Celebrating International Women’s Day with Camm & Hooper CFO, Natalie Sykes: More than meets the eye.

Camm & Hooper is at a pivotal point of growth in a transformative move to reimagine not only the business but the events industry at large. None of this would be possible without an ambitious, bold, entrepreneurial, hands-on chief financial officer.

Allow us to introduce you to Natalie…

How did you commence your career in Finance?

I spent my teenage years earning pocket money in my dad’s auction business, where I learned the art of trading. When I wasn’t working on the bidding room floor, I was studying Biomedical Science, which culminated in a Master’s degree in Genetics. I loved the science world; however, scientific research requires a great deal of patience, which I must admit is not my greatest virtue.

I then decided to follow my dad’s footsteps and trained as a chartered accountant in a top accountancy firm, before moving into commerce.

Prior to joining Camm & Hooper, I held several exciting industry positions – from my first finance role with FTSE listed business, Compass Group, through to my first commercial Finance Director role at contract caterer, CH&CO, where I worked closely with Nick Thomas, an exceptional Group CFO on an exciting acquisition strategy. It was here that I first met Derick Martin – now the CEO of Camm & Hooper – whose enthusiasm is just electric and always makes me believe that the almost impossible is possible.

Who inspired you to take the leap into leadership?

I take my main inspiration from two people in my life – my dad and my grandmother – who both taught me invaluable lessons.

My Dad was an accountant turned entrepreneur, who co-founded an auction business which, like many small businesses, has hit many highs and lows over the past 25 years and has had to keep adapting with the times to survive. He has taught me perseverance, ownership, a sense of responsibility for your team and how to keep smiling through adversity. I am so proud of my dad and so grateful that I grew up seeing the realities of what an SME entrepreneur goes through. This set off my entrepreneurial streak from an early age.

My Grandma secured a place at university in the 1940s when 1% or less of students were women. Not only that but she showed up pregnant and unmarried in her first year, which was quite scandalous for the time. She was a formidable woman, a single mother of three by 40 she had a tough life, but she had a brilliant energy about her and her naughty streak was incredibly loveable. She had a thirst for knowledge and devoured books like no one I have ever known. She was always a supporter of the underdog and could often be seen speaking up for those who could not speak for themselves. She taught me to not care too much about what other people thought, to be unapologetically myself and to be propelled forward by people who doubt your worth.

Finally, it also goes without saying that Derick has also been a true source of inspiration – He is excellent at surrounding himself with complimentary people to him. Where he has charm, vision, and intuition I compliment him with grounding, fact, and sadly distinctly less charm but more abrasive assertiveness. I have often wondered how I can ever be a bit more Derick. But someone very important to me always reminds me to be myself, everyone else is taken. I will deal with situations in a different way to Derick but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I continue to work on my adaptability whilst still keeping true to myself.

What do you love most about working in Hospitality?

Hospitality is an industry that never sits still, and I am absolutely biased but I believe it also has some of the most wonderful, dedicated people working in it. 

It is no secret that it has been a tough few years for the industry, but where there is struggle there is opportunity and there will be winners. There are a plethora of acquisition opportunities out there for those in the position to seize them. Demand for events is strong as the working from home movement has meant employers look to bring their people together in enjoyable settings.

Overall, I love the challenge, pace and constant change provided by the events industry and couldn’t imagine working in any other sector.

What is your longer term vision for success?

I joined Camm & Hooper in 2021 to help drive and oversee the post-pandemic ‘build back better’ strategy for the business. I wanted to be part of a recovery story which I could be proud of, which would hopefully make my daughter proud one day. Over the last two years, we have completed three acquisitions, doubling the portfolio we inherited and achieving over 250% growth in normalised annual revenue, and it feels like we are only just getting started.

As part of this strategy, we acquired the iconic OXO2 in 2022, followed by 26 Leake Street and Platform in Glasgow in 2023. These spaces have added a new dimension to our venue portfolio and allow us to  accommodate a diverse variety of event styles from new car launches to corporate receptions and catwalks. All of these spaces are unique and I am very proud of all of them!

Derick and I have now lined up a number of further venue and business acquisitions within the next twelve months, and we are actively fundraising to turn these opportunities into reality. We share the fundamental belief that Camm & Hooper has the brand, the team, and the opportunity to take centre stage as an extraordinary curator of events. This belief drives and motivates me daily in achieving our long-term vision for success.

What do you enjoy doing when not at work?

Finding the work life balance is a constant challenge for me. I am a workaholic by nature, which can be both a curse and a blessing.

In a job with so many priorities how do you switch off? My close friend, an aspiring life guru, tells me to “bookend” things. Don’t see a constant stream of things I have not yet accomplished, pop a bookend after each achievement and allow myself to celebrate it a little.

This is so important because it is easy to forget how much you have accomplished when you are always looking forward. I now make a point of remembering key moments so I can have something to look back against.

That all said, I do thoroughly enjoy spending time with my three-year old daughter, Coco, who regularly reminds me who the boss really is! I am looking forward to when she is old enough to join me in my favourite hobbies, tennis, street dance and krav maga.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders this International Women’s Day?

Be clear on your goals and get a mentor! I am fortunate enough to have worked for and to have been mentored by a wonderful Audit Partner at RSM, Karen Tasker. I was looking at FD roles thinking I tick most of the boxes, but the jump in salary compared to what I was on made me think there was no way I was worthy of the role. Karen put me right and I didn’t look back.

Imposter syndrome is not something I suffer so much now. Derick has been fundamental in that, he reminds me that it’s ok not to be an expert in everything or to have gaps in skillsets, those gaps can be filled by the people we surround ourselves with. Mentorship has been key to my success, and I genuinely believe that if more women had access to supportive and inspiring mentors, they would have the self-belief, guidance, and confidence to achieve so much more.