Question 1. Tell us about your current role (please provide your job title) and what you enjoy most about it?
Answer: My role has grown recently so I am now CFO at Kingston Hospital and Hounslow & Richmond Community Healthcare. We are two separate organisations, with one management team that supports our population and enables transformation across community and acute.
I love the variety, it’s different every day to what I plan for in the morning, your always facing new and sometimes unexpected challenges. It tests you because you’re not prepared for every eventuality but I’m lucky as I know I have a team that I can rely on. When things work it’s phenomenal, every day is very different. I feel like I am learning all the time, you don’t have the luxury of being bored.
I really enjoy chairing the London I&D ambassadors’ group and being a member of the London Finance Academy. The realisation that you have a voice, and you should be able to use this voice to make a difference. I found that I couldn’t stand back anymore and accept things; looking around to see who is going to promote equality and then realising that I shouldn’t take a back seat in this agenda.
This summer we are celebrating South Asia Heritage month, my parents were from Sri Lanka. My father gave us the tools to get an education and be empowered, and it’s about using the tools and having the confidence to use them.
Question 2. Can you describe your career story?
Answer: In a word unconventional. I qualified in a firm of accountants but couldn’t continue to face a career in Audit. I left the firm after my training contract ended and decided to join Croydon Community NHS Trust, this was only meant to be a stop gap whilst I thought about the future. However, 29 years later I still love working in the NHS.
I had no career plan but prior to having the children I quickly worked my way up through the ranks, having several positions at SLAM. I then moved to work locally and was Chief Accountant at Kingston & District Community NHS Trust. I took a short career break to have a family but following a stint at Greenwich Hospital, I secured a part time job at Kingston PCT. I worked here for nearly 10 years and increased my hours and responsibilities as the children grew, however, I felt that I needed to leave to be taken seriously. I moved to Wandsworth CCG as deputy CFO, working to Hardev, who challenged me and encouraged me to be different.
My first CFO role was at Kingston CCG, I then went on to become CFO at both Kingston & Richmond CCGs. I moved to SWL CCG to work in Strategy and shortly after that joined Kingston Hospital as their CFO.
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 are two that I’d like to call out.
When I was working at Wandsworth CCG, my CFO ( Hardev Virdee) showed me that I should believe in myself more, and that I could do more. He encouraged and supported me and gave me the confidence to apply for my first CFO role.
I’m also grateful to the then CFO at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Greenwich, David Wragg who gave me a chance to return to work after having a career break. He saw past the ‘mother returning to work’, he recognised my previous experience and capability and gave me the opportunity to take on a job share. Without this opportunity I probably wouldn’t have returned to the NHS.
We need to do more to support individuals returning into work back following career breaks, we need to do more to ensure we don’t lose talent by not being flexible employers.
Question 4. What barriers have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
Answer: When I was working part-time at the CCG, I was taken seriously for the work I produced, but not considered ‘a contender’ for Deputy CFO role as I was working part-time.
The other barrier was self-imposed; I was not confident enough to take the next step. I had the confidence before having children and quickly rose through the ranks however after my career break and being away from work I had to rebuild my confidence.
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: learn to prioritise what’s really important and what carries the greatest risk. You have got to learn to delegate and trust those you delegate to otherwise the job is impossible.
“Don’t think that you can do everything and trust the team around you!”
I wouldn’t suggest this for others, but I do still look at emails when I’m on Annual Leave, but I am getting better at ignoring things, having downtime is important. I don’t look at phones/emails on a Saturday, but I do prep on a Sunday night for the week ahead.
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: If I could empower more women to take on senior roles and bring my male colleagues to understand value of empathy and emotional intelligence. To acknowledge that the softer skills are important and not to see these skills as a weakness.
Question 7. What advice would you give to finance staff in furthering their careers and becoming leaders?
Answer: You have to want it; you then have to believe in yourself and enjoy the role. These are hard roles; you must step out of your comfort zone and break that small ring of comfort. If you are not bold enough to do it, you cannot do the job. Be true to yourself, if you are a leader you cannot pretend to be someone you are not.
Question 8: What are the top 3 behaviours you value most in a role model?
- Honesty & transparency
- Accessibility – there is no point being phenomenal at what you do and not be able to pull on the ideas of and empower others
- Being inspiring – Seeing people doing the job that they love and do it well, inspires others to do the same
Question 9: have you been interviewed/does your organisation interview explicitly use a value-based approach below executive level?
Answer: Yes, but we can do better at it, we ask a values-based question, but don’t’ tell them our values as we expect them to know. This is done at consultant level and for 8b+ at KHT.
There is more we can do to be honest; we are getting better at the diversity question. In the EDI group we are aiming for consistency and provide better EDI training for panel members.
I’m not going to be on the panel to ask the EDI question or be the token member, I expect others to ask the question. You need to empower others to do that we need to be promoting the talent we have got that are prepared to.
Question 10. What do you enjoy doing outside of the working week?
Answer: We have a ridgeback dog and in the summer months I get up early to walk him in the woods near home before coming to work. During covid this job has become so sedentary, you can be on Teams for a long time so its great way of preparing for the day from both a physically and mental perspective.
I have a good group of friends and we enjoy going to the theatre, eating, and drinking, the normal things. I also enjoy watching cricket and the rugby and am looking forward to going to the rugby World Cup in France next year.