The power behind the curtain

After 25 years of service driving our business and culture from behind the scenes, Karen Barton has expanded her role to encompass finance, business systems, inventory management and HR – and is stepping into the spotlight as a director and member of the board.
In China I was told that the most powerful people in their history were often the mother of the emperor. While her son was the face of the empire, she was the one quietly making all the important decisions from behind a red curtain.

At FB Chain Karen Barton has been our own ‘power behind the curtain’ for a long time. During her first 15 years at the company, she assembled all the information on which the previous two managing directors based their decisions. I remember early meetings with the bank in which they had great confidence in FB Chain, thanks to the cash flows and forecasts that Karen had produced.

This year we’re celebrating Karen’s 25 years of service at the company. We’re extremely grateful for her hard work and skill – and would not be where we are today without her.

Unassuming by nature, some of the key suppliers and customers she interacts with every day don’t even realise the seniority of her position. She earns their respect through her knowledge and efficiency, not because she demands it.

From data to insight

Even when she first joined the company in 1995 to look after our finances, nobody knew the numbers of the business better than Karen. What’s changed since then is her knowledge of the entire business. She understands the complete process of how we make, sell and distribute chain – and the impact each stage has on our bottom line.

Karen loves precision and at year end she is disappointed if her own tax calculation is a few pence different to our auditors’. This eye for detail, combined with her deep understanding of the business, allows her to challenge the data and draw insights that empower us to improve the way we do things. It’s for this reason that Karen now also takes responsibility for business systems and inventory management.

Our custodian of culture

HR is another of her broadened responsibilities since Karen has had a big impact on our culture. We take culture extremely seriously at FB Chain as a good business strategy is worthless without a culture where employees are empowered and inspired to bring it to life.

Karen’s management style is collaborative and consultative. When looking after areas of the business that are numbers-driven but she is not an expert in them, she is good at listening to others and leveraging their strengths. This kind of teamwork is crucial in developing and maintaining a positive culture.

Karen was also instrumental in FB Chain becoming an early adopter of flexible working. When her children were young, she often worked from home and since then has done a lot to make the workplace a much friendlier place for other women.

The future is female

Of course, we still have a long way to go redress our gender imbalance. Our parent company Addtech aims to have 40% of senior management positions held by women in 2030.

Out of the 160 Addtech companies I can only think of four or five women in senior roles at the moment so I struggle to see how we will reach our target unless we encourage more of our talented female financial mangers like Karen to play a wider role in the business and be ready to take over.

Although I don’t have the exact figures, we do have plenty of women working in finance at Addtech, which is not unusual. According to the Financial Reporting Council, 35% of accounts professionals are female, as are 50% of accounts students, which is a huge resource to draw from – but something is going wrong.

We need to recognise their potential, support their growth and promote them to positions where their influence can be more widely felt. Our businesses depend on it because as much as we need these women’s differing perspective and ideas, we also need their sharp analytical minds.

Data will come to shape our future more and more, which means we need people leading our businesses who are good with numbers and can apply them to the everyday reality of the company.

So I am very pleased and proud to see Karen finally stepping out from behind the curtain – expanding her responsibilities and taking an open leadership role within the company as a director and member of the board. The recognition she is receiving for her years of dedication is long overdue and I am looking forward to working closely with her to drive our business forward and ensure FB Chain is fit for the future.

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