This month’s Member Spotlight

Helen Rees

February 2019

Financial Controller & Director at Sonoco

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your role?

I am a Chartered Accountant – I qualified around ten years ago after completing a degree in Mathematics. My first job was in the consumer goods sector within ADM; I moved from my hometown in Yorkshire to Liverpool after University – moving into a house shared with six other ladies all in their twenties, and we had a blast! I qualified while living in Liverpool – I had a great boss who allowed me to do some of my studies in work time. Once I’d finished, like most newly qualified accountants, it was time to move onto a new challenge. I moved to Manchester and joined Sonoco – a company that never stops changing! Sonoco is a great company to work for; the opportunities are everywhere as they grow and evolve both through acquisition and organic growth. I progressed from being the Management Accountant of one site to Finance Manager of two sites, then three. I was always involved in projects, rolling out new software, helping to automate processes, working with other departments to implement better more meaningful reporting, and helping integrate a new international acquisition. Around two years ago, I was offered the head of Finance role for the UK & Ireland – lots of new challenges and changes, and there’s more to come. I love working in the manufacturing sector – the challenges are many and it keeps my work interesting. I think in finance we’ll see a lot of changes in our industry as new technologies continue to roll out and the day to day activities become automated – we have an opportunity to become more strategic at all levels and it’s time to embrace that!

2. Why are you passionate about the mission of the LEAD Network?

As a female the motivation is pretty obvious: the statistics on women in the C-suite are poor, and we can and should do better. I think we can make the workplace better for everyone. The more we strive to be an attractive workplace for females, the more we attract talented employees of all genders. I think D&I is a really important topic, spreading far beyond gender diversity, and LEAD is really able to capture that, yet still keep a gender parity target at the forefront.

3. What would you tell your younger self to ease her/his heart?

Have confidence that what you are doing is right, and then, just go with it! It’s my belief that the relationships I have formed with my peers, managers and employees have been the biggest boost to my career. At one point I thought the most important thing was how my CV looked; I was lost in how to add more “extra-curricular” activities that I found interesting, or whether I should be moving on to a new company for the sake of showing good variety and progression. Over time, the relationships I’ve formed have allowed me to take on new roles that had enough diversity and challenge to keep my CV varied whilst keeping me interested & engaged. My network enabled me to get involved in LEAD, and that has lead to even more diversity in my career and an even bigger network. Who knows what’s next!

4. Can you give an example of how reverse mentoring has helped you on your road to success?

I believe reverse mentoring is vital in all companies. Clearly, more experienced mentors have many varied lessons to teach younger inexperienced mentees, but there is definitely a two-way advantage to reverse mentoring. In a previous role, my manager was very open and able to listen to me explain new applications or concepts which meant I was able to help push the company/department forward in a way I truly believed in, but that had also stood the test of his experiences and lessons learned. In return, it also helped my boss stay relevant and in the forefront of newer ways of working.