Career Growth and Leadership: Interview with Sara Ferry, Financial Controller, Nostra

Sara Ferry is the Financial Controller in Nostra Technologies Limited, a Dublin-headquartered leading provider of Managed IT Services. Now in the role for almost four years, she has been promoted twice from Financial Accountant to Head of Finance to Financial Controller. At Nostra, Sara has overseen three acquisitions, integrated the various finance departments, modernised their finance systems, and continues to grow her finance team.

Sara is an integral member of the GrowCFO community and is actively involved in our CFO programme and professional mentoring. We heard from her at GrowCFO’s International Women’s Day 2022 event, highlighting her career successes and valuable insights.

Read on to learn more about her background, work ethos and advice to aspiring and experienced finance professionals.

Hi Sara. We’re so pleased to have you speak at this event today. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m so privileged to be sharing this afternoon with you all and these incredible women who are being featured today. Your achievements do not only inspire me, but also so many others to work harder, to be better, and to make a dent wherever we can.

In life, there are moments where you ask yourself, ‘how did I get here? Why am I asked to stand here?’ That’s one of those moments for me. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful mother who made me believe everything I ever wanted was possible if I stood up and gave it a try. Doors will open for those brave enough to knock. 

I completed both my audit degree and master’s in accountancy in Letterkenny University in 2012-13. I completed my three-year traineeship in JPA Brenson Lawlor, which allowed me to gain a wealth of knowledge and experience in areas such as auditing and tax and accounts preparation. It gave me the confidence to be able to work in any area in finance, knowing I had the basic knowledge to further my career. 

I then moved to Accenture for a six-month contract where I worked on statutory accounts. I then realised that I wanted to be involved in the business side of finance, so I started working for Ivor Fitzpatrick for over a year as his personal accountant in 2016, until an opportunity arose in Nostra Technologies Limited for a financial accountant position in 2018.

Tell us a bit more about your role in Nostra.

Within six months, I was promoted to head of finance, working directly with the managing director. The role was completely out of my comfort zone as it entailed management duties as I had to manage a team for the first time. We were in the middle of an acquisition at the time, where I had to integrate both finance departments. I gave the role 100% and worked so hard to learn on my feet. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful, hard-working finance team and management team around me offering their help and support.

I moved all our finance systems to the cloud and had gone paperless. Later that year, I joined the leadership team and the board, which was an amazing experience. Since then, I have been promoted to financial controller in 2020. 

My finance team has now increased to 11 people including contracts and procurement. We have completed two more acquisitions during the pandemic and have completed those while working remotely.

What are your career goals?

My main career goals are being the very best version of myself and perfecting this every single day, to give a hand to the next person to play in the career ladder, and to be a mentor to many that will come behind me.

How can we support women in finance? What has your experience been?

I always had male managers and have been so fortunate that they have always had my back and wanted me to succeed. They’ve always seen my drive and how eager I was to learn and try any task I was given.

At the moment my department is mostly females, although my team has never been hired based on their gender. I advocate that in my team, women should support women and we should encourage women to sit at the table.

There are too few women who are financial controllers, CFOs, and board members across Ireland and the UK. Technology companies are not renowned for having senior women in leadership positions. And I’m very delighted to say 50% of the strategic leadership team in Nostra are female heads of departments. 

What do you look for when hiring?

When adding to my team, the main qualities I look for in a colleague are their work ethic and personality. These qualities you just can’t teach someone. 

Any final tips for finance leaders?

My main advice is to always, always ask questions. Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because we’ve all been in your position. And if you don’t get the answer you want, at least you’ve asked. It’s always a learning curve. You’re always learning new ways and new approaches. I believe for myself that I will never stop learning on this journey. 

To help me along, I joined GrowCFO in December 2021. It’s been the best thing I’ve actually done so far. I highly recommend it to anyone in my position. The amount of knowledge I’ve gotten from this course so far is unbelievable. And I am not even halfway through the course. So many experiences from people in the same position as me is a breath of fresh air. 

Always push yourself to learn more and adopt new ways. It doesn’t matter where on the ladder you are. This will allow you to go far.

GrowCFO premium members can watch the full recording of this event in our webinars library.

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