Reflecting on a career that has seen him grow from his first job in the steel works in Newport, through to becoming the CFO of a multi-billion dollar automotive group, and most recently in his role as chairman of quality management services provider, G&P, Geoff Cousins shares some of his tips for career success.
Humility goes a long way
My first job was in the steel works in Newport, South Wales. It was tough world, full of hard-working people who were under constant pressure and operating in a dirty, grimy environment. Being part of a team was a fantastic experience though and provided some real learnings for me which have been part of the foundation all the way throughout my career. I learnt the importance of having both humility and humour, along with the expectations that come as being part of a team. Most importantly though, I grasped about how important it was that teams look after one another and we all embraced the responsibility of being part of that team.
Joining the gin and tonic brigade
After leaving the steel works and another job at Peugeot, I moved into a finance role at Jaguar, within their manufacturing plants. Although I was there as the finance guy, I quickly learnt that finance teams are there to advise and not manage. I also quickly recognised that despite being the numbers man, it was important not to ignore qualitative views around the business. My other big learning in this role was about the importance of really understanding the operations of a company. Only by combining these factors is it possible to do what’s really important, which is making the best commercial decision for the business.
One of my next roles, saw me join Jaguar’s sales and marketing function where I was responsible for pricing and margins globally, apart from the USA. This role meant I travelled extensively around the world to negotiate prices with the local markets. During these visits, I learned that firstly, it’s really important to be aware, but not afraid of cultural differences. Unsurprisingly, I also mastered the importance of strong and fair negotiation – listen to the other side, and put yourself in their shoes. Above all though, I recognised and understood how important it was to form and maintain good professional relationships, something which I continue to try and do to this day.
Beware of processes
One of my next roles saw me become CFO of the Premier Automotive Group, which included Aston Martin, Land Rover, Jaguar and Volvo. The remit of this role was quite simple; to consolidate the brands and operations, and to grow sales and market share. On paper, this looked straight forward enough, however, the reality was far from it. The synergies looked great on paper, but somewhat inevitably, the processes took over and it was actually an incredibly difficult task. The big lesson I learned here was the importance of simplifying management, processes and procedures.
Stand out and stand apart
My next role saw me move out of finance eventually into the role of MD of Jaguar UK where we were trying to massively shift perception of the brand from old-school, into a cool performance brand. This was an incredibly exciting time, working regularly with the likes of Team Sky, Olympic gold medalist Jess Ennis and the England cricket team. However, the thing which really stood out during this period was the importance of creating a single, high-performing team. Underpinning this strategy was the need to fix any dysfunctional behaviour, the need to act like business owners and employ streetwise skills.
Outside of work, I’m now also heavily involved with the Cure Leukaemia charity where I am also their chairman. Despite being a very different organisation with very different objectives to that of a global car company, it does represent another of my key career lessons which is to give back. Jobs and careers shouldn’t be a one-way street and it’s important that you are able to give something back into something you care about too.
“Man of steel”
So, from being a young lad, with a stutter, no confidence and no career plan to becoming the CFO of a multi-billion dollar division of Ford and MD of Jaguar, driving one of the biggest transformations in the brand’s history, I’m delighted to share some of my career tips with you in the hope they can stand you in good stead. Of course, if you’d like to know more, or have your own which you’d like to share or add, please get in touch with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.