FD in Five Minutes: Martin Halliwell

Third Sector speaks to the chief financial officer at the British Red Cross

Martin Halliwell
Martin Halliwell

Why did you choose finance as a career? When leaving university, I did not have a clear view of my career path and, having seen my father made redundant, job security felt important. So I decided that training as a chartered accountant seemed a great way to get a professional qualification as well as being able to work in many different businesses and experience their different cultures and ways of working.

What made you work in the charity sector? Working as vice president of finance for Unilever in Vietnam helped me crystallise the importance of purpose in the role that you perform. In Vietnam, I saw the impact of Unilever’s Lifebuoy programme, which has supported more than a billion people globally to improve their hand hygiene. That simple campaign made a major impact on saving lives. I decided that it would make my life richer and more rewarding if I was to spend more of my working day pursuing goals that had great purpose.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far? I will always remember working 40 hours with no sleep as part of a dynamic team to complete the sale of a Swedish business, and I feel proud of the work we are doing at the British Red Cross to develop a sustainable model that is even more focused on meeting the unmet needs of those in crisis. I try to stay in touch with what’s happening on the ground by visiting our staff and volunteers to see the work they do. This is always amazing and the difference we make by simple acts of kindness is humbling and inspiring.

What do you do outside work? My wife tells me I get a bit grumpy if I don’t maintain my fitness routine, so in London I hit spinning classes and, when in the mood, I join the Bath Cycling Club on a Sunday for four hours of hanging on the back of a club ride led by a super fit 75-year-old. I also love going walking, so once a year my daughter and I go away for a gruelling trek. We got hooked after walking the Milford Track in New Zealand.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career/life so far? I get lots of inspiration from the people I work with. My early bosses taught me many lifelong skills such as "it is better to be late than wrong" and the value of asking the right questions to improve the quality of plans and outcomes. My cross-functional working at Procter & Gamble motivated me to complete an MBA, because I realised an accounting qualification was just the start of building the skills needed to run a successful organisation.

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