Julie Walsh on what she hopes to bring to Hofmeister in her new role as finance director.

After 11 years helping to manage the financial futures of many of the UK and the world’s most famous brands, Julie Walsh is taking on a new challenge to help catapult revamped and rejuvenated Hofmeister premium beer to the next level - or two.

From April, Walsh is swapping the big corporate life at FMCG giant Unilever to join what she sees as a bright, fast moving and still very much a start-up beer and drinks branded business with a dynamic future ahead of it.

It’s a move that has also been over 15 years in the making. Walsh has always set her sights on playing a significant, central role in the fortunes of a small, like-minded business where she can make a real difference, having earned her spurs and gained the necessary experience working in senior corporate finance roles.

With an impressive career, Walsh has experience that has taken her from being a Deloitte-trained accountancy and audit graduate in Dublin, to working for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney and then an 11-year career at Unilever working in a number of senior finance and analyst roles up to her current position as head of commercial finance for the UK business.

“I wanted to learn from the best in class in the corporate world and then take those learnings into a smaller company where I can have more of a direct, hands-on impact on the future of that business,” she says. 

Right time  
The time, though, is right to follow her long-held business ambition and take on a central role in a small, dynamic branded business and help it achieve its short, mid- and long-term goals.

“I have known about Hofmeister for some time and been inspired by the story of how Spencer and Richard have rejuvenated this great beer brand. It really connected with me and I am now so excited to become part of it,” she says.

She says when she heard about the opportunity to join the Hofmeister team as finance director she jumped at it: “It just felt like the perfect time for me.”

The job also comes with an added bonus: “I also absolutely love the beer and the brand. It’s just a fantastic product.”

She is well placed to know having worked with some of the world’s most iconic, and best loved household brands - from Persil, Lynx, Colman’s mustard, Marmite, Hellmann’s, Dove and Ben & Jerry’s.

“Unilever is all about brands,” she says. “It absolutely believes in the quality of each of its brands. It is also what I see in Hofmeister and the work that has gone into rejuvenating everything associated with it including the quality of the beer, all the awards it has won, right through to the glassware, the steins and the fonts on the bar. They have done a fantastic job in making it look and feel like such a premium brand.”

What’s more she is coming to Hofmeister for the first time having not been aware of its success or even its existence first time round. “I don’t think we had it in Ireland,” she says. “I am a newcomer to Hofmeister.”

Which means she is experiencing the brand and all of its qualities for the first time.

“What’s so exciting about it is that every time I introduce Hofmeister to any of my friends they rave about the quality and absolutely love it. Then there is George the Bear. You can’t help but love him.”

She adds: “The team have identified a clear gap and opportunity in the market to give consumers something totally different. It is also giving our potential customers a beer with a clear premium offering that they can sell at a high rate of sale and get a higher margin.”

Financial control
But for any premium brand to have continued and long-term success it needs to grow at a pace that it can manage and control, she stresses. Which is where Walsh’s role will come in as finance director.

“Finance is a catalyst for change,” she says, but only if you have the right checks and balances in place. “You have to be able to both challenge and support in equal measure. That requires strategic acumen, in-depth operational knowledge, intense performance, and risk management.”

She adds: “What is particularly appealing about this role is the fact that there is a very clear strategy about where the brand is going and how it is going to get there. My role is to support, facilitate and help enhance that growth. I’ll be ensuring that we are optimising all the data available to us and that those insights are helping to unlock the decisions we are making.”

In such a sales-focused business it is important to have excellent reporting so the company as a whole has access and visibility to the necessary data, both internally and externally. “We will be looking to bring some structure and rigor to our reporting so that we can be confident in sharing the right level of information with the right stakeholders at the right time, be it the board, the shareholders or the sales team. It is also about setting clear and achievable KPIs,” she adds.

“The role of the finance director is evolving,” claims Walsh. “Traditionally it was more focused on stewarding and controlling a company’s finances but now alongside this skillset it is more strategic, powering the overall performance of the company and supporting key growth drivers. I think my experience sets me up well to deliver in this role with my Chartered Accountancy training and audit experience in Deloitte. Then at the Commonwealth Bank in Australia I was part of the team responsible for compiling and presenting the half year and full year company results. With Unilever it was a mix of local and global roles where you are having to use more analytical, risk management skills in order to optimise and get the most out of all the investments you are making. This gives me the right breadth of experience to take on this position.”

It’s why the role at Hofmeister is “so attractive” as much of the work setting those strong, financial foundations has already been done. “I hope I can bring best-in-class practices from the big corporates to make sure all the processes, ways of working and systems are all joining together in the best way possible,” she explains.

A key part of her role will be to set the business so that all of its systems and processes can easily step up to the next level.

“We have an ambitious growth plan ahead of ourselves and we need to be a scalable business. So it is about having the systems and processes in place that can help support that growth ambition. But it is also about looking at our performance management to make sure we are setting the right targets,” she says.

As a business grows so do its costs and overheads and it will also be down to Walsh to manage how quickly it grows. “Controlling that is even more important for a small company so we will need to have a forensic analysis of our overheads. We need our P&L to be set up for success and long-term growth.”

Walsh and the rest of the Hofmeister management team will also have one eye on growing the business to a point where it becomes attractive to outside investment.

“It will be part of my job to support our financial accounts being as attractive as possible and be subject to scrutiny,” she stresses. “We need every line of our P&L to stand up so that we can clearly demonstrate return on our investments.”

Exciting opportunity

She says part of her will be sad to leave Unilever but is very proud of the work she has done, the success she has had and the “solid network” she has built up over the years.

“I feel like I am leaving on a high and my current role in the business is my favourite so far, working with the UK commercial team and its 200 strong sales team.”

But the Hofmeister opportunity had her name written all over it.

“Culture is very important to me and I really love being part of a team and the collective spirit that brings. I can’t believe my luck that I have found a company that lives and breathes that culture and has the personalities of Spencer and Richard behind it. It is also a fantastic brand to work with. I am very excited.”

There is also another winning factor in her decision to join Hofmeister.

“My husband is called George. So it all makes perfect sense!”