“Breaking the Bias - let’s change the narrative” Poonam Kaur, CEO, fds Director Services Limited

Poonam Kaur joined a corporate finance company after passing her accountancy exams and her determination, ambition and networks have empowered her to overcome barriers and become CEO of fds Director Services. In her role as Chair of the IoD West Yorkshire, she is keen to listen to the shifting needs of our membership and creating value for members.

Putting external hurdles aside, we are all victims of creating barriers in our own minds, but the real challenge is to see them as opportunities and find ways to overcome them.

As a mother of four and someone who is ambitious, it has been extremely challenging to reach the position that I have. At the very start of my career, whilst undertaking my accountancy training, I also got married and began having my family. Conscious of not falling behind, and progressing my career, I quickly learnt how to balance family life whilst taking on the support of friends and family where possible. Life challenges along the way have taught me that if you really want something you can always find a way, but it does require hard work and determination.

A huge personal inspiration is my mum. She continued to run the family business after we lost my dad, as well as taking care of me, our elderly grandparents and my two brothers. She showed me that difficult times can teach us so much.

My career started in a medium-sized accountancy practice, which allowed me to widen my knowledge and skills. Due to the exposure to working with all types of businesses and also working on full projects, I was able to gain vast experience from all parts of the financial world in a small space of time. The corporate finance industry is very male-dominated and being a woman – especially a woman of colour – I have sometimes felt underestimated by other professionals for my skills and abilities. Whilst I am very confident and vocal, I have had to on numerous occasions remind individuals that I should be judged on my skills and ability rather than on my gender and ethnicity.

I believe that time and time again women feel pressurised into choosing between a career or family. Especially in the professional services industry, where there is a stigma attached that if women pursue having a family, they will be left behind in their career progression. When we feel challenged, we need to challenge ourselves and the status quo.

When I joined fds Director Services I was lucky to be mentored by chair and founder, Jo Haigh. Jo was a member of the IoD and recommended the Certificate in Company Direction course for me to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of being a director. Honestly, it was the best advice and training I could get because although, technically, you don’t have to have any qualifications to be a director, you really do! This is especially true if you want to understand the responsibilities and risks attached to becoming a director. From the very beginning, I have always wanted to be informed of the expectations and responsibilities that are attached to a role. I can confidently say, in my experience, there are many directors that don’t truly understand what the role actually entails.

In my day job, I am very proud of fds, which has now been established for 34 years and is an award-winning corporate finance boutique. We assist owner-managed businesses with their strategic plans and succession planning. Services include buying and selling businesses, company valuations, business plans, raising finance and more. In 2020 the business transitioned into an employee-owned company as part of our own succession planning.

I’ve been a member of the IoD for almost ten years and I relish my role as West Yorkshire Chair. It’s becoming more apparent that people want different things from their membership depending on factors like age, industry and background. To support this I am creating a committee to make sure we can listen to our members and adapt to their changing needs.

I would say to young women embarking on their careers now, do not allow pre-determined stigma to cloud your decision-making. We have to be much braver and stand up and take action for what we believe is fair.

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