Finance director keeps a cautious eye on the Institute

29 September 2014

As the Institute’s group finance director, Michael Bray feels he is “the voice of reason” when advising on financial matters.

Michael Bray

There is often an impetus to do things quickly in starting new activities, but the finances have to be set up properly, he says. “Part of my role is to consider, and encourage others to consider, a range of potential issues, opportunities and threats before making a decision, and contributing to the effective management of risk,” he says.

Being exposed to all areas of the Institute’s work – at IOP Publishing, the IOP in London and across the globe – helps him in assisting his colleagues to understand the financial implications of their ideas, he says.

It also makes the role very varied, which he finds one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. “I’ve also enjoyed working with some phenomenally talented people in meeting the challenges of moving the business of the Institute forward and being part of the growth of a successful international publishing company.

“More recently I’m enjoying being part of the dynamic change that is taking place across the Institute and will continue to develop in the next few years, including the restructuring of the Institute and introducing a more commercial approach to the way that it runs its affairs. Although the Institute is a charity, it will benefit from a more business-like approach.

“While the change in approach has been more of a challenge for some, I think the changes that have been introduced and the new structure that has been put in place are going to present the Institute with a far better opportunity than before to deliver effectively against its strategy.”

He believes that the Institute is currently in good financial health. “The Institute’s finances benefit substantially from the continued growth and success of its publishing business, while its programme of income diversification will help to mitigate income risk should that material source of income decline in the future.

“One of the more successful actions it has taken in recent years has been the acquisition of its freehold property in King's Cross, and while it will take some time before the financial benefit of that is fully realised, it is a huge step forward in securing the longer term future of the Institute. We are also taking steps to mitigate any risk arising from the Institute’s pension liabilities and there are significant opportunities for further diversification of income.”

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Bray joined the staff of the Institute in 1993 as finance manager at IOP Publishing in Bristol, going on to become its financial controller then joining the IOP Publishing board in 2001. At that point he was finance director of the publishing business, then in 2010 he became finance director for the whole group and oversaw the rationalisation of two separate finance departments and financial systems into one shared service centre for London and Bristol.

Before joining the staff of IOP Publishing he started his career at the Ministry of Defence and was posted to what was then West Germany to work for the British Services Security Organisation, which was a part of the civil service. He trained in accountancy and qualified as a management accountant while working in the civil service, later becoming a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

He became somewhat disillusioned, however. “Having paid for me to be trained and qualified I didn’t think the civil service was making very good use of me or many of its newly qualified accountants,” he says. He left and worked for the housebuilding company Beazer and for small partnerships owned by Hanson after it bought out the company.

When the opportunity came to be interviewed for the job at IOP Publishing he had no physics qualifications at all. “I was delighted to be appointed because I’d assumed that the ideal candidate would be someone with a background in physics who was also an accountant.” It soon became obvious that a physics background was not needed, but working for the Institute has stimulated an appreciation of physics and its importance in both the economy and the community, he says.

He would also recommend a career in finance to interested physics graduates. “It’s an excellent career and if you have gone through the disciplines and the logical approach to problem-solving that I have seen in the physicists that I have come to know over the years then you have a good grounding for being an accountant.”

His job involves dividing his time between Bristol and London, commuting to both from his home in Trowbridge in Wiltshire, sometimes with overnight stays. This requires a fair bit of understanding from his wife, he says, though the schedule does allow time for a few hobbies such as sport and music – these days more as a spectator than a participant, but playing golf is still a sporting passion.

He used to be “reasonably competent” at football, rugby, cricket and squash, while in younger days he was a county standard swimmer. At the age of 18, however, while training for a three-mile swim, he was knocked out and lay unconscious at the bottom of the swimming pool. “If it wasn’t for my brother and my next-door neighbour I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

That, and sustaining an injury while playing rugby, led to him half-jokingly listing “staying alive” among his interests. “I do have an overdeveloped sense of danger,” he admits, but says that can be a positive in a job like his. “It’s all about being aware of what might happen in the future.”