Simon Gray, founder & CEO of Career Codex , who’ll be speaking at Accountex 2018, talks to Accounting Insight News Editor Ian Moss about his life, work and ambitions
The here and now…
What are your favourite early career memories?
My favourite career memory is landing my first proper job, a training contract with KPMG in Nottingham. The starting salary was £12k plus a £1k signing on bonus – this was more money than I’d ever seen, and I thought I’d made it!
How did you get into this business?
I studied economics at the University of Nottingham because I had an interest in business. As part of this course I’d taken a module in accountancy, but dropped it as I found it too difficult. I left my decision on a career path until the last minute, and ultimately fell into accountancy because it allowed me to pick an office (I wanted to stay in Nottingham) and gave me another three years, while getting a valuable qualification, to decide what I really wanted to do.
What can accountants and finance professionals learn from you?
I started out my career in accountancy and am still actively involved with ICAEW (I sit on the Regional Strategy Board for the East Midlands and Business Committee in London) and understand the sector. Having spent the last 15 years of my life helping finance professionals make career moves I know how the job market in this sector works and how to stand out to get hired.
I’ve completely changed career twice and started a business two weeks before the financial crisis hit. I’ve seen some tough times, but have realised along the way that it’s your beliefs and mindset that determine your results.
Does the idea of information overload concern you?
Not really, it’s something we all face nowadays. Our ancestors made decisions on limited and often incomplete information. We now have a very different problem and a key skill is being able to discern what’s really important over what is just irrelevant noise.
What’s on the horizon for you and the sector?
My background is in financial recruitment and now through Career Codex Limited I coach senior executives from across the world on how to take proactive control of their executive job searches to define, find and secure the position they really want. Many of my clients are CFOs or FDs who are at a level where a high proportion of opportunities are never advertised and exist in the place I call the ‘hidden market’. I’ve just revamped my website (careercodex.com) and also launched a group-coaching programme. I’ve written three books and another one is on the horizon. Super Secrets of Successful Executive Job Search has done very well on Amazon and I think it’s now time for More Super Secrets.
As an influential voice, what impact do you want to have on the industry this year and in the long run?
I’m fairly disruptive in what I have to say about executive job search. It’s no longer about the CV/resume or applying for jobs you’ve seen advertised. My online programme contains over 30 hours of content and less than one hour is devoted to these topics. Successful executive job search is now about something completely different altogether.
The system I’ve developed takes three steps back to consider environment (how the job market really works), psychology and planning, before ever getting to process, which is what you’d normally recognise as being important when it comes to successful job search. I want to get my message out to those who need it most and am working hard on my digital / online presence to make this happen.
A little while back I recorded a series of podcasts in conjunction with ICAEW, entitled: The ICAEW guide to successful job search). I’d like to create more specific content for accountancy and finance professionals.
I’ve also written a programme for school / university leavers to inspire young people and help them make informed career choices early on. While employability is a major talking point it’s been a challenge to get my message out there – in my experience (and opinion) there is still too much focus on academic achievement and not enough on developing essential life skills.
What are your expectations of Accountex, from what you’ve read and heard?
I know it’s going to be a great event and I’m very much looking forward to it. I love attending and presenting at live events, as you meet so many new and interesting people.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Stafford, West Midlands.
Were you any good at maths at school?
No, I was terrible – ironically, I’m now a qualified accountant. It goes to show that the accountancy and finance profession is now about much more than numbers.
Trivia / miscellany…
What’s your favourite film?
That’s an easy one – Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. I love it so much that my youngest son is named Maximus after the lead character.
What’s your favourite book?
That’s a more difficult question – I read lots and there are so many great works out there. Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre is a classic and gives an interesting (and true) perspective on how financial markets operated over 100 years ago. I enjoy reading books that were written during and about a different age and time – it makes you realise that the world may look very different now, but people haven’t really changed.
What’s your favourite type of music?
This might shock you, but I love rap music.
What’s your ideal day out?
This would be with my wife and children. We often visit a stately home (something I did as a child) and stop off for dinner somewhere on the way back. If the weather’s nice, then even better!
What’s your ideal holiday?
I travelled extensively in my younger days and lived in Japan and Australia for a time. Although the weather might be better overseas you can’t beat some of the beautiful coastal towns we have in this country. I also love Gran Canaria where we’ve had some very happy family holidays in recent years and made some great memories.
Is money the root of all evil?
No, not at all. Having said that my advice is always to follow your passion and not the money – if you enjoy what you’re doing the rewards will come. Contribution is something I’m focused on this year and if you have money you’re in a far better position to help others. On an aeroplane if the oxygen level drops you’re instructed to put your own mask on first – I think it’s a similar thing with money (help yourself in order to help others).
Do you support a football team?
No, I’ve never really liked football. My passion is martial arts, which has taken me all over the world and given me the opportunity to discover different cultures and meet some fantastic people. I spent two years in Japan and trained in Aikido with the Tokyo Riot Police for 11 months. I’ve studied Muay Thai for over 25 years and more recently started Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Do you have a heroine or hero?
That’s a difficult one – there’s probably no one individual, but people who have influenced my life along the way. Most of these are not in the public eye, but I hope they know who they are and the difference they’ve made in my life. I think we all have the power to influence others, but we sometimes forget this. As a parent this is something I’m very conscious of – I’m (along with everyone else) shaping the lives of the next generation, which is an enormous responsibility.
Simon will be speaking at Accountex on 23 May at 1pm in the FD Forum on “LinkedIn for finance professionals – what you need to know and why it matters”.