Navigating Brexit – an accountant’s journey at ABF plc (Associated British Foods)

Becky Hughes our consultant managing the role

This is a guest blog from Ian Mace, who is part of The Brexit Team at ABF plc.

Who are ABF?

Associated British Foods plc (ABF) is a FTSE 100 diversified international food, ingredients and retail group with sales of £13.3bn and over 113,000 employees in 47 countries. The company aims to achieve strong, sustainable leadership positions in markets that offer potential for profitable growth, and to deliver quality products and services that are central to people’s lives. The group is split into five segments: Sugar, Agriculture, Retail, Grocery and Ingredients.

Where it all began
In September 2016 - not long after the referendum - I accepted a six month secondment to ABF’s head office to work on the possible impacts of Brexit. Fast forward two years later and I’m still here! Initially the role was a relatively analytical one - playing to my strengths as someone with a finance background - myself and the team created several “what if?” scenarios to work out the impact of Brexit on ABF’s businesses. This task required a great understanding of the group’s export sales and international supply chains, its reliance on EU nationals working in the UK and the impact of EU regulations.  

The journey so far
Once we understood the potential impact of the different options for Brexit, it was time to make sure government understood all the implications of their potential actions. This required the development of a common narrative across all of ABF’s businesses, approved by the ABF Board, and a plan for who to talk to and when, including various industry and trade bodies. This was initially way outside my comfort zone, but I rapidly learnt that it isn’t that different to being a finance business partner.

My role is really about helping people understand the financial and commercial consequences of the choices they make and continually updating the various businesses functions about issues and developments.  This has involved presenting to the boards of the individual businesses, and to procurement, HR and IT teams. My journey has helped me to grow my network across ABF and has been a great way to learn more about all the different ABF businesses.

More recently the role has expanded again, and I am now effectively an internal ABF consultant advising the individual businesses on their contingency planning for a “no deal” scenario. I have facilitated various workshops and discussions to help the businesses identify the steps that they can take to minimise the risk of disruption to their ability to supply to their customers, both in the UK and overseas.

Famous last words
It has been two years since I took on this role at ABF and it has been an incredibly interesting journey so far. I have learnt a great deal about a wide range of subjects - from the obvious (international trade and immigration) - to the obscure (EU regulation of food products and the Common Agricultural Policy). I have also met a range of government ministers and MPs as well as civil servants, economists and political analysts.

To conclude, we can’t yet be sure where the Brexit journey will take us, either as ABF or indeed as a country, but if nothing else it has been a fantastic professional development opportunity for me.

18/10/18
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