An interview with our FD, Lachlan Smith
Lachlan Smith: Q&A
Lachlan Smith joined Silver Cloud as our new Financial Director in early March. It’s fair to say that his first few weeks with us have been eventful… within a few days he was working from home, in a role which includes not just handling the business’s finances but also leading and developing his team. We asked him about that, and much else besides.
Q What was your previous role before you came to Silver Cloud?
A Thirteen years at Scotland’s largest independent digital transformation company. I joined as the company accountant, helped them through their growth period, and was eventually appointed Financial Director. Throughout that journey I gained a lot of experience in strategy development, disaster recovery, financial planning, and developing a team.
Q What attracted you to Silver Cloud?
A Lots of things, but particularly the opportunity to be a key part of the leadership team in a growing and dynamic business. I felt that my skills and experience would enable me to add the value that Silver Cloud were looking for.
Q When you started, were many people talking about the coronavirus?
A Actually my first work for Silver Cloud was in January, before my official start date. Tony asked me to write a budget forecast. At that point, the virus was beginning to be a serious problem in China, but not many people were taking it very seriously over here. My initial thoughts were that this was clearly going to go global, however.
So we created the budget forecast based on sales continuing with the same trajectory, but we also carried out some scenario planning to see what effect the virus could have on the UK economy if it did come here, and then created an extra forecast that showed the potential impact on the business.
After I started, one of the first things Tony and I did was create a strategy to adapt if the coronavirus became a huge crisis. So we were well ahead of the curve, and as prepared for it as you can be.
Q Within a couple of weeks you were working from home: how was that? Had you done it before?
A I had worked from home occasionally before, and never really enjoyed it. I don’t really like working on a laptop, as I prefer the traditional workstation view. So I was a bit apprehensive at the start.
Now, though, I’ve got my workstation set up and I’m comfortable in my environment. Because the team are all using Wildix, we’ve stayed in close contact: we have group chats at the start and end of each day, and of course work together closely throughout the day.
Wildix is a really great tool, which lets you do everything you need from your computer at a click of a button: calls, conference calls, group chat, video calls, screen sharing, everything. So I can still lead the team effectively and maintain the culture, even though we’re physically apart.
The balance of work and family life is difficult. I’m in the same house as my kids, of course, but also rather segregated. It’s quite emotional when you hear them playing and you can’t go and engage with them. (They’re aged 1, 4 and 6, so they don’t understand why I can’t.)
Q Obviously no-one knows when the lockdown will be significantly eased and things will start to feel a bit more normal again – not even the people who will make the decisions – but what’s your feeling?
A It might be a while. I can’t see how you can ask kids to go to school but do social distancing. It’s not practical, and even if it was it could have huge negative effects on their future wellbeing.
Equally, you can’t ask parents to go out to work while also home-schooling their kids. So it’s all-or-nothing. We didn’t drip-feed our way into the current situation, and I don’t see how we can come out that way either.
Q What are the financial challenges that businesses are facing now, and what will they be in the next phase?
A Right now, most businesses are in a protect phase. They’re trying to protect their income, manage their outflows, and make sure that they’re cash positive until we know what effect the crisis will have on the economy.
The government help is all very good, but much of it will add to companies’ debts: deferring VAT and PAYE payments, for example, or taking out a loan. So you really need to have a strong sales and delivery strategy to make sure that you can meet those commitments on the other side.
A key part of that is talking to your customers – what will their recovery strategy be? Will they spend more, less, about the same? Will they have less appetite for larger projects? You need to know in order to decide how you’ll tackle the recovery yourself.
Once we get into the recovery phase, some businesses may have to change their product or service offering. Businesses need to start preparing for that now.
Q That could be seen as an opportunity, then?
A Absolutely. This situation is a huge opportunity – albeit a forced opportunity – for businesses to grasp the digital transformation that has been gathering pace around the globe.
There are lots of businesses, and whole sectors, that have tended to be slow about this in the past. Take your local high-street butcher, for example. Most of them are very traditional bricks-and-mortar business that used to be pretty adverse to new technology. Yet many have now started to take orders online, which is opening up customers in new demographics that they weren’t reaching before. So in the short- to medium-term they can grow their businesses significantly.
Just being in lockdown presents opportunities too. A lot of people are trying to find something to do, and for example garden centers – another sector that’s rather traditional – can be part of the answer if they can adapt quickly.
Q So you probably see opportunities for Silver Cloud too?
A Very much so. Of course we’re able to help people move further along with digital transformation, whatever their starting point. We’re already looking at our products and how we offer them. How can we do more than just provide a product itself? How can we take customers on a journey? All the things I was just talking about in general apply just as much to us as they do to any switched-on and ambitious business.
There are lots of opportunities out there. I say grab them and run! Don’t wait for the smoke to clear.
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