CFO Spotlight

CFO Spotlight: Urszula Lupienska from Huckletree

Benjamin Romberg
Benjamin Romberg Spendesk

Collaboration is essential in building great companies. That’s the philosophy on which Huckletree was built. Talented, creative companies work best when they support and learn from one another. And Huckletree constructs the physical spaces where tomorrow’s brightest businesses can thrive.

This philosophy also guides Financial Controller Urszula Lupienska. She believes finance teams should get out of their seats and collaborate all over the business.

We caught up with her to learn some of her keys to exceptional finance teams, and more about Huckletree’s exciting vision.

Huckletree builds workspaces for startups. What does a young company need to grow and shape a successful business?

The idea and the concept at the beginning are essential. You definitely need the right people to start a business. It’s about finding people with the right skill set and the drive for the company to grow and thrive in the future.

At Huckletree you believe that collaboration is key to building a successful business. How important is collaboration in your job?

Finance can’t produce management accounts without collaboration with one another in the finance team, but also with General Managers or Department Leads. Because emails are easily misinterpreted, I encourage the team to cut down when they see it is getting out of control and they’re nowhere near resolving a query.

It’s best to get on the phone or hold regular catch ups in person to ensure we have the information we need.

At Huckletree, we very much encourage our members to collaborate by either attending members’ breakfasts or other events we deliver every week. It’s a great networking opportunity, but also a great moment to check what your neighbour at the desk next to yours is working on.

We apply the same in the finance team. For the team awareness and collaboration, we hold 10 minute stand-up meetings every Monday. Each team member shares their main goals for the week ahead. It helps us to be more aligned and not lose sight of the company’s objectives and vision.

Why did you join the CFO Connect Community?

I joined CFO Connect because senior finance roles can sometimes be quite lonely. It’s good to know I can lean on other finance leaders from the community. The events are very insightful and provide fantastic networking opportunities.

It’s also great to share current challenges and receive unbiased feedback.

Before Huckletree you gained experience in other sectors - medical, retail, education and hospitality. How different is the work of a finance expert depending on the sector a company is working in?

All the experiences I’ve had have equipped me with all the skills and knowledge I need for my current role. However, as a finance leader you always have to push yourself to come out of your comfort zone and continue your professional development.

In general, the work will be the same, but there’ll be more emphasis on certain finance functions and regulations. In retail and hospitality, for example, you’ve to be an expert in stock management and customer service; in the medical and education sector, you have to follow a lot of government regulations to be compliant with contractual terms for the NHS or councils.

At Huckletree, it’s all of the above. But it also requires expertise in the property sector, where the main emphasis is on voids, lease compliance, members’ feedback, stock management and JV regulations.

You’ve been at Huckletree for almost two years now. What makes the company special?

Definitely the culture. This is what really attracted me to the company. We’re a diverse and collaborative business. We’re not a traditional company, for sure.

I also had an opportunity to make a mark on the finance functions and implement all internal controls and finance processes.

To me everyone’s opinion counts. In a traditional company junior team members would very rarely have a chance to voice their opinions and be heard.

How is the team at Huckletree structured and what are the biggest challenges right now?

I’m leading a team of three people - two Accounts Assistants and a Management Accountant. The Accounts Assistants report to the Management Accountant, who then reports to me.

One of the biggest challenges is to ensure the new accounting software has zero glitches. It happens - we stumble upon some functions that still don’t work well. There are also new platforms such as automated purchase invoice processing, project and stock management and online banking solutions that are currently being tested.

I want them to work well before we go live. It’s challenging to focus on the current workload and the delivery of the new platforms and staff training. There’s never enough time in the day to do it all, and deadlines are pressing.

Also, Huckletree is expanding across Europe with new locations in Oslo, Manchester and Dublin which involves a lot of work for the finance team as well.

Businesses are going away from manual bookkeeping and relying heavily on emerging technologies. Automation is a big factor. This is something I also invest in. It helps finance to work more efficiently and productively.

We all have to focus on high-level tasks and utilise our time effectively to be better business partners to other leaders in the company. So system automation definitely affects the talent we look for, as well. When companies invest in new technologies, you need very knowledgeable staff with specific skills.

You were on a CFO Connect panel about tools for finance experts. What are the tools you can’t live without?

I’d say I can’t live without Spendesk, our spend management platform. We used Excel to capture expense claims and online purchases prior to rolling out Spendesk. It was always challenging to get all receipts in.

It’s so much easier with the new platform as the system sends automated reminders to staff to submit receipts.

I also like using 1Password. I used to keep all passwords in excel, but it got to a point where it became unmanageable. This platform helps you remember and organise all logins and the only password you’ve to memorize is the one for 1Password account.

Trello is another one I can’t live without these days. It’s a great project management tool. You can link project delivery dates with your calendar, track your progress and get automated notifications on tasks due dates.

What does your perfect day at Huckletree look like?

Every day at Huckletree is different, which is great. I like variety and I love numbers, but I also like collaborating with people. I’m very organised and I like to have a plan for the day to keep me focused. You’d think ticking off my list of tasks for the day is easily achievable.

On the contrary, it’s always challenging as there are last minute meetings or lots of questions from the team or other staff members on business operations. Before you know it, you’ve digressed from what you meant to be working on and you’re behind. Sticking to my daily plan and scheduled meetings would be I think my perfect day.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

I’m a perfectionist and I always want to do my job to the highest standard. With limited time and resources, sometimes that’s not achievable. I’ve been told you can’t be a perfectionist all the time. Sometimes you have to change your mindset and accept good quality.

That’s a piece of advice I’d share with graduates or my new finance staff now. There’s a lot of pressure on them when finishing University and getting their first job.

A fear of making a mistake stops you from taking a plunge and putting yourself out there.

Any book, podcast or resource you recommend?

I love listening to different genres of audiobooks after a long day at work, namely modern fiction, criminal or self-development books about leadership. From the professional field, I like podcasts from Accounting Best Practices, which give you practical knowledge and advice.

Also the podcast from CFO Thought Leaders, who share their experiences on how they drive the company and deal with changes in the business.

About Huckletree:

  • Founded in: 2014
  • Founders: Gabriela Hersham, Andrew Lynch
  • Raised so far: £7.2 million
  • Number of investment rounds: 4
  • Investors: Meyer Bergman
  • Number of employees: 11-50
  • Countries where active: UK, Ireland and Norway
  • Offices: London, Dublin

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