years before joining Research Now as their EMEA CFO.  In 2017, Research Now announced a successful merger with SSI which has been described as the coming together of the two biggest players in the industry. What were the key considerations leading up to the merger?

It was a very complex process and the key consideration was focusing on our clients. Straightaway, we aligned our sales and delivery teams and communicated how the combined capabilities would be to their benefit.  As a finance team, we focused on solutions that aided our front office teams across the region. At the time we made some decisions that were right for the business even if that meant a lot of pain on the back-end.

We are still working on some aspects of the integration but the majority of the heavy lifting is now complete.

Overall it has been a very interesting time for me. I had never been involved in a large merger and I was very fortunate to learn early on that I would be leading the combined European finance function. Initially, the 2 finance teams continued to operate separately as our priority was to ensure all our international subsidiaries for each legacy business met their local statutory and tax responsibilities.
At the end of the summer 2018, we started to knit the two teams together. We focused on finding the right model for the future so we took the best of both worlds and created our future model.

The finance team have done an exemplary job.  There have been some bumps along the way, but we have collectively worked hard to make it succeed.

Your career spans over 15 years, what would you describe as the main cultural changes in the Marketing & Advertising Sector throughout that time? How have you seen the demands of a finance leader changed/evolved?

The world of marketing and communications has changed significantly. The biggest advancement being technology and the increase in online advertising which has been a game changer.  People now consume information in new ways and market research has increased significantly, as such the availability of data has had a significant influence on marketing decisions. 

Other major changes have seen the rise of procurement which has challenged the business model, zero based budgeting and the emergence of activist investors which has presented the industry with interesting opportunities whilst also posing new challenges.

Changes to the role of the finance leader are interesting. The basic responsibilities of a CFO remain the same :- financial reporting, management reporting, cash flow, taxation, compliance, managing and safe guarding assets, managing risk etc. A CFO now must also become involved operationally and be more strategic.  You have a voice at the table in terms of shaping the strategy for the next 3-5 years and it means working with the management team to execute that strategy. 

We now also see CFO’s stepping into the role of CEO as they are much better equipped for the position than they used to be.

As a C-Suite Exec, time for yourself must be hard to come by. How important do you feel it is to take time for yourself and focus on your own mental health and wellbeing?

It’s something I work hard on but it’s not something that I find easy. When I was first promoted to CFO I was overwhelmed with the responsibility. I have an amazing wife who runs her own successful business, three children and a dog so I have a lot of responsibility in and outside of work.

In general, I try not to sweat the small stuff and remind myself that tomorrow is another day. I keep a sense of perspective and encourage my team to do the same. We promote a flexible working policy and if people want to work from home, that’s fine – our organisation is very results focused so flexible working is very compatible with our culture.

Personally, I do two things for my physical and mental wellbeing. I work out for an hour a day in which I switch off from all life’s stresses. My other passion is Tottenham Hotspur, it’s a big part of my life and I have been a season ticket holder for years; I go to as many games as I can! Ultimately, it’s about making time for yourself to do what you enjoy.      

What advice would you give to aspiring CFO’s in a competitive market who are finding it difficult to take a step up from mid to senior level?

It’s easy to get fixated on job titles. You need to think about your career and your personal story. Financial Controllers or those looking to step-up need to look at their skills and identify whether there are any gaps they need to fill. 

When I was at Ogilvy, my role was Financial Controller and I knew that to progress I needed more commercial exposure.  I started taking on client work including some smaller client negotiations. Eventually those responsibilities became much bigger and eventually I was negotiating global deals on behalf of the agency. This may mean taking a new role or moving laterally which many people understandably avoid. 

The other piece of advice is patience. I have learned that promotions never happen exactly when you want them to and the first step from FC to FD is incredibly hard. In my own experience, it took a long time to make my first transition to FD. I had an amazing boss who supported me, managed my expectations and kept me motivated.

Additionally, involve yourself with project work so you can differentiate yourself from your competitors and these give you a real sense of accomplishment. Doing the day job well doesn’t suffice anymore. Be pro-active, look for opportunities to make improvements and just take the initiative. Put yourself out there and show people how determined you are to achieve professional success.

Are you a CFO with a story to tell? Get in touch with our Business Manager Jess for more information on how you could be featured in our next CFO Spotlight.
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