Winvic News

Finance Director Heather’s inspiring accounting career and advice – work hard, be kind and have a go

Posted on March 8, 2024 in Blog

National Careers Week aims to provide a focus for careers guidance activity at an important stage in the academic year and we take our responsibility in explaining construction career pathways and opportunities to young people very seriously. Our teams are always out speaking to school children about the varied roles available, hosting students on on-site placements and this week we’re featuring various people on our blog.

It’s Women in Construction Week too, so we’re combining the two – we asked our Finance Director and Board Member, Heather Ratcliffe, to tell us about her inspiring career, values and advice for success, which starts with ‘give it a go’…

I would recommend construction to anyone, because I believe there is something in the industry for everyone. You could be out on site every day or in the office somewhere, but whatever role you’re doing you can be confident you’re making a valuable contribution to a project’s completion – it’s also rewarding. Some people are fortunate and know exactly what career they want to go into after school or college but most aren’t really sure, my advice – if you’ve got an opportunity then why not have a go? If it’s not for you then do something else.

Construction roles are varied, busy and challenging and although we talk about the buildings, it’s the people who construct them that really make the business. I did my husband’s books for his carpentry business for many years, so I understood the challenges he faced on the ground and when I started to work for a construction firm as an Accountant in 2004, I found it rewarding to go from costings to invoices to seeing those elements in a finished house or extension. The team members would come into the portacabin office, and building relationships with them allowed me to learn about what was happening on projects. I found there was also an emotional element to construction too, because you’re delivering families’ or business’ hopes and dreams.

Here at Winvic over the last 14 years, I’ve gone from a part-time purchase ledger assistant in a department of four to Finance Director, leading a team of 20 and the first female Board Member. Having a place on the Board wasn’t something I set out for at the beginning of my career, but once the seed was planted with me, then it was something I really wanted and I’m very proud of. In all the jobs I’ve had, I’ve always put in 100%, and I believe that when you do your very best, you will get recognised – this is especially true at Winvic, I’m living proof of that!

I went from wanting to become a science teacher to working in finance! I loved sciences and people, so I studied biology, sociology and general studies at A-level and then a Behavioural Science degree, but because I wasn’t overly confident and felt I had no real-life experience, I still wasn’t ready to stand up in a classroom when I had finished university. My parents instilled a really strong work ethic in me and after university I started working with a computer service company in sales and administration. After 18 months I knew I wanted to develop my career, but I’d lost the drive to do teacher training, I went to WHSmiths and bought a careers book. It summarised hundreds of jobs and the skills you needed for them and when I read about an accountant it stood out as being just like me as a person.

We’re back to ‘having a go’ because I went to the accounts department to ask their advice and they were really supportive, immediately offering me a role where I could start my qualifications. I like a bit of a challenge, so I went straight for the higher ACCA qualification and successfully balanced work, a social life and self-study from 1996 to 2001. I stayed at the computer company for around two years and then moved to an accountancy practice where I learned a breadth of skills and had the opportunity to work with clients in different sectors. I could be setting up an accounting system one day and then counting screws on a factory floor for an audit on another. My first step into leadership was in 1998 and I learned a lot by watching other people do something well or badly. In one role I had a new manager, and he taught me something important when he spent his first month on the factory floor.

I think I learned many of my leadership skills when I was teaching Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) courses at Northampton College and through the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) teaching qualification I undertook. That’s another example of me ‘having a go’! When I was at college, I wanted to become a science teacher, but I wasn’t confident enough to go into schools on placement, so that career didn’t happen. However, the idea never left and one day I decided to contact Northampton College. They happened to have an evening class vacancy, so I taught a couple of nights a week whilst working part time during the day for the construction company.

The PTLLS course taught me about diversification and meeting people’s needs through various teaching methods because we all learn differently and respond to different approaches. I absolutely loved teaching, and not only it was an eye opener in people management, but I would say it was invaluable for my subsequent leadership roles at Winvic.

In 2010, the construction company I worked for went into administration and I saw the Winvic job advertised. By that stage in my accounting career, I was overqualified for the role, but the hours fitted perfectly with me having small children at school, which was close by. However, I remember when I walked into the office that there was an overwhelming family feel – which as a company is still really important to us – and remember thinking that the company values were – and are – akin to how I live my life. For example, I may use the word kindness instead of respect at home or talk about working hard instead of passion, but I knew this was the company for me and I think I pleaded to get the job! I believe my values have shaped my career. Winvic is the type of company that genuinely values its people, and a simple example in my department is, when a subcontractor does their job, we believe they should be paid the correct amount, on time and every time, the team works really hard to ensure this happens.

I feel lucky that Winvic has grown at the same time as my children and I was promoted to Finance Manager, Head of Finance and to Director of Finance – or ‘girl boss’ as my now grown-up daughters say – at pertinent times in my life. The department structure has grown underneath me, and I’ve worked closely with our Commercial Director Chris Allsopp and many others across the business who have been supportive and helped me to create a team of fantastic people.

I try to never judge others because I’m not in their shoes, but I always want to learn and find solutions and we really do work together at Winvic to reach the same end goal. Communication is key so I may have to explain financial processes, our role in the business and why it’s important, but if something is challenging for a team member then an open and honest conversation also might lead to doing it in a different way.

One female accountant in my department gave it a go in 2016. She came to me and said she wanted to be a Quantity Surveyor (QS) and after some conversation between departments I’m proud to say that, Winvic supported her down that path, she was our first female QS and she’s still thriving in that role today. Male or female, anyone can be successful in any role, but I understand the initial apprehension some may feel about being the only female on site because we all need to feel like we fit in; this was mirrored at one point when we had only one male in the finance team, but any worry quickly goes away.

My advice is, get involved – you will always learn something new from the people around you – and be kind. Being generous, hardworking and a little bit brave will make a solid foundation for any career.

The Winvic Way

The Winvic Way means challenging ourselves to constantly improve our service and our processes in order to deliver competitive advantage for our clients.

Winvic has provided multidisciplinary construction services on a national scale since 2001, and ever since has been fostering relationships with a growing list of public and private sector clients. Known for forging pioneering schemes, excelling across all sectors, and affording flexibility to developers and occupiers alike, Winvic has been built on foundations where expectations are exceeded.

Widely known as the UK’s leading industrial ‘shed specialist’, our expertise spans many areas; civils and infrastructure, build-to-rent, student accommodation, office and commercial, fit out works and specialist sustainable builds, including the fulfilment of turnkey project requirements. Our open approach to schemes of any size allows us to be flexible, we have an enviable record of project delivery and we are committed to delivering an ever improving quality of service and product, responsibly, ethically and safely. That’s just the Winvic Way.

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