How hiring a tax specialist FD liberated me
The specialist FD
Despite being heading up of one of the UK’s biggest post-production companies, for a long time John Banks managed to get away with combining the roles of MD and FD.
“We started up in 1984, we’re backed by large VC’s and then in 1987 listed on the third market because we wanted people to think we were bigger than we were. Nobody took much notice of the fact I was operating in both capacities. Even when, a year later, we moved onto the USM (Unlisted Securities Market, a forerunner to AIM) and when that closed went for a full listing in 1994, nothing had changed. You’d never get away with it now,” he says.
In fact it wasn’t until 1996 when VTR was in the midst of a taking over a rival film company that their board and shareholders advised Evans he need to hire someone to look after the business’ increasingly complex finances and, just as importantly, stand up to him from time to time. “There were no internal control mechanisms in place and no-one checking whether I had a hand in the till,” he adds
Finding the right FD was easier said than done. Banks trawled through his old contact book as well as using recruitment agencies but says it was very hard find someone with the right combination of “toughness and sector expertise.” Then, a letter arrived on his desk from Peter Samengo-Turner, who had extensive media experience as Financial Director of Molinaire Visions and European FD for a subsidiary of ad agency Young and Rubicam.
After meeting in person, Samengo-Turner’s specialist knowledge helped convince Evans he’d found the right man. “All companies have standards sales and purchases but film financing is a very, very specific area. There are huge sums involved, large capital expenditure and complicated tax systems. Peter is exceptionally good on tax and keeping up with changes in the law. He’s helped save us large sums of money and is very good at working out the best way of financing something because he’s got the confidence of someone who’s been around the industry for a long time.”
Banks admits, at first, he found it hard to delegate the company’s budgetary requirements, having been in charge for so long, but Samengo-Turners’ personality and professionalism won him over. “He is forceful, fights his corner very hard, and is prepared to go to the board to and say things he knows I won’t necessarily agree with. Even though, as MD, I usually win he doesn’t let it bother him and instead will work at how best to implement my decision.”
Even with an existing workforce of 300 people and turnover of £24m, Banks claims VTR could still double its size. He believes too that Samengo-Turner can go even further. “Being the type of company we are we get a lot of ventures and opportunities put in front of us and Peter helps us weigh them up. In the past if I couldn’t work something out I’d turn to auditors or lawyers, now I can just give it to Peter and he’ll worry it like a bone. There’s nothing he won’t be able to deal with now or in the future.”
In the past if I couldn’t work something out I’d turn to auditors or lawyers, now I can just give it to Peter and he’ll worry it like a bone