A picture of leadership with Laragh Walton

Deputy Chief Financial Officer, University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust

Question 1. Tell us about your current role and what you enjoy most about it?

Answer: I moved into my current role in March as Deputy CFO at UCLH. It’s a really interesting and challenging role. My job is different on a day by day basis which is good and keeps it interesting. It covers all the usual DCFO elements including financial performance management, financial controls, project based work and providing financial leadership across the organisation. It’s really interesting to work in a large organisation with quite a devolved structure. The part of my role that I really enjoy, and I see as perhaps the most important element, is people management, both in terms of managing my direct reports but also the wider team and their development.

I am also really lucky to sit on the London Finance Academy Board and to represent London at the National Finance Academy. This isn’t part of my formal role but something I really enjoy doing and something that feels really valuable as a chance to help shape NHS finance staff and careers in the future.

Question 2. Can you describe your career story?

Answer: I don’t have a traditional NHS finance career background! I also didn’t have a big career plan. After doing an economics degree I trained in one of the big 4 in corporate audit, working across Technology, Media and Telecoms clients. I first started working in health when I moved to Monitor to work in their assessment team which gave a great overview and insight into all aspects of NHS providers not just their financials. I then worked in healthcare consulting supporting different types of healthcare clients (commissioners, acutes, community and private) in a wide range of projects before moving to work at The Royal Marsden.

At RM I was primarily focussed on Strategic Finance although I also did an internal secondment to cover the Operational Finance portfolio for a maternity cover. The strategic finance role covered lots of different elements including setting up and then being FD of a wholly owned subsidiary, supporting Private Patients development and large business cases as well as leading a team. I recently moved to UCLH which has given me a new challenge in terms of scale and breadth of organisation.

Question 3. Were there any role models who gave you a sense of what it is to be a leader or helped you on your journey?

Answer: There have been a few people I have worked with across my career that have provided me with clear role models, however I don’t think it is always one person who has all the aspects of a perfect leader. For me there have been a few individuals who have really focussed on and modelled some great behaviours. These have particularly been focussing on staff and the team but also on balancing leadership roles with wider life.

It is fantastic now to see more diversity in CFO roles with a greater breadth of role models that people can identify with.

Question 4. What barriers have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

Answer: I have been very lucky, especially latterly in my career, to have had some excellent support from people who have pushed me to take on new challenges and supported me and helped me to have a bit more belief in myself.

Moving into the NHS from a non-NHS world, despite working within healthcare, was difficult and I needed a bit of resilience and persistence to get to the roles I wanted to do.

Question 5. How have you balanced the competing needs of a modern leadership role? How would you define a modern leadership role (e.g. what skills are required)?

Answer: There are a lot of different aspects of financial leadership especially now. Being able to both challenge and compromise and being able to work collaboratively is really important. For me this is when knowing your team and building a diverse team is invaluable. A big part of being in a senior role is development of your team knowing what their strengths are and supporting them to get to where they want to be in their careers. Also recognising each person in the team has different skills and experience they can bring to the role.

I also think boundaries are really important and it is definitely something I am still working on! When I first came back to work after my second child and I chose to be 4 days a week I found it really hard to balance working in a senior role on 4 days. I found myself working a lot more than the 4 days and wasn’t getting the balance I wanted in my home life. I have forced myself to have a bit more discipline and create better boundaries but also accepted that I can choose to flex my time, for example stopping work to do the nursery run/bedtimes but then picking things up in the evening. But I am clear with my team I don’t expect replies out of their working hours.

I now work condensed hours doing 10 days in 9 and I alternate having 1 day a fortnight with my daughter. Things are changing but I think we still need to be much more flexible and accepting of part time, job shares and flexible hours.

Question 6. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, if you could change one thing to help achieve that objective what would it be?

Answer: I would get everyone to call out bias when they see or hear it. We have all been in the meeting where there is a slight bias or stereotyping and thought afterwards I wish I had said… I would have everyone call it out when they see or hear it – its amazing when we do call it out the impact that highlighting it has on everyone in the room (or virtual room!)

Question 7. What advice would you give to finance staff in furthering their careers and becoming leaders?

Answer: From a practical perspective spend some time with the business. Finance is so important and fundamental to our services and delivering the best for our patients but being stuck behind a spreadsheet (and especially after Covid with remote working) you can sometimes feel a bit detached. Getting to know the business and the services for example by shadowing the services really helps to understand the issues and how we can best support frontline staff.

Question 8. What do you enjoy doing outside of the working week?

Answer: I have two young children so they take up most of my non working time – birthday parties, activities etc. I also enjoy sports and would love to get back into rowing when my kids are a bit older and until then make do with a bit of running/cycling/yoga.