Interview: GM Financial’s Martin Page FCCA and Filip Kuzov, ACCA trainee
The options for finding a quiet room to chat with Martin Page FCCA, director for the international operations treasury function at GM Financial (operating as GMAC in the UK), and Filip Kuzov, accounting trainee, are limited. The finance subsidiary of General Motors and the official source of financing for Vauxhall cars in the UK occupies a huge warehouse-style building just north of Cardiff and prides itself on its inclusive, collaborative culture.
‘Even the MD works on the open floor,’ says Page. ‘People are encouraged to speak to each other and to feel as though they make a difference, and that creates a distinctive culture. We’re not at all bureaucratic here.’
GMAC has had a chequered recent history and Page, who joined the company in 2001, has seen most of it first-hand. He joined the company as financial controller on the day its new offices in Cardiff opened after leaving his previous employer, Chartered Trust, the consumer finance business owned by Standard Chartered. ‘We recruited a huge number of people in a short time after relocating our offices to south Wales, and I was part of that.’
Page had joined the accounting team at Chartered Trust after completing his degree in accounting and economics. He qualified with ACCA in 1997, winning the Julian Hodge prize for the highest aggregate marks across all students in Wales.
He says that the basic function of GM Financial, the global captive finance company of General Motors, is to support the manufacturer’s business. ‘The reason the finance company is here is to help Vauxhall sell more cars as well as to provide financial solutions for dealers and customers. We’re a classic captive finance company – the basic model hasn’t changed for years, but the environment around us has changed very much.’
That is quite an understatement when you consider the recent history of the company. In 2006, General Motors sold 51% of its shares in GMAC, as it was then known, to a private equity company, Cerberus Capital Management. Barely two years later, the financial crisis hit the US car industry hard; between late 2008 and 2010, the US Treasury invested just over US$16bn in GMAC, which was renamed Ally Financial (although not in the UK, where it has always operated as GMAC) in 2010. In 2013, General Motors Financial, a wholly owned subsidiary of GM, bought back the international car financing operations, including GMAC in the UK.
‘If you speak to anyone here they will say that in 2013, we came home,’ says Page. ‘But for the majority of our staff, not a lot really changed during all that time in terms of what we do every day.’
Page joined as financial controller and was promoted to CFO at the age of 32. His move into treasury was not strictly planned and, while he has a wealth of experience and intense on-the-job training, he is not a qualified treasurer.
‘I got heavily involved in securitisation while I was CFO,’ he explains, ‘and, as a result, I was asked to move to our international treasury centre, then based in Brussels, to lead the rollout of a securitisation programme across our European footprint, working with banks and lawyers to get our securitisation in place.’ He would spend over six years in Brussels during a challenging time. ‘We were investment-grade rated when I joined the company, but during the financial crisis, that changed. We’ve just reacquired investment-grade status with one of the ratings agencies, so we’re back on the front foot, and back in growth mode.’
Being at the business end of the global financial crisis, he adds, was stressful, but probably the best training he could get: ‘I wouldn’t want to live through that again, but everything has its benefits – you learn what’s important and what to focus on. An experience like that holds you in good stead for anything the future might throw at you.’
Page’s day generally involves managing the funding requirements for the company, working on bank relationships and looking after liquidity. He is also working on a significant systems rollout for securitisation reporting.
‘I see my role in treasury as being a good business partner to everyone else,’ he says. ‘I need to be aware of all the funding needs and make sure that we’re running with adequate liquidity. I like the flexibility required in my position – if you were to ask me what I’ll be doing next week, I’d probably know about 40% of it and the rest is whatever comes up.’
Scheme success and global links
Filip Kuzov, by contrast, is an accounting trainee who joined GM Financial in 2013 after graduating from Cardiff University. Kuzov was one of just 20 graduates selected for the Welsh Assembly’s new financial services graduate programme. The idea behind the scheme is that successful applicants work for a number of different companies within the financial services sector in Wales, including Admiral and GMAC, over a two-year period to gain experience and a recognised postgraduate qualification. Kuzov had been at GM Financial for just a month when he was offered a full-time position.
He is currently working his way through the ACCA Qualification process. ‘I was keen to work for a company that would fund and guide me,’ he says. ‘GM Financial offers a choice of qualifications, but I decided on ACCA because it’s globally recognised.’
‘We’re very focused on training here,’ agrees Page. In 2014, GMAC joined the top 7% of accredited organisations across the UK when it was awarded the Investors in People Gold standard for realising the potential of its staff. ‘We like the ACCA Qualification because it develops the skills our accountants need.’ Kuzov will spend a few months in each department, learning the different aspects of the business, interspersed with study leave and exams. ‘We’ll then sit down with him and decide where the best place is for him to find a permanent home,’ says Page.
More than 250 employees work at GM Financial’s offices near Cardiff; there are further offices in the UK at High Wycombe and Luton, as well as operations in 18 other countries. ‘Financial services is a very interesting place to be at the moment, and we have the added benefit of being part of a global business,’ says Page. ‘Every day I deal with a lot of different people and ideas.’
So far, Kuzov is impressed. ‘I like the open structure of the office,’ he says, looking across the vast open-plan floor. ‘I can always go to one of the directors to ask advice, as they’re not shut away. You can openly discuss your concerns and ambitions and get plenty of feedback. That’s one of the main reasons I decided to stay after coming here.’
Liz Fisher, journalist
This article was first published in the UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine in June 2015.