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Recruiting a MAT CFO: advertising the role

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Last updated on 13 December 2017
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In-depth article
Appointing a first-class chief financial officer (CFO), or finance director, is likely to be the most important recruitment decision a MAT CEO makes. Learn how to market your vacancy to appeal to experienced CFOs from outside education and get the right person to help you drive your MAT forward.

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  1. 1 How to market the opportunity attractively
  2. 2 How to target the right people
  3. 3 Where to advertise
  4. 4 Examples of adverts from MATs

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  • 11 external links

Here, Dan Allen, chief financial officer (CFO) at The Key, shares advice on how to go about the first critical step in recruiting a CFO or finance director from outside the education sector, for multi-academy trusts (MATs) that are looking to do so.

How to market the opportunity attractively

The challenges and changes in the MAT sector can make for an interesting proposition for CFOs from sectors beyond education. When advertising your vacancy, make sure you:

Highlight the similarities between MATs and businesses

Explain that you have greater potential to be entrepreneurial ... just like a business 

Many people outside education will not know what a MAT is, so to appeal to experienced CFOs from elsewhere you'll need to explain how running a MAT differs from running a single school.

In doing so, draw out the similarities with working in the private sector. Dan said this should help to challenge any assumptions that the education sector is a very tightly regulated, local authority-run context.

For example, you might explain that:

  • You have a board of directors and must submit your accounts to Companies House
  • While funded by government, you have more freedom and autonomy over things like pay and how the trust uses its funding
  • You have greater potential to be entrepreneurial through 'mergers and acquisitions' (joining together with another MAT or adding schools) – just like a business

You should also explain the general direction of travel in the education sector and the central role of MATs in the system, especially as it looks likely to grow in the years ahead.

For example, highlight that MATs are expected to turn around under-performing schools and drive improvement in the sector.

Explain the CFO's role in strategy, change and growth

CFOs increasingly want to do more than just ‘making the numbers add up’, and the role of a CFO has become central to the overall strategy and growth of a business.

Therefore, you need to demonstrate to potential applicants that the role will provide opportunities to contribute to and lead on high-level, strategic challenges.

Set out the overall vision and strategy for change/growth/improvement in your MAT, and how the CFO will play a leading role in delivering this. For example, are you planning to expand into a new region? What would the CFO's role be in that?

Communicate the MAT’s ambition ... as this will appeal to finance professionals eager to develop their careers

Communicate the MAT’s ambition, especially if you have plans to grow, as this will appeal to finance professionals eager to develop their careers.

Describe the operational challenge of running a MAT

Running a MAT means bringing together multiple existing organisations and finding synergies between them. This will appeal to experienced CFOs, so reflect it in the skills and experience you advertise for.

For example, a common problem for MATs is moving all their schools onto the same systems for things like accounts, payroll and pupil data, so that the executive team can see information about all schools in the same way and make informed MAT-level decisions.

Your advert should say that the successful candidate will have experience of implementing new systems across different organisations or teams, or want to take on this challenge

You could also explain that a key part of MAT operations is the central services that they provide to their schools, such as finance, HR and estates management. The CFO will usually play an important role in either designing this support or finding external providers for any services that cannot be provided in-house. Experience of implementing operational systems and/or procurement will therefore be essential.

Highlight the need for 'board management' skills

Dan advised that CFOs, like CEOs, need to be able to 'manage' their board. They are also usually on the board. 

Your CFO will need to be able to report on and communicate the MAT's financial performance to the board, and manage expectations. Equally, they'll need to be able to take part in board-level strategic discussions about the MAT's financial performance and overall direction.

Make this clear when advertising the role, along with how your MAT's governance works and how the board, not the local authority, oversees performance.

Making a social impact will appeal, too

Finance professionals will be keen to work in a business-like environment but many will also be attracted to making a social impact, which may not have been the focus of their career to date.

Your advert should explain your MAT's vision for the educational impact you want to make and how you'll get there. For example, are you working in disadvantaged areas, with under-performing schools, or schools with particular challenges?

