Coffee Nation: Martyn Dawes and Vivien Hale

Coffee Nation founder Martyn Dawes explains the importance of a good financial director

“We have a strong spirit, pioneering concept and plans for international development,” says Martyn Dawes, CEO of Coffee nation, the company he started up in 1998. These were also the qualities Dawes was looking for when, at the behest of Primary Capital who were about to invest in the company, he came to hire an FD in 2000.

Of the handful of people Dawes and his operations director Scott Martin saw, while clearly competent, none matched his requirements. “We needed someone with experience, a strong persona to deal with the banks, but who also had a real energy and drive about them.”

The answer came in the shape of Vivien Hale. Hearing about the opening on the grapevine she went to see Dawes who says “she had a presence” which quickly convinced him. As group FD for a number of much larger businesses, she had the heavyweight background Coffee Nation was looking for and, as risk takers themselves, they were impressed she was ready to risk her reputation and credibility starting from the bottom with a new firm.

“When she first joined us we were operating from a tiny office where she had to climb over boxes just to make a cup of tea. I think she found the whole process quite liberating. We had some right old head to heads to start with because the way I worked was not quite what she was accustomed to.”

“You don’t want what I call an entrepreneurial FD, you want someone who is the perfect foil for an entrepreneur rather than wants to be one themselves. Vivien is never going to tell us about markets or products or sectors, she’s there to tell us how we can get there. It’s like I’m steering the ship and she’s the navigator, charting a path forward and telling us how to avoid the rocks,” says Dawes.

Hales’ big business experience turned out to be a significant advantage for a firm of Coffee Nation’s size as she questioned procedures and imposed financial disciplines on the firm, ensuring any potential problems and bad practices were nipped in the bud. As a result of her good work, Coffee Nation prides itself on its levels of corporate government and attention to the financial detail. “Our auditors, Deloitte & Touche, rarely have any queries” adds Dawes.

Despite the age difference between them, Dawes is 35 and Hales is 52, they get on famously and each member of their small management team works in perfect harmony, growing the company to a £9m turnover this year.

And when asked if all growing businesses need a Vivien Hale of their own to help them navigate, Dawes’ answer is just as unequivocal. “If your needs are simple and you’re happy with a three or four per cent year on year growth then an FD is not necessary. But if you actually want to achieve rapid development of your business then the financial complexity’s that much greater – it’s imperative you’ve got someone who can guide you to towards your goals safely.”

AT A GLANCE

Company name: Coffee Nation Activity: Self-serve coffee stations Founded: 1999 Turnover: £9m Employees: 24

We needed someone with experience, a strong persona to deal with the banks, but who also had a real energy and drive about them

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