my brilliant career - finance director

Name: Cathy Kennedy

Title: Director of finance and commissioning, North-east Lincolnshire primary care trust

Age: 37 Salary: c£50-55,000

Describe your job I have responsibility for the financial strategy and performance of the trust, as well as the commissioning of health services for a population of 170,000 people. I support the board and executive committee and have worked with the chief executive to get the organisation off the ground - we only started in April 2000.

How has your career developed?

I started as a regional finance trainee after university. I trained at Bradford health authority and went on to Wakefield HA and the United Leeds Hospitals trust. At 27, I was appointed director of finance at Weston Park Hospital trust in Sheffield. I had only been qualified three years and I was one of the youngest finance directors in the country. I was there six years, moving on to Scunthorpe and Goole Hospitals trust before coming here in August 2000.

How did you feel when you became a finance director at 27?

It was a very big jump. It was really challenging because we were establishing a new organisation and setting up new systems.

What training and qualifications do you have?

I am qualified with CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), which I gained as a regional trainee and I have a degree in physiology. I have also done a variety of management training courses, such as the King's Fund Top Managers Programme.

What attracted you to a career in finance?

All my family are doctors or nurses but I joined the 'other side'. I am in finance, not because I wanted to become an accountant but because I wanted to be in the NHS. I think this is reflected in my approach to the job. I am not coming in as an accountant but as an NHS person with a finance background.

What skills do you bring to the job?

I believe I have good working relationships with clinicians because I come from that background.

It helps build relationships. I have nine years' experience as a director of finance, working with a variety of partners in health and social services to resolve major financial problems. Relatively few people in the first wave of PCTs had that much director-level experience.

PCTs have small management teams so everyone has a range of duties. Few people have all the experience needed as PCTs have a new mix of responsibilities - so they have to be adaptable and learn fast.

Why did you move from an acute trust to a PCT?

I wanted the opportunity to be involved in setting up a new organisation again. I had always been in the acute sector but now I am working with primary and community services and find myself on the other side of the table during service and financial frameworks negotiations - poacher turned gamekeeper. Also, there were lots of changes in the acute sector at that time. The jobs that were coming up were in large acute trusts that were merging, and involved long travelling and working hours - more than I could commit to with a young family.

What was your most difficult moment?

A couple of occasions when there was a reorganisation and we had to let people go who didn't want to go.

If the NHS wasn't an option I would look at the voluntary or charity sector.

What are your ambitions?

When I was a trainee, there was a clear set of career steps in front of me, but It is not like that now. I am sure I will not be in the same place forever so I just want to keep working somewhere where I am challenged and doing new things.

Do you have any career advice?

Keep looking for opportunities and be prepared to take a risk. But when you take it, make sure you have a safety net.

Just the job Title: Director of finance. The position is often combined with other roles, including IT and purchasing. Finance directors are often deputy chief executives.

Salary:£40,000-£80,000 Numbers: 500+ Status: Accountants' standing has grown since the 1990 reforms. Finance directors are widely respected as board members who tell the truth about their organisation's finances.

Distinguishing features: While numeracy is important, do not expect finance directors to be great at mental arithmetic - being able to navigate their way around a calculator is enough. They are strong on analysis and reasoning.

Prospects: Finance directors are moving away from guarding the purse towards a more strategic role and are becoming increasingly involved in business planning and financial strategy.

On the horizon: Finance departments will become smaller, with many of their everyday functions, such as payroll, being farmed out to shared services centres. This should speed up the adoption of finance directors' strategic role.