How to target the right people

To appeal to CFOs from other sectors with the right types of skills and experience, you need to understand the role of a 'modern CFO' in business and target your advertising messages accordingly.

Work out which aspects of the role are most important to you, and ... appeal to the different 'pulls' on people applying for CFO roles

Deloitte has produced a framework which could help you work out which aspects of the modern CFO role are most important to you, and crucially help you appeal to the different 'pulls' on people applying for CFO roles.

The framework sets out four ‘faces’ of the modern CFO:

  • Operator
  • Steward
  • Strategist
  • Catalyst

You'll find more detail on each of these 'faces' via the links below, including their areas of focus, key roles, competencies and critical issues related to them. While some of the terminology may not seem fully applicable to the MAT sector, much of the information is relevant and should help you think about the specific characteristics and skills you are looking for.

For example, if you are looking to deliver change to align your MAT operations with a more business-minded approach, you may wish to reflect relevant aspects of the ‘catalyst’ description when advertising the role.

Or, if your MAT aims to grow quickly, you may want to adapt aspects of the ‘strategist’ role, which focuses partly on mergers and acquisitions.

Using the language in the framework, which CFOs will be used to, should help you strike a chord and attract applicants with appropriate skills and mindsets from the private sector.

Where to advertise

Dan said it's probably best to avoid headhunters – who can charge a fee of up to 20-30% of the appointee's salary. Specialists in education and third-sector recruitment, which might seem like natural homes for advertising MAT roles, can also charge expensive recruitment fees.

Use executive and finance recruitment websites which pull together adverts from different recruitment agencies

Instead, Dan advised using executive and finance recruitment websites which pull together adverts from different recruitment agencies and are well-used in the wider finance sector, such as:

You can also use more general recruitment websites – for example:

Examples of adverts from MATs

MAT with 4 schools

St. Bartholomew’s Multi-Academy Trust, a trust of 2 primary schools, 1 infant and 1 junior school in the West Midlands and Staffordshire, has advertised for a chief financial and operations officer.

The advert shows the MAT’s ambition to grow:

This is a vitally important appointment in the next stage of our growth plan and one which will have significant influence in further establishing the work of the trust and its ability to support its schools.

'This is a vitally important appointment in the next stage of our growth plan'

It highlights opportunities for career development:

The role will provide excellent career development for the successful candidate, allowing them to build on their specialism but also giving the opportunity to learn new aspects of the business.

It asks for high-level finance experience:

The successful candidate will have … a track record of managing a healthy and sustainable business, where income is generated and value for money achieved, [and] significant experience of leading the strategic financial planning for an organisation within a senior manager role.

It shows that the role includes strategic decision-making and provides challenge:

The successful candidate will have … experience of strategic business planning and the development of business opportunities [and will be] confident at providing challenge and counsel in the face of a rapidly changing environment.

The job advert is hosted on the Guardian Jobs website.

MAT with 7 schools

NET Academies Trust is a MAT of 7 primary and junior schools spread across a number of local authorities, including Essex, Reading and Coventry. It has advertised for a finance director.

The advert links career opportunities with plans for growth:

This is a fantastic opportunity for an enthusiastic finance professional, with a formal accountancy qualification, to join a values-driven multi-academy trust and to be a key participant in its growth strategy.

It describes the MAT’s vision and ambition:

Our intention is to expand operations in the south east; this role is to support the organisation to fulfil its vision.

You will be joining a highly innovative, inspirational and ambitious organisation. We are seeking an outstanding leader who will drive performance to support our educational vision.

'We are seeking an outstanding leader who will drive performance to support our educational vision'

It shows that this is a high-level finance role:

To be successful you will need a proven record of delivery at a strategic financial level, coupled with a track record in developing high-performing teams and individuals. Naturally, you will have advanced analytical and problem-solving skills as well as the ability to switch from macro to micro.

It highlights the multi-organisation nature of the role:

You will manage a team with direct reports based remotely at each of our geographical clusters across the UK.

The job advert is hosted on the Indeed recruitment site.


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