Big Concerts CFO Jonathan Murphy: Planning for the 'new normal' in events

As the CFO of entertainment giant Big Concerts, ACCA qualified Jonathan Murphy has become accustomed to preparing forecasts almost daily as the company and its US-listed parent come to terms with the global pandemic which prohibits gatherings.

“I joined the company shortly after Big Concerts was acquired by Live Nation in 2016. My mandate was clear: focus on taking the successful family-run business and institute systems, controls and reporting that align with global standards. Of course, the current global crisis has magnified those requirements and I’ve found myself busier than ever recently,” explains CFO Jonathan Murphy.

Eighteen months after Big Concerts was brought into the Live Nation fold, the local company had its first internal audit to comply with US listing requirements. “We received a clean audit, which was a milestone – although we can never rest on our laurels. There are continuous improvements in our systems and we constantly strive to outdo ourselves while managing the financial health of the company,” he adds. 

No time like the present

At present there are numerous challenges facing the entertainment industry. Jonathan is of the opinion that these difficult times will help companies operate more efficiently across the board. 

“No one knows what the world will look like when the pandemic is finally under control. What we do know is that people’s passion for live music won’t diminish. There’ll be an initial surge when restrictions are lifted, but I foresee a potential reticence to attend large events following that.” 

Big Concerts has started diversifying the business with a new subsidiary, Live Nation Media & Sponsorships which takes advantage of the opportunities surrounding big live events. Jonathan is also the CFO of that company. 

The intention is to capitalise on the value chain associated with big name entertainers. “There have also been collaborations with other companies such as Discovery, where cardholders have pre-sales access to Big Concerts tickets, including to shows such as Ed Sheeran where demand was exceptional. This was clearly a win-win situation,” he remarks.

Into the future

Looking ahead, Jonathan and his colleagues are strategising about ways to open up the bottom end of the entertainment market to a larger audience.

“And with the world changing in the way it is, there could also be opportunities to offer a premium experience to those who want more exclusivity. There is the possibility that we start having smaller events in more intimate venues. We will no doubt have to be very creative about what we offer,” comments Jonathan.

An ACCA loyalist 

As an ACCA fellow, Jonathan’s fulfilling career path effectively started in the UK when his parents emigrated there from Cape Town. “As a young man, my primary motivation was to travel so after a couple of years at UCT, I moved to England and found a job as an accounting assistant with a women’s fashion company. It was there that I learned about the ACCA qualification which my mentor encouraged me to pursue. This proved to be the making of me!”

The advantages of the ACCA programme suited Jonathan’s busy lifestyle: he’s written ACCA exams in the UK and South Africa while gaining experience in all aspects of business in multiple industries. 

“I’ve been at the coalface of many operations and have gained well-rounded experience which I largely attribute to ACCA. The classic CA qualification is biased towards auditing whereas in the positions I’ve held, I’ve been accountable to all stakeholders and found that my qualifications are well regarded by everyone I encounter,” he comments.  

A varied career path 

In his job prior to joining Big Concerts, Jonathan spent time in Angola between 2008 and 2014 for an FMCG player which procured goods for distribution into Angola, Cameroon and Nigeria. That company’s head office was in Malta, and he also spent time there.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve faced a crisis.  During my time in Angola, the country was emerging from civil war and was determined to become a meaningful global player and diversify from being solely an oil producer. It was up to me to establish the accounting systems and controls within our company to withstand the endemic corruption which is usually associated with the territory,” he adds wryly. 

While being the CFO of Big Concerts takes up the bulk of his time, Jonathan happily shares the fact that he’s very contented to be living back in Cape Town with his wife and young son. His wife’s family is in the same city while his relatives continue to make their home in the UK.

For now, the aim is to enable Big Concerts to survive the current uncertainty to emerge leaner and ready to host events in many different shapes and forms when entertainment is back to being an important part of people’s wellbeing.