Reflections on a decade of success

Mar 06, 2018
Mari Hurley’s career led her to some of the leading names in accountancy and finance before she became CFO of the online accommodation reservations giant, Hostelworld. As she plans her next chapter, Mari reflects on her career to date.

Following stints with Arthur Andersen, Bear Stearns and Sherry FitzGerald, Mari Hurley FCA credits her Chartered Accountancy qualification as the foundation of her professional success. “Chartered Accountancy prepares you for life in a number of fields,” she says. “You are not confined just to finance roles. You can be a commercial director, you can be centrally involved in strategy and policy for your organisation. It allows you to choose a variety of routes.”

Mari set her mind on accountancy while still at school. “I studied accountancy in secondary school in Bantry and found I had an aptitude and liking for it. I went on to do the B.Comm in University College Cork, which is a very good general business degree. I went in wanting to be an accountant and that didn’t change. Some people change their minds in one way or another while they are at college but the advantage of the B.Comm is that it’s a broad-based business degree, and that makes it very valuable indeed.”

The world of work

On leaving college, Mari joined Arthur Andersen which sponsored her to do the Masters in Accounting at UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School. She spent four years with the firm, three in audit and one on secondment to Andersen Consulting. “I got great experience and worked on a variety of projects including the launch of Egg online bank in the UK. I also spent four months working in Perth, Western Australia.”

On leaving Arthur Andersen in 1997, Mari joined Bear Stearns and a year later, moved on to Sherry FitzGerald as Financial Controller. She was promoted to Financial Director in 2002. “I was with the company through its IPO and an exciting period with the establishment of MyHome.ie as well as a number of acquisitions,” Mari recalls. She then joined Hostelworld as Chief Financial Officer in 2007, where she also has oversight of legal and compliance issues and was company secretary up to last year.
Hostelworld provides online reservations to the budget, independent and youth travel market for 35,000 properties in over 170 countries. The company currently employs 270 people handling over seven million bookings per annum. Founders Ray Nolan and Tom Kennedy sold the business to US private equity firm, Hellman & Friedman, in 2009 for over €200 million. The company subsequently floated on the Dublin and London stock exchanges in 2015, raising €180 million and valuing the business at €245 million, and Mari was a pivotal character in each and every deal.

Finance meets marketing

Mari’s role saw her work closely with the Chief Marketing Officer and and other members of the leadership team. “It’s primarily a marketing and technology business,” she explains. “There has been a huge evolution in big data and data analytics. Our audience is very diverse but as a young demographic, it’s at the forefront of technological change. We invest a lot in mobile technology with the objective of maintaining a strong relationship with that group. We use channels like Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube to reach them and people like the rapper 50 Cent and actor Charlie Sheen appear in our advertising.”

An enquiring mind 

According to Mari, Chartered Accountancy prepared her well for her career to date. “I always found that the Chartered Accountancy qualification and audit experience sets somebody up very well for a career in finance and business generally. If I am recruiting and I see a Chartered Accountancy qualification on a CV, I know they’re going to be a strong candidate. The benefit of being in audit is the visibility and exposure it gives you to a range of businesses and industries with different challenges. It also gives you an enquiring mind. That’s vital as we will see technologies like artificial intelligence have a major impact on the accountancy profession in the future.”

Mari Hurley FCA is the outgoing CFO of Hostelworld.

This article was originally published in Vision, the e-zine for members in business. Download your copy now.