FD in Five Minutes: Susan Hickey

Third Sector speaks to the chief financial officer at the housing association Peabody

Susan Hickey
Susan Hickey

Why did you choose finance as a career?

It was kind of in my blood and upbringing – my father had an accountancy practice in the small town I grew up in back in New Zealand and my older sister also chose a career in finance and was a useful role model. No doubt my father wished one of us had taken over the family business, but we had other ideas.

What made you work in the charity sector?

Well, I didn’t start out here, but worked for a number of years in a commercial environment. I finally figured out that the charity sector gave me the chance to apply commercial acumen to a social purpose. That’s so much more exciting than just exercising commercial acumen for a shareholder’s pocket. I think charities have more to do on communicating the importance of adopting a commercial approach to deliver a social purpose. 

What is the proudest moment of your career so far?

I’m proud to have raised £1bn for Peabody in the public bond markets, as well as a range of other private funding lines. I’m also proud to have raised three children alongside a successful career while maintaining a sound work/life balance. I’m involved in mentoring and supporting others to achieve this, and I’m a strong supporter of gender equality in pay and progression. I think barriers to this are being eroded through technology, but senior finance professionals need to keep it in mind with our teams. 

What do you do outside work?

With my Kiwi roots I’m an outdoors type, so I enjoy cycling and walking, travel and watching rugby. Thirty years in London hasn’t changed that. Over the summer I cycled the length of Vietnam, which was fascinating and a welcome change from strategic planning, treasury meetings and committee work.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career/life so far?

My parents certainly gave me a sense that anything was possible, and I think that is a wonderful thing to instil. The message was very much "do whatever you like, but do it to the best of your ability". Coming from New Zealand, I was also inspired and influenced by the history of women’s suffrage from an early age. You don’t go to school there without learning about Kate Sheppard and the vote in the 1890s for women’s right to vote.

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When a property is being constructed, VAT is charged at the standard rate. But if you're a charity, health body, educational institution, housing association or finance house, the work may well fall into a category that justifies zero-rating - and you could make a massive saving