Nick Dunton, CFO, Design Bridge

Since Nick took on his first global CFO role in February 2018, at the deeply cool creative agency Design Bridge (*include link: designbridge.com), we’ve helped him place candidates in exciting roles in the business’ offices in New York, Amsterdam and London. Always fun to talk to, he took five (well, six, technically) to share some insights from a career shaped by variety and new challenges.

How have you steered your career to where you are today?

There wasn’t exactly a structured plan, to be honest! I aborted the university route pretty quickly, gave up an engineering course to travel for 18 months. Then I got a job as an assistant accountant for a private catering company, to see if finance would suit me, and gradually took my CIMA qualifications while working over the next few years. Looking for a new challenge, I got my first job in media with a move to the WPP business Portland, as it was then, in 2000, and that’s when finance really got interesting for me. When that became Kinetic with a merger in 2005, I worked closely in several more senior roles with the global CFO, until I moved to Design Bridge in 2018.

Sound like you’ve been pretty flexible. Is flexibility important for a good finance career?

There’s a danger with finance you can get stuck in a role for ten years if you don’t explore beyond it. But if you’re brave, and positive, show some confidence and energy and try new things, there are loads of diverse opportunities. I’ve enjoyed taking on different challenges, and working alongside different kinds of personalities. Design Bridge’s creative remit, for example, attracts very different characters to those in media buying, and models and systems and ways of working need to reflect that. There’s always something new to learn.

Can financial team members contribute to businesses’ success beyond good maths and governance?

Finance people are often very logic-driven, so we can be really useful at leading in embracing new technologies which our non-finance colleagues can be more nervous about. We’re often the front line when it comes to tech, systems and new ways of working, which really add broader value. And although we can be typecast as numbers people, I know lots of great personalities in finance who really help drive a positive company culture. We have fun at work. Everyone talks to everyone, and there are no shut doors, which I think is really important.  

What lessons, bad and good, have come out of the pandemic?

Despite some initial wobbles, we managed to digitalise finance pretty much overnight. Eighteen months ago thousands of paper invoices were still coming through the door, and we’ve since digitalised everything, from soft-copy signatures to our annual external audit. So now we can transact from anywhere, which is great. I even hired our new Singapore FD without ever meeting her, and that’s worked out brilliantly. A potential downside, though, is losing community, how do we develop our talent when we’re not seeing each other every day. I don’t know how we solve that quite yet, but it’s currently the subject of a lot of constructive discussions.