Matthew Day - Head of Financial Planning and Analysis at Travix

Finance & Accountancy
25 April, 2024

Commercial and strategic finance leader Matthew Day is Head of Financial Planning & Analysis at Travix – a global online travel company headquartered in Amsterdam. Having spent the first 11 years of his career traversing business and finance roles at Nike, Matthew reflects on the benefits that came with making diagonal and horizontal moves – and shares the values that have shaped his open, collaborative management style.

Tell us about the most memorable moment in your career to date…

I made a few different moves throughout my time at Nike, but the most memorable was moving from my role in a centralized geography business unit to a much broader position in a territory as a functional lead (commercial finance). It was a move that got me into the thick of the business – much closer to the marketplace and the consumer, which I really wanted. It meant I had much greater exposure and visibility to others within the business, and it gave me a strong dotted line to the General Manager of that territory.

The GM already knew me and my background at Nike thus far, and that I was interested in stretching myself in roles beyond finance. There was no Commercial Director at the time, so she took a leap of faith and asked me if I could help fill that gap. I jumped at the chance and embraced it, and she trusted and encouraged me to take a steep learning curve, to make mistakes along the way and ultimately gave me a chance to grow and add value within the team.

It was challenging, but it gave me exposure to commerce, go-to-market processes, sales and account management, as well as marketing and inventory management – deepening my understanding of our product and the customer journey.

It also opened doors and proved to others that I was a credible leader outside of finance. This proved pivotal in my next position, when I moved back to the Nike brand into a commercial, strategic account management role. I had buyers I needed to work with to make sure we had a strong, commercial strategic plan – so I needed to understand upcoming products, how we were going to sell and market them, and lead a cross-functional virtual team.

What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you grow?

Broadly speaking, it’s the fact that I chose not to take a conventional, vertical, upwards career path. I love business, so I didn’t want to specialise in finance – I wanted to build cross-functional relationships, learn and become the best generalist I could possibly be. It's helped me build credible relationships and have productive, constructive conversations with experts across functions, and taught me so much about different processes, businesses and industries.

I’ve seen my peers progress quickly within specific functions, which has felt disheartening at times – but I’m so glad I took the time and opportunities to move horizontally, and build a wider portfolio of whole-business knowledge and experience along the way.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?

It’s the trust I’ve built – not just with my manager, but with my team too. It’s quite daunting coming into a new organisation, especially in an industry where you have limited experience. But I know the concepts of business, of account management, sales and marketing – and while the industry is different, the fundamentals remain the same. I’ve got ideas to put in place and I’m trusted to go ahead and act on them. That’s the most rewarding part – being challenged in exciting new ways and being part of the change.

What strategies would you suggest to someone who’s looking to pivot their career into a different industry?

It’s all about mindset. Finance professionals tend to be quite analytical, meaning we often focus on what’s wrong and how we can fix it. So if we’re looking to switch roles or functions, we’ll focus on the experience we don’t have – rather than the transferrable skills we do have, whether it’s the ability to manage stakeholders, to communicate, analyse, propose and influence… there’s so much you can carry over.

You need to focus on your strengths. If you focus on your weaknesses, all you’re going to do is make something that’s bad not-so-bad. Far better to hone your talents and turn good into great. That’s how you add value. And the things you’re not so good at? Well, that’s the beauty of a team.

Think of it like a game of football. You've got 11 players on the pitch and they're all there to win, but you don't want 11 goalkeepers playing in every position. Everybody has a different role to play. So, know what it is that you're good at and master it. Unless you're going into rocket science, it's not rocket science! There are always skills you can transfer.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in financial planning?

It would be to look at it not just as a financial role but as an extended part of a cross-functional business team.

You’re a business partner who’s there to understand and communicate the financial implications of every decision that’s made. Every strategic move – whether that’s commercial, logistics or people-centred – comes back to the financials. So have an open mindset. Don't just see things in black and white. At the end of the year, if you don't hit the budget, it doesn't mean it's a failure. Things change along the way, and you've got to be able to adapt as you go.

Bear in mind, too, that the trajectory of your career won’t always be linear. For example, I've seen CFOs also work in sales, tech or IT – so starting in one area doesn’t mean you’ll stay there the entire time. Be open to working in and with different functions – you might just play a crucial role there that’ll make all the difference in your future development.

How do you anticipate the role of FP&A will evolve as AI and automation advances?

One word – data! I've been fortunate enough to work with dedicated financial operations data teams, and looking back now, I realise that they were world-class.

So, I can see that if you can work with and master accurate big data – data you can use end-to-end and integrate across all other parts of the business – that’s going to make the role of FP&A so much more effective. Why? Because you’ll spend less time ensuring the numbers are credible and more time actually analysing them – helping the business make better decisions off the back of what you learn.

What one piece of advice you would give your younger self or a young finance professional?

