Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Route to the top- Admiral Group CFO

Route to the top- Admiral Group CFO

Geraint Jones, the finance head of the Cardiff-based insurance giant, reveals the career journey that led to joining one of the FTSE 100's fastest growing companies.

I was born near Merthyr Tydfil, up the valley from Cardiff where Admiral Group is based. My dad was an accountant, working for the firm that became Deloitte, before becoming a partner in a small firm- so he could give me plenty of career advice. My mother was a telephonist at the Hoover vacuum cleaner plant at Merthyr Tydfil. She was the breadwinner when he was training.

At Aberystwyth University I graduated in business studies. It felt like a very good degree, giving me lots of options One of the modules I chose was European integration that considered whether EU integration should go deeper and wider. When I left in 1997, I was right on top of European integration theory!

I’ll never forget the call from the partner who recruited me for Ernst & Young’s Cardiff office. It was a really mixed bag of work. There was no specialism at this point in the work as the move to specialisation hadn’t really happened, particularly in the Cardiff office which had a big range of clients in terms of size and industry. I ended up like everybody doing a bit of everything, including clients that were SMEs and subsidiaries of large Japanese and American companies.

Because it was a small audit department, it meant you were given your own jobs reasonably early on. It was a good opportunity versus the kind of massive London audit functions where you are one of hundreds. All the people in the office knew who the trainees were and spent time with us and we were certainly well supported. It was easy to get noticed and be given more responsibility.

I did all my exams with Ernst & Young but in late 1999 they closed the Cardiff audit department. They transferred most of the staff to Bristol, where I was based for six months. I was still living in the Welsh capital with my soon to be wife who I met at E&Y in Cardiff. We both transferred to Bristol.

One of the problems was that they had a radius around the office they expected you to drive to every day. Sometimes it meant a journey of up to an hour to clients the other side of Bristol, as there were no overnights. So I had the nightmare of huge traffic jams on the M32 and in that area.

I’d heard KPMG in Cardiff was looking for nearly qualified managers– which related to me as I was a senior trainee at Ernst & Young and I’d done my exams in late 1999 but hadn’t technically qualified, so I moved over. They said we’ll give you time off and pay for all the exam entry fees and all the professional exams support you need, so you can go on and be an assistant manager and hopefully become a manager and progress.

KPMG had won Admiral as a client not long before I joined. I turned up at the office and on the staff planner was a gap so they said Geraint can do that, even though he’s got no financial services experience. I was informed what Admiral was all about in the 10 minute walk to the firm’s offices.

I’d undertaken a small piece of due diligence on Admiral while at Ernst & Young when it was going through one of its several sale processes in the 1990s, so I knew some of the people there. I knew it as a reasonably big, fast-growing company, but I didn’t know much about the insurance world when I started doing the audit. Then I was based in the building for weeks on end and got to know the people and what it was all about.

It was a fantastic way of finding out if a company is a suitable employer, if you’re going to enjoy working with the people, if the culture suits you, what the company stands for, and what the future might bring.

A couple of years into doing the audit, the head of finance took me into the canteen and said do you know anyone who’d like to join us- we’re going through some changes, we need to boost our technical resources. In a management letter I’d made some observations, suggesting Admiral should improve its technical competence through bringing more accountants in.

I had no plans until then to join a corporate. I had made some really good friends at Ernst & Young and KPMG that I still speak to and go out with sometimes and I was on a reasonable path in audit, whether or not I wanted to be a Big Four audit partner.

From the first moment in Admiral there nothing was the same. My job title didn’t change for four years but the job changed very regularly. From then on I didn’t look back.

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