Take time to figure out who you are and be proud of that person. When you’re just starting out in your career and you meet senior leaders and executives, they can feel like rock stars – and that can be quite intimidating. People want to make a good impression, so sometimes they end up saying things or behaving in a way that isn't authentically them.

You have to focus on what you want, know your values and what it is you're willing to compromise on – and what you’re not.

I see a lot of young professionals saying they want a job “because it looks great”. But I’d ask, is it really what you want to do? Is it something that gives you energy and excites you? Why do you want to do it? If people are honest with themselves, they’re often surprised to discover that what they think they want isn’t actually what they do want. When you constantly question your motives, you can get clarity around what will truly motivate and fulfil you professionally.

How can leaders create diverse teams?

Firstly, you need to put trust in people, believe in them (sometimes more than they believe in themselves) and be willing to take a risk – just like my GM did with me back at Nike.

Some business leaders will bring in people who they've known for a long time and who they feel comfortable with – and while a lot of good can come from that, you risk ending up with a very closed collective mindset.

I think there are both business and cultural benefits to knowing your knowledge and skills gaps and taking risks – celebrating the strength in your existing team, and bringing in new people from different backgrounds, who can offer new perspectives and ways of working.

I also think it’s important to recruit with an open mind – looking for those all-important transferable skills rather than direct industry knowledge or specialisms. Take the risk on yourself, assess what’s missing from your team and don’t just go with the comfortable hire.

How do you foster a positive and productive work environment, especially in challenging times?

Throughout my career, I’ve been managed by people from different walks of life, with hugely differing experiences and perspectives. Some were quite militant and resistant to opening up – and the overall MO was “We need to get this done. Let's do it”.

Others have been more vulnerable. They'll say, “It's a stressful time. I get it and I'm in it with you. I’d love you to do the things that play to your strengths, and I’ll find a way to cover you in those weaker areas”. I’m a millennial manager, so this leadership style really resonates with me.

As a generation, I think we always want to make sure that people feel involved. So, I'm very open with my team. If things aren't ideal, I’ll tell them that. I’ll tell them we've got to make hard choices and that I'm making hard choices myself. It may not be the right choice, but I'm going to take a risk.

It's leading by example, but also showing that you don't have all the answers. And when you do that, you show your team that they don't need to, either. I’ll try to role-model the curiosity to find those answers, proactivity in who I speak to and where I go to find information. We’re people, not robots – so showing creativity and authenticity in the way you handle difficult situations makes all the difference when it comes to creating a positive and productive working environment.

What does the next five years look like for you in your career?

Honest answer – I don’t know.

When I was at university, I used to imagine all the things I would be doing in 5, 10, 15 years’ time. None of those things actually happened – and I think I’m better off for it.

Going right back to the beginning of my career as an intern at Nike, I was a sports-obsessed kid who just wanted to work for a big sports brand. I never set a goal to have the experiences that I ultimately did have, and I’m so thankful for the journey of discovery I went on.

So if I’m looking ahead, I’d say my aims are simple: to continue to being open to new experiences both at home and in work, to fine-tune and be clear on my values, what I'm good at, what I'm not good at, and be confident in that.

My North Star is General Management – but whether or not it happens in the next five years, I'm ok with that. I'll happily move sideways and ‘backwards’ if it keeps me learning. The world’s changing so quickly, you have to be present, stay curious and focus on growing as a human being. When you do that, new opportunities take care of themselves. That’s certainly been my experience over the past 15 years.

What does life outside of the office look like for you?

I’ve recently rediscovered my passion for tennis. Weirdly, when I worked for a sports company, I hardly played – and since leaving I’ve been on the court much more. It gives me so much energy and happiness – along with my dog, Jura , who’s the focal point of mine and my wife’s life.

As much as I want to do well in my career, I work to live – I don’t live to work. Time doesn’t go backwards, so I think it’s important to make the most of what we have. For me, that means being with my family, my wife and her family as much as I can.

Any final words of wisdom for our candidates?

The best managers are those who support your growth, and who help you tap into the things that have helped them in their career.

I've seen people who want to leave a company be treated as outsiders – like they’re not loyal, or only loyal to themselves and their own growth. But I believe it’s our job as both managers and as human beings to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and make them feel good about wanting to develop.

I once admitted to a past manager that I no longer felt I was learning in my role – despite being happy, enjoying what I did and liking the people I worked with. Their reaction was, “let's find those opportunities. And if you need me to share the details of people or agencies who work in this function or this industry, I'll do that for you”.

Having that conversation was so refreshing, because as hard as it was, they didn’t take it personally. I’ve been heavily influenced by that experience, and I encourage every manager to think just as objectively. Just because your star employee is leaving, if you do the right thing and show you trust in them, they’re far more likely to stay in touch and want to work with you again.

Thank you to Matthew for speaking to Kieran Hayes, Recruitment Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands.

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment