Personal Development

If you’re living with stress or depression, or work with someone who is, the Institute’s new guide will help you become better able to promote mental health and wellbeing in your practice, your workplace and yourself. Accountants are in the top four professions to experience depression, according to research conducted by the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. What’s more, researchers in the UK found that eight out of 10 accountants suffer from stress-related problems with 77% of respondents citing long working hours as a cause of concern and 71% describing their work-life balance as poor. This isn’t surprising if you look at your workload and then factor in all the things you’d like to do ‘when you get time’ – not to mention the expectations your colleagues, clients, family and friends have of you. To help you understand the nature of stress and depression, Chartered Accountants Ireland has published A Professional’s Guide to Understanding Stress and Depression, a downloadable PDF that draws on Dr Claire Hayes’ 30 years’ experience as a clinical psychologist and her experience as Clinical Director of Aware. Prevent stress from spiralling into depression The World Health Organisation defines work-related stress as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities, and which challenge their ability to cope”. It also defines depression as a common mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness and poor concentration. While a small amount of stress can be a positive, if left unchecked it can spiral into depression. There are three important steps you can take to prevent this: 1. Know when you need support: it’s essential that you know what causes you stress, how you cope with it and what your warning signs are when stress becomes too much to cope with on your own. 2. Ask for support: what is it that makes asking others for support so difficult? It might be that we think that others will judge us harshly. More often, it is because we judge ourselves harshly. We condemn ourselves as inadequate, pathetic and useless if we see ourselves as not coping. We anticipate that other people will judge us too. We compare ourselves to others and decide that other people’s need for support is greater and minimise just how much we’re experiencing. We might convince ourselves that there’s no point in asking for help as no-one else could possibly understand and that, even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway. Despite all this, it’s vital to ask for support. 3. Take support: it can be very tempting to resist other people’s efforts to help us. For a whole range of reasons, we may prefer to disregard appropriate supports, even when we’ve asked for them. Indeed, taking support can be humbling. It may involve an honest conversation with your GP, your life partner, a trusted family member, a professional partner, your boss, your colleagues and perhaps your clients. True support generally focuses on the truth of what’s going on for you. While that can be difficult, it can also be very freeing – particularly when you discover that real support is always there. Seeking support A deep sense of hopelessness can accompany depression. It can be too easy to find evidence that there’s no point, that no-one will understand and even that death might be a preferable option. If anyone believes that things are so bad that they cannot get better, it can be difficult – and at times, impossible – to convince them otherwise. If you really believe that no-one can help you, give someone you trust the benefit of the doubt and tell them what is going on for you. Give them the opportunity to support you and give yourself the gift of taking help. The best person to confide in is usually your GP but if you don’t want to do that, for whatever reason, choose someone who will support you. A Professional’s Guide to Understanding Stress and Depression by Dr Claire Hayes is available for download free of charge. Printed copies are also available at a cost of €5 each, with all profits going to Chartered Accountants Support. 5 ways to cope with stress Gently and deliberately accept your feelings of distress as signs that you are experiencing stress and as invitations to respond in a way that’s helpful. Become aware of your thoughts and classify them as helpful or unhelpful. Explore what underlying core beliefs might be there. Key ones tend to include: ‘I am not good enough’; ‘I must be perfect and never make a mistake’; ‘Other people are better than me’; ‘I can’t trust or rely on other people’. Focus on the actions you take in response to challenging situations and begin to recognise each of these as helpful or unhelpful. Be able to stand back from your particular stressor or stressors to get a sense of perspective and to see how challenging situations can be turned into opportunities to develop resilience.  

Jan 01, 2017
Personal Development

Don’t be known as the office gossip. Instead, cultivate a reputation as a ‘straight arrow’ with these seven simple tips. People love to talk; it’s one of those universal truths that you just have to accept. Professionals will always have clear boundaries, however, and in many cases express their frustrations and views outside the office with family and personal friends only. But even with the best of intentions, you can sometimes find yourself in the midst of a questionable conversation without even knowing how you got there! Whether you find yourself in such a conversation, or know that the office gossip wants to engage you in some office chit-chat, these tips will help you extricate yourself from the conversation or – if you’d rather deal with the situation head on – shut the office gossip down. 1. Get moving When the topic of conversation shifts from a project’s deadline to the annoying habits of the project manager, it’s no longer in the professional realm. In this scenario, the easiest solution is to make your excuses and leave. Something simple like: “Sorry, but I need to get back to my desk. I’ve a call in five minutes” removes you immediately and, if done on a recurring basis, gives the gossiper a clear but covert message that this isn’t a conversation you’re willing to have. 2. Pivot! Ross from Friends was a massive fan of the pivot, and it can be a great asset in the office too. When you’re drawn into an uncomfortable conversation, take the lead and steer it in a more professional direction. For example, if a colleague is moaning about his manager’s perceived obsession with one-to-one meetings, bring it back to a work-related task by saying something like: “Actually, that reminds me. I’ve been meaning to talk to Alfie about the production schedule. Have you seen him today?” This gives you the opportunity to change the topic of conversation in a gentle, subtle way. 3. Stay positive If walking away or changing the subject seems too genteel, challenge the gossiper’s accusations. Saying something along the lines of: “Oh I’m sure that was just a one-off. I’ve worked with Jane on several projects and never had a bad encounter with her” allows you to challenge the gossiper’s generalised assumption and also, raises the possibility that you are close to Jane in a professional capacity. In both cases, you’re refusing to be drawn into a negative conversation about a colleague, which is the desired outcome. 4. Look for the facts A more challenging approach involves dissecting the gossiper’s logic and rationale. Simple, probing questions such as “What led you to that conclusion?” can force the gossiper into the uncomfortable act of introspection – dissecting their own thoughts and actions rather than those of their colleagues. It also diminishes the power of broad-stroke statements, which gossipers usually expect to be taken as truth by their comrades in conversation. Once a gossiper has to justify their thoughts and statements, much of the fun evaporates and – with any luck – you will no longer be seen as an open ear or easy target. 5. Avoid trigger words Sometimes, we unthinkingly cultivate gossip by saying certain words or raising certain subjects that spark ire in the person you’re talking to. You will need to be aware of the broader office politics to avoid this unfortunate calamity, so be aware of what’s going on around you without getting involved. Know the people and issues causing ripples in your working environment and, to the greatest extent possible, avoid mentioning them. If you must discuss an emotive issue, use the tactics discussed above to steer the conversation and prevent it descending into farce. 6. Shine the spotlight It’s often said that people love talking about themselves. It’s their specialism, in a sense. So if you’re struggling to walk away, change the topic or challenge the gossiper, simply get them talking about themselves. This usually results in a more positive tone! It’s a variation of the pivot point above so listen carefully, plan your interjection and at the right time, bring the story back to your colleague. 7. Choose carefully Lastly, choose your work friends with care. While you might not partake in gossip, it can be easy for others to tar you with the same brush if you hang out with those who are widely known as the office gossips. It’s best to have a wide circle of professional acquaintances and maintain a professional distance, unless you know that you can trust the person 100%. You should also find positive role models, observe their behaviours and mimic them where appropriate. Associating with those who have positive reputations can protect you from becoming guilty by association. Conclusion As a Chartered Accountant, you are expected to hold yourself to the highest standards of ethics and integrity in all aspects of your working life. Sometimes it’s not possible to avoid those who revel in drama but even so, you have a duty – to yourself and the organisation you work for – to take pride in your professionalism and set a good example for those that follow. And don’t think it will go unnoticed. Those who can navigate office gossip without getting drawn in demonstrate a degree of nous and tact that employers look for in future leaders.

Nov 01, 2016
Personal Development

Bullying behaviour is unacceptable, yet many people suffer in silence. In this article, we give you the skills you need to stay calm and come out on top using examples from the US presidential election campaign. While the recent presidential debates in the United States (US) have become a source of great amusement for many, they also serve to remind us that bullying doesn’t stop at the school gate. The Democratic campaign has capitalised on Donald Trump’s alleged bullying antics and whatever your political leanings, it’s hard to attribute Trump’s behaviour − denigrating and criticising others, name calling, interrupting, attributing blame and getting personal − to anything other than textbook bullying. As Trump’s campaign rolled on, his behaviour took a more sinister turn. In particular, the second presidential debate highlighted a different type of bullying by Trump − a more insidious kind − which created a very real sense of discomfort among viewers. The Saturday Night Live sketch, while poking fun at both candidates, illustrates these behaviours. Behaviours include the non-verbal running commentary on what Clinton says (pursed lips, rolling eyes etc.), hovering, lurking, and following her around the stage in an attempt to create a power imbalance. Non-verbal behaviours are among the most difficult behaviours to address as they can be almost imperceptible and impossible to describe. Imagine trying to explain these behaviours in a work scenario: “He repeatedly sniffed while I was talking, he rocked back and forward on the balls of his feet and stood close to me.” Because of its subtlety, it’s a very powerful way to maintain a constant level of intimidation or threat. While employers should have processes in place to deal with bullying, this type of behaviour isn’t limited to the workplace. It can be encountered in many other situations where there’s no recourse to such action, such as volunteer committees or social groups. So how should you respond to bullying behaviours? 1. Don’t take it personally The bullying is not about you. Every bully I’ve encountered has had significant insecurity issues, but you shouldn’t ignore the behaviour. While it’s tempting to do so, it implies that you tolerate being treated in a particular way. Over time, we teach people how to treat us. It’s why bullies prey on those who are unlikely to stand up for themselves. In the end, we get what we tolerate. Clinton recited Trump’s unacceptable behaviours and beliefs, and even released a video on the topic. However, don’t respond emotionally, as this will only inflame the situation. Most bullies just want to rise you so they feel they have control − deny them the satisfaction. If you don’t feel equipped to speak out, however, focus on not giving the bully the reaction they want. 2. Play them at their own game By the second debate, Clinton had learned to respond with her own non-verbal gestures. She occasionally grimaced before answering, smiled tightly and tilted her head back. 3. Maintain self-control Most importantly of all, Clinton held her head high no matter what the provocation. At times, she must have been disturbed by Trump’s aggression, though she appeared remarkably unflappable. The message was clear; she was the more statesman-like of the two candidates. 4. Display confidence Clinton’s demeanour was measured and unrushed. She radiated cool confidence. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, believes that it’s possible to “fake it till you make it” arguing that “it’s not about what your body language says to others, it’s about what your body language is communicating to you: your body language is changing your mind, which changes your behaviour, which changes your outcomes”. Of course, sometimes situations are more complex and at times there can be a very real danger to your physical and mental wellbeing. In such circumstances, it’s important to access the appropriate supports. If you would like to read more about the supports available, click on the following links or contact Chartered Accountants Support:   www.antibullyingireland.com www.reachout.com www.belongto.org

Nov 01, 2016
Feature Interview

Sinead Mahon FCA, COO at Barclays, talks to Accountancy Ireland about her career to date, the accountant of tomorrow, and the satisfaction of balancing work and family commitments. Growing up in Tullamore, Sinead Mahon – now COO at Barclays – considered several career options before choosing accountancy as a basis for “a strong professional grounding”. From her early days in PwC, she has become a well-known figure in the world of financial services, holding a variety of roles including group accountant at KBC, a senior finance role at Ulster Bank, and CFO and programme director of a major transformation project at Danske Bank (formerly National Irish Bank). While Sinead has worked primarily in industry, she credits her Chartered Accountancy training with much of her success, describing it as an “exceptional training ground”. “The accountancy qualification itself is only a portion of what training delivers – I learned professional skills such as balancing the requirements of multiple stakeholders, building respectful relationships, teamwork, negotiation, managing fees and budgets, work ethic and consistency. I was also motivated by the fact that, in my experience, it was a very level playing field where the focus was on quality performance.” The move to industry Having been promoted to the position of manager at PwC, Sinead opted for a career move that would allow for a deeper insight into a single organisation. Her journey into the world of financial services began in the shadow of a well-known crisis, however. “At that time, the ‘dot-com’ bubble was very fresh in everyone’s mind, so I focused on opportunities in the financial services space and joined KBC as a group accountant.” This set Sinead on a path that would bring her face-to-face with another more dramatic crisis that would test both her resilience and skillset. She recalls, in the third week of August 2007, a notable shift in the financial services landscape. “It was a very difficult and challenging time, without clear and tested processes to follow. And, of course, it evolved into experiences which were dreadful for many people on many levels,” she said. “My lasting memory is of thinking on our feet, developing a clear sense of focus and of a lot learned in a short time.” As a young professional, those years underlined some important messages for Sinead: the value of a balanced temperament when events are stressful, a positive approach to challenges and opportunities, and to be vocal, as the best outcome will likely come from multiple inputs. In 2012, having moved to Danske Bank, Sinead was appointed to the position of CFO and later, programme director for the bank’s withdrawal from the personal banking and business banking markets in the Republic of Ireland. By this time, she was an established member of the bank’s C-Suite – but this achievement wasn’t a career goal in the strict sense. “Starting out, I’m not sure I had a plan to navigate myself to the C-suite or anywhere else, I just took the job in front of me each time and did the very best I could with it,” she said. “I also expressed an interest where I had one and sought to adopt a partnership approach to tasks. This helped identify me as a likely successor for subsequent roles.” Work-life balance This level of progression naturally brings with it a degree of challenge, according to Sinead. “There have certainly been tough days and situations where I didn’t know what to do next, but experience had taught me to just get on with it, take the first step and the rest will come,” she said. “Personal equilibrium can be a challenge with a young family, and I try to share my experience of balancing work and home life with female team members – it’s okay to have personal ambitions along with your professional ones. I’ve gone on maternity leave twice and don’t feel I was disadvantaged as a result. In fact, I returned to more senior roles both times.” As you might expect, family is a priority for Sinead and she regards her two small boys as her greatest success. “They are the most precious part of our lives and a refreshing break from office life. They are fortunately very forgiving when I have a Lego man in one hand and a bundle of papers for the following morning in the other,” she said. Professionally, Sinead has had “many good days” but she cannot pinpoint one single great success. “In my view, a career is built on consistently getting small things right, or better than the last time. That’s what I try to focus on,” she added. Agility and the 80/20 rule This philosophy permeates Sinead’s working life and she now operates firmly by the 80/20 rule rather than seeking perfection. “Agility in this fast-paced environment means finding ‘good enough’ and then going for it with conviction. That works for me,” said Sinead. “Investing in relationships is also critical; building a team spirit and respecting colleagues, so coaching, providing and receiving honest feedback, supporting colleagues who need it and maintaining standards. To me, it’s important to be kind to the people around you, particularly as the responsibility of the role grows. “As I have a broad COO role at the moment, I speak a lot about driving performance through discipline – sourcing relevant information for decision-making, selecting an approach and then sticking with it, delivering with consistency and managing the message. This inspires confidence in our stakeholders and provides a frame of reference for the next set of activities.” The accountant of the future Operating in this fast-paced environment also requires a degree of personal adroitness if accountants are to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow, according to Sinead. While ongoing professional development is something she both undertakes and recommends, she has identified three key skills for the accountant of the future – a people-centric partnership approach, acute strategic awareness and an ability to be flexible. “The traditional approach I trained in 20 years ago is almost gone. Preparedness and the capacity to meet challenges head-on is key,” she said. “With the current pace of change, the ability to interpret what is happening promptly and have a network as a resource to utilise are differentiators. Taking the time to successfully develop and nurture relationships within your own team, the wider organisation, group stakeholders, other local stakeholders such as regulators, service providers and so on are prerequisites now.” According to Sinead, it is a given that a trained Chartered Accountant has the skills to do the job – it’s how the job is done that defines success. “Putting relationships high on the agenda, staying close to valued peers and lifting the head to consider the broad picture unfolding around you are aspects that have set me apart through the years.” New threats in financial services While the effects of the financial crisis are now ebbing, new threats face the financial service industry and wider economy. Persistent low interest rates, increasing demands and costs of regulation, cost-cutting, reshaping, the threats and opportunities of technological and cyber advances, and challenges to the old ways of doing things – and that’s before Brexit and its potential impacts are taken into consideration – will all guarantee that Sinead’s skills will remain in demand. “We are operating in a new world and new skills are required to enable positive reaction to change in real time. A challenge within all of this is to attract bright graduates to the sector rather than Silicon Valley-type organisations. This is a real test,” she said. “To insulate ourselves, we must focus on the day job – serving clients and providing solutions, doing it consistently well, alongside continuous horizon scanning to identify and manage risk,” she continued. “Plans and preparation inspire confidence in times of uncertainty. To do this, we need to attract and retain top class people, embrace proactive communication with stakeholders and act with integrity.”

Aug 01, 2016
Feature Interview

Éilish Finan has enjoyed much success in her career – both in practice and business. She is now putting her knowledge and experience to good use as a non-executive director on the boards of some of the best-known organisations in the country. Éilish Finan’s career has spanned practice, business and – most recently – the boardroom. While her success can be contributed in part to her willingness to embrace opportunities, as a student of electronic engineering at Trinity College Dublin Éilish took a measured approach to professional life that has stood her in good stead. While Éilish’s undergraduate degree allowed her to pursue her love of mathematics, she considered it to be a strong and analytical base that – when combined with her subsequent ACA qualification – would act as a unique selling point in whatever career path she followed. Indeed, Éilish regards her ACA qualification as an “internationally transportable” asset that, in terms of her overall skillset, remains “a great differentiator”. As it happened, Éilish’s training in KPMG led her to a career in AIG Global Investments that spanned almost two decades – one that saw her hold a number of senior positions including Global Vice President of Finance, CFO and Executive Director. She was also a member of the global senior executive team before stepping down in 2007, just months before the vulnerabilities in the global financial services industry became apparent. Although the financial crisis of 2008 had a defining impact in a very negative sense on many people’s careers, it offered an opportunity for Éilish to leverage the skills she acquired during her executive career, contribute to the recovery of the financial services sector and ensure that individual organisations performed better from a corporate governance perspective. From crisis to career opportunity “AIG, in the years leading up to 2008, was an exciting and busy place to work,” said Éilish. “The ever-expanding nature of AIG required a determination to grow market position as the business expanded. And, as the organisation grew internationally, Dublin became a global centre of excellence.” This consistent growth saw AIG in Dublin grow its assets under management from US$300 million to US$150 billion with a swathe of financial services products in the international client market. Éilish’s role also grew and she assumed global responsibility as CFO across a number of business functions. The global financial crisis raised several personal questions, which led Éilish to believe that sound corporate governance and strong boards were critical to the future of the financial services industry. “In a way,” she added, “the global financial crisis defined the next phase of my career.” Putting executive knowledge to work Having spent more than 20 years as an executive, 17 of which were spent at AIG, Éilish sought a career that would afford her the leverage to influence the culture of an industry as it emerged from the financial crisis and faced a seemingly endless amount of challenges. “I saw the role of the nonexecutive director as a step in the right direction for me,” she said, “as it would allow me to work in different cultures and apply my executive knowledge in a variety of organisations and business environments.” Éilish took on her first position as a nonexecutive director just months after leaving AIG and has since held positions on the boards of JP Morgan Bank Ireland, New Ireland Assurance, MetLife Europe and the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). While her current career might seem like a natural progression, Éilish warns that there is much more to the role of nonexecutive director than is often anticipated. To “professionalise” herself as a nonexecutive director, Éilish completed the Diploma in Corporate Governance at UCD Smurfit Business School and later, completed the Institute of Directors’ Chartered Director Programme and the Institute of Banking’s Certified Bank Director Programme. While formal training has given Éilish “certainty and knowledge” in challenging situations, she also chooses carefully the organisations with which she works. “Each board position is both an opportunity and a risk. I must be confident that I am appropriately skilled for the role and capable of adding value to the board,” she said. “Corporate value and culture is also critically important to me and as a nonexecutive director, I must trust the company and believe in its strategy. The board is a collective body and while I, as a nonexecutive director, challenge and query with independent judgement, ultimately decisions are made collectively and the entire board takes responsibility.” A new world in corporate governance Éilish has acted as a non-executive director since 2008 but the post-crisis board regime bears little resemblance to the typical pre-2008 boardroom. “Boards have changed significantly since 2008 and the approach to corporate governance isn’t recognisable when compared to pre-2008 standards,” she said. “Board composition, skill diversity and accountability have expanded while strategy and risk management operate within more prescriptive frameworks designed to ensure effective execution and robust oversight.” A big lesson from 2008, added Éilish, was that risk management was not sufficiently “front and centre” on the governance agenda. This has been largely corrected through specific board activities and best practice corporate governance structures. “Risk appetite now sits firmly within the board and the evolution of the chief risk officer and associated risk functions ensure that risk awareness is part of business as usual,” she added. “Business growth and profitability must be achieved and shareholder value must be delivered, but in a sustainable and risk-balanced way.” Éilish also believes that increased regulation and responsibility for the non-executive director heightens the personal challenge and risks associated with the role. “Any risk that regulators or other stakeholders will place a higher expectation on non-executive directors when compared to executive directors will threaten the concept of collective responsibility of the board,” she said. “Ultimately, this is not good for sound corporate governance or for the prospect of recruiting the best-calibre nonexecutive directors.” A sense of balance While Éilish now enjoys a strong reputation in the corporate governance space, her career has involved a constant commitment to excellence, which has resulted in certain sacrifices. “Balancing day-to-day and ensuring a good work-life balance can be a challenge,” she said. “I have three wonderful children, who are now adults. Being present for them has always been a privilege and a priority for me. I share the load with an equally busy but supportive husband – it works well and it’s been a fun journey so far." As a successful woman in business and a respected director, Éilish is also acutely aware of gender imbalance in the corporate world. She has one simple piece of advice for younger females: “Never consider yourself as a female. Instead, consider yourself as a professional and if there is a glass ceiling, then you can see through it – and if you can see through it, perhaps it isn’t there. “As a non-executive director, females in the boardroom are still unusual but since 2008, boardroom diversity – in the widest sense of the term – has become a priority and that’s a good thing,” she added. “I don’t consider my gender as a specific differentiator. I believe that my contribution throughout my career has been to do an excellent job and I have been lucky to be recognised for my performance – regardless of my gender.”

Apr 07, 2016
Feature Interview

Melanie Sheppard, Financial Director at Pfizer Healthcare Ireland, speaks to Accountancy Ireland about career progression, gender inequality and the broader benefits of the Chartered Accountant training. Since joining Ernst & Young as a trainee auditor in 1991, Melanie Sheppard has climbed the corporate ladder with a steady determination. The Chartered Accountant is now Finance Director at Pfizer Healthcare Ireland and was recently voted one of Ireland’s 25 most powerful women in business by the Women’s Executive Network, but her career path wasn’t always linear. From sideways moves with associated salary cuts to job interviews in airport terminals, there are aspects of Melanie’s career that could only be described as unconventional. However, the Dundrum native has made her mark on several businesses in several industries over her 24-year career. Career path Melanie, who is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland, completed a BSc in Management at Trinity College Dublin before entering the working world with Ernst & Young. While the majority of her career has been spent in the realm of industry, she credits her audit training with much of her success. “Audit gives you a feel for different cultures in different companies,” she said. “You also had to engage with the different partners, the clients and the various members of their teams to get what you needed to complete the job while being respectful so it was a great way to learn how to interact with people.” After almost five years working with a range of clients including the K Club, Coca Cola and UNIFI, Melanie left the world of practice for an internal audit role with Sony in London. For her, it was a logical next step that allowed her to broaden her horizons beyond audit. 18 months later, she had moved to Aspect Telecommunications where she was responsible for statutory reporting and compliance for eight European entities within the group. While Melanie’s career was blossoming in London, the lure of a move home began to grow. “I remember coming home for weekends and seeing all the job ads in The Irish Times,” she said. “I felt that, if I didn’t come home at that stage, I could miss the opportunity. So it was timing more than anything else – plus, the lease was up on the house where I was staying.” Melanie duly sent her CV to a number of firms in Dublin but one company in particular caught her attention. “I met Nicky Sheridan, who was setting up Oracle’s shared services centre in East Point, in Terminal 1 at Heathrow and I really loved his personality,” she said. “And he liked the fact that I was managing the reporting for eight countries out of a base in Stockley Park so it was a natural fit.” Melanie later joined Oracle as employee number 19 and a member of the management team. She played a key role in growing the business, which is still in operation, into one that managed back office finance functions for 43 subsidiaries and handled $3.8 billion in revenue. “It was hard work but it was a young workforce, so everybody was at that energised stage and it was an infectious place to be.” While Melanie was very passionate about Oracle, she reached a point where she knew every aspect of the business. “The challenge then for me was to find somewhere that was going to give me that energy, so I moved sideways from Oracle as a senior manager to Pfizer as a senior manager – and I took a salary cut to do it,” she said. “I was getting in at ground level and I really loved that the last time. When I joined, there were around 20 of us and we were setting up Pfizer’s shared services centre using the Oracle platform so it was like destiny.” Words of advice After growing the shared services team to 103 employees managing reporting for 214 legal entities, Melanie joined the business proper as Finance Director where she is now a member of Pfizer’s country management team and board of directors. While much of her career success has been down to her own hard work and instinct, she has worked with a total of 21 bosses from 17 countries – just two of which were female. This breadth of experience has taught key many key business lessons throughout her career. When it comes to driving performance, Melanie believes that trust is the key ingredient for success. “I don’t like being micro-managed and I don’t like to micromanage,” she said. “Managers should be like the stabilisiers on a bicycle – you will support your team and won’t let them fall, but the onus is on them to come to you if there’s a problem.” She also believes strongly in the art of listening when managing up. Her advice is to let people finish the asking of their question before providing an answer and where you don’t have the answer, say so but be sure to get back to the manager in question. “Don’t just kick to touch and run out the door thinking you got away with it,” she said. On the issue of gender equality, however, Melanie is “torn” as to the best way forward. “I hear so much about quotas and I get torn because I would be concerned if I thought I was only somewhere because I was filling a quota,” she said. “I want to feel that I’m where I am because of what I do and how I do it.” While Melanie is keen to see the gender imbalance improved through diversity initiatives within Irish businesses, she credits the growth of women’s networking events as a positive step on the road to equality. “They have grown without negativity, which is fantastic,” she said. “And sometimes men would like to be in those networking events, but we have to make sure that we don’t exclude people because we won’t solve the diversity issue without men being involved.” A marathon effort Throughout her career, Melanie has demonstrated a determined streak that has helped her achieve her goals. While she describes herself as “a hard worker”, her determination is also apparent outside the office. “A friend once read an article that said everyone has a marathon in them before saying ‘everyone except you’, so I did one,” she said. While golf is Melanie’s hobby of choice, she trained diligently for the 2008 Edinburgh Marathon spurred on by the suggestion that it was out of her range. “There was a challenge, and I loved the sense of discipline in the training and actually running the marathon,” she said. Despite finding herself in tears at the start line, Melanie completed the marathon and has since taken part in triathalons, adventure races, long-distance cycles and other marathons. The discipline involved in training for such events, according to Melanie, is similar to the discipline instilled in Chartered Accountants through their training – something that has stood her in good stead in various aspects of life. “Chartered accountancy is a phenomenal brand but sometimes we undersell ourselves,” she said. “It’s important for people to see it as a really great starting point that can take you anywhere. And if I look within my own teams, I’ve hired lots of Chartered Accountants because they have a disciplined way of approaching problems and eating the animal bite by bite. They never give up.”

Dec 08, 2015
Feature Interview

From a $3.3.billion sale to voluntary bankruptcy, Declan Daly has had a challenging but thoroughly satisfying career. Now, his sights are set on global growth as CFO of Sláinte Healthcare. When Declan Daly talks about his career in accountancy, he talks about “luck”. For someone with such an impressive CV and track record, it is quite ironic that his route into accountancy was almost accidental. Having completed the full term at Monkstown’s Christian Brothers College, Declan undertook a Management Science and Industrial Systems degree in Trinity College Dublin in an effort to “figure out where I wanted to go”. Although he enjoyed his time there, the clouds hadn’t parted at the time of his graduation. “I didn’t do the milk round but after Christmas, I heard that PricewaterhouseCoopers had a second round in May and I applied there,” he said. On being offered the position, Declan went on to receive a “typical broad training” at the firm and also spent two years at the firm’s London office working primarily in the area of financial services auditing. At the age of 27,however,BDO’s Anthuan Xavier was on the lookout for an audit manager at the time – a coincidence that led to a happy pairing that lasted for seven years. “BDO made me more commercial. I was in charge of technical queries and I was working for Anthuan almost exclusively on really interesting things like a Christmas tree fund,” he said. “I also audited a lot of the firm’s public companies so I had a very unusual mix, but I loved it.” The highs After 14 years in the auditing business, one of Declan’s clients at BDO asked him to join the company. Inamed Corporation, a global healthcare company based in Santa Barbara, was in a poor state – it had been delisted from the NASDAQ stock exchange, its CEO had just been exited, and the company faced multiple business and accounting issues. The challenges were strangely alluring for Declan, but his decision was somewhat complicated by the fact that Anthuan was just about to nominate him for partnership at the firm. “There wasn’t a choice in my mind. It was a black and white answer for me, and I really wanted the challenge,” he said. “I wanted to move on and do something different, but it was the challenge that piqued me.” Declan joined Inamed and set about restructuring the company with Ken Pearce, Inamed’s Vice President of International Operations. They quickly took control of the entire international division and based it in Ireland while also retrenching in other areas. “The hardest thing I had to do was visit Mexico quickly after I joined and close the operation down. It was heavily loss-making but the team had no idea how badly they were doing. The managing director was literally misleading them,” he said. One of the benefits of working with an American firm, according to Declan, is their willingness to let you make decisions. Within his first 12 months at Inamed, Declan had made a number of key decisions that helped the company move from a loss-making position to one where the firm generated annual profits of $10 million. Declan’s performance brought him to the attention of Inamed’s new CFO, who was appointed in 2002, and he was subsequently transferred to the company’s global headquarters in Santa Barbara as Corporate Controller. While it seemed like a positive move, Declan was once again in at the deep end following the resignation of his immediate superior. “I found myself reporting to a CFO who resigned two months after I joined for personal reasons,” he said. “And I found myself in the middle of a storm as we had a number of historical Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accounting issues to deal with.” Following a forensic review of the accounts, Declan opted to announce the accounting issues in one go. This ultimately resulted in a SEC audit and a steep plunge in the company’s share price. The firm eventually recovered, however, and went on to make “a lot of good strategic partnerships” that developed Inamed into a global aesthetics and healthcare business. Declan also moved up the ranks and eventually rose to the position of CFO while still in his 30s. The best was yet to come, however. While Inamed was contemplating a merger with another firm of similar size, Allergen entered the fray with a bid that valued Inamed at $3.3 billion – raising Inamed’s value by more than $500 million. Declan, along with Inamed’s CEO and General Counsel, successfully negotiated the sale in April 2006, but not before Inamed’s second-largest shareholder – a large fund – threatened to scupper the deal. “They rang me threatening to pull the plug on the whole deal if we didn’t renegotiate the price up by a dollar or two. Their average buying price was $33 per share and they eventually sold at $82 per share,” he said. “We said: ‘Go ahead, if you think you’re going to get a better deal’. But they didn’t in the end because it was a tremendous deal. The fact that they wanted an extra dollar was a real eye-opener for me though.” And the lows Two months after the completion of the sale of Inamed Corp to Allergen, Declan and his family returned home to Dublin. His stay was short lived, however, as the former CEO of Inamed, Nicholas Teti, called on Declan to join him at Isolagen Inc. – a Pennsylvania-based firm. The company, which was developing LAVIV – a personalised cell-based therapy to combat ageing and skin defects – had an 80-strong division in the UK and Declan agreed to join the firm as CFO and head of the international division, provided he could operate from Ireland. Nicholas agreed but in a familiar twist of fate, Declan was quickly burdened with a host of issues. “I was over and back to the UK and just three months after I joined, it was obvious that the UK division was in terrible condition,” he said. “The division was making significant losses and hemorrhaging cash. I didn’t know a whole lot about manufacturing and sales, but it didn’t take a genius to see that it wasn’t being done well.” Declan quickly took the decision to close the UK business and seek a major cash injection to allow Isolagen to focus on gaining approvals in the United States. “Fundamentally, it was the right decision because it was going to bring the whole group down. It simply had to be closed down.” The next step was to gain approval to bring LAVIV to market. The procedure had failed phase three trials three years previously, just months after the previous CEO resigned. Unfortunately for Declan, history was to repeat itself in a cruel case of déjà vu. “In January 2008, we were going through the trials and Nicholas suddenly resigned as CEO, but he was going to remain as Chairman,” he said. “Our share price plummeted. I had to meet our large shareholders and try to explain the situation – but to no avail. Part of the problem was, when LAVIV failed phase three trials previously, the CEO had resigned four months beforehand and the inference was that Nicholas knew something bad lay ahead.” According to Declan, the board had “no choice” but to appoint him as CEO of Isolagen, and he had no choice but to “either leave or man up”. As it happened, the trials were a massive success and Declan, as CEO, quickly set about raising cash for a firm with no revenue – but he hit two critical snags. “August of 2008 was the worst possible time to raise money and coupled with that, we had convertible debt on our balance sheet that required 100 per cent concurrence of debt-holders before any deal could be done – and we literally couldn’t find 10 per cent of them.” The firm was going through a “slow death” before Declan ultimately opted for voluntary bankruptcy in June 2009. Under this arrangement, just 66 per cent concurrence was required for any debt deal and the firm was in and out of bankruptcy in 10 weeks. The company was renamed Fibrocell Science Inc., a new board was appointed and David Pernock, who ran a $4 billion sales line at GlaxoSmithKline, joined as Chairman. It took some negotiation but by January 2010, David agreed to become CEO. Both he and Declan then worked to get LAVIV approved by the FDA (and become the first aesthetic cell therapy to gain approval), get listed on the NYSE stock market, raise $150 million and get biotech billionaire RJ Kirk’s Intrexon Corporation on board before Declan once again stepped down from his role and packed his bags for Ireland. Looking ahead After a year out, Declan was once again eager for a challenge and this time it came in the form of a comparatively small healthcare technology company based in Sandyford – Sláinte Healthcare. The firm aims to help hospitals become more efficient by digitising their entire paper trail and its cornerstone product, Vitro – an electronic medical records system – is in use in hospitals and healthcare institutions throughout the world. The firm has enjoyed considerable success since its foundation in 2006 and now employs over 130 people in Ireland, the Middle East, Australia and South America. It was also ranked fifth in Deloitte’s list of the 50 fastest growing companies in 2014. Following a number of meetings with CEO, Andrew Murphy, Declan quickly saw an opportunity to build on this success and turn the small Irish company into a global player. “If we want to take this to the next stage, we’re going to have to raise money and that’s something we’re actively looking at,” he said. “We won’t do a deal unless we achieve terms we think are reasonable and, equally important, we are comfortable with the potential investor.” With one eye on a possible IPO, Declan still has day-to-day responsibilities within the firm as CFO but this burden is eased thanks to the three Chartered Accountants on his team. This allows him to remain at the “bigger picture” level, devising strategy and driving the company’s performance. And while there are undoubtedly long days ahead, he’s ready for the challenge as always – thanks in no small part to his training. “If you are going to develop in business, having a grounding in finance is really important. You get that with Chartered Accountants but you also get more – you get the ability to think into other areas and disciplines,” he added. “The accountant of tomorrow is evolving gradually. It’s multidisciplinary and while you need your core skill set in financial-related topics, you need to have a good grasp of business and strategy. Even in practice, you must be able to talk rationally and with some nuance in terms of what’s involved in the running of a business – and that’s what you get from audit.”

Dec 01, 2015
Feature Interview

With Budget 2016 and a general election looming, Tánaiste Joan Burton remains focused on safeguarding Ireland’s nascent recovery. When Accountancy Ireland spoke to Joan Burton in August 2011, she was Minister for Social Protection and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Labour had just entered government under the watchful eyes of the troika and an existential crisis in Greece threatened the viability of the euro zone. Four years later, she is now Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, and continues in her role as Minister for Social Protection. With the general election scheduled for spring 2016, the Tánaiste lists a range of achievements during her term in office. She draws attention to the transformation of her Department from a payments agency into a public employment service; the establishment of JobBridge and Tús; and the incorporation of 1,800 staff from both the HSE and FÁS into her Department. She also mentions the visits of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama, and the marriage equality referendum as “psychological” wins for a country that was finding its feet. With Budget 2016 just weeks away, however, attention quickly turns to the future and imminent budget decisions that are currently under discussion. “As we look forward to the budget, I think we’re going to be careful,” she said. “It’s people’s money… but we do need to spread the recovery to the whole country and we need to make sure that, in particular, people who are less well-off are very firmly in the Government’s policy perspective.” Budget measures After a series of bruising budgets, the Tánaiste is keen to reward taxpayers for years of fiscal retrenchment and believes that the coalition’s decisions are bearing fruit. “We now have 1.96 million people at work and the figures to the end of June show that, year-on-year, the rate of growth was seven per cent,” she said. In the forthcoming budget, Labour is expected to push for an increase of at least €1,000 in the threshold at which workers enter the higher rate of tax and a phasing-out of the universal social charge. “The priority in terms of tax reform should be to look at the totality of the charges that people face in employment or self-employment,” she said. “That means not looking exclusively at income tax… but to look at the totality.” The Tánaiste acknowledged that workers enter the top rate of tax too early and this is also on her agenda for change. “In Ireland, the debate around taxation should be around the effective, real, experienced rate of taxation,” she added. “We will seek to positively reform the point at which people go into the top rate. This is not a conversation the Government has concluded in relation to the budget… but it remains something we must absolutely continue as a society.” Capital investment While Budget 2016 will make provisions for investment in key services through a capital investment programme focused on transport, healthcare and education, the Tánaiste believes that revenue generation must be maintained if Ireland is to enjoy high-quality services – even if some of the measures aren’t well-received. “The water charges, for example, are all about investment into a creaking, disintegrating water system broken into 32 separate parts and bringing it into a unified utility, which admittedly has been difficult to do,” she said. “But we would be crazy as a country… to simply throw a unified plan away and pretend that we can magic up the money out of nowhere.” The Government’s Spring Statement highlighted “fiscal space” of €1.2 billion to €1.5 billion but there are two major problem areas in need of attention – health and housing. While health has been “the most difficult in terms of reform”, the Tánaiste is determined to achieve universal access to primary healthcare services through the extension of GP visit cards to more age groups. She is also pushing for increased investment in social housing and the taming of spiralling rents. “I’m very anxious to see the provision of rent certainty,” she said. “We could provide rent certainty around longer lease situations – lots of European countries do this and it works very well.” The general election A clear theme in the Tánaiste’s narrative is improving the lot of the average worker through tax reform and improved services. Economic giveaways have become synonymous with pre-election budgets, but the Tánaiste believes that a longer-term view focused on safeguarding the nascent recovery is required. Indeed, it was this longer-term view that led Labour into government in 2011. “We could have stood on the sideline and say everything about the country is bad, everything about the country is a failure,” she said. “Personally, I took a long view that we could recover the country.” The OECD’s recently-published assessment of the Irish economy, which it describes as being on a sounder footing than before the crisis, is testament to the Government’s efforts in this regard. “Ireland is the ‘comeback kid’ of Europe’s crisis-hit economies, and much of the credit for this strong recovery goes to the government’s steadfast commitment to reform,” said OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría. “To avoid repeating past mistakes, now is the time to build resilience against future nasty surprises while ensuring the recovery is sustained, and its benefits broadly shared.” The Tánaiste believes that the Irish electorate will give the coalition the mandate to pursue such a policy. “When people come to making voting decisions, they will be looking to hold on to the hard-earned recovery they have invested so much in and worked so hard to achieve,” she said. “I think people will be cautious about throwing that recovery away in response to populist demands that you can have world-class services without any contribution to them. “We have to be conscious that we have opportunities in Ireland and we need to grab them with both hands to grow the economy and provide serious reform. We also have to be conscious that we cannot do this overnight,” the Tánaiste added. “That’s why I would like to see a further five-year programme for government that would see the recovery bedded down.” As for her role in that possible programme for government, there is little room for doubt. “With any politician, it’s all about energy, plans and optimism,” she said. “I have a lot of those.”

Oct 01, 2015
Feature Interview

Feargal O’Rourke’s election as Managing Partner at PwC has brought about a changing of the guard. Now the new management team is in place, the Athlone man is keen to strengthen PwC’s position in the market. Accepting the Democratic nomination in Los Angeles on 15th July 1960, John F. Kennedy said: “We stand today on the edge of a new frontier”. The same could be said of PwC following its first contested election in almost three decades, which culminated in the election of Feargal O’Rourke as Managing Partner and the unveiling of a comparatively young leadership team – most of whom are in their 40s. O’Rourke, who is a fan of US politics – and politics in general, as you might expect, through his familial ties – formally succeeded Rónán Murphy last month. At 50 years of age, he is now the oldest member of the leadership team in Ireland – a sharp contrast to just 12 years ago when he was one of the youngest partners at the firm’s top table. He now describes himself as the oldest person on the team “by some distance” and believes that this is a by-product of the “generational change” at the firm. “There comes a natural time for a change in the cycle and I’ve gone down a generation for the majority of the roles,” he said. “It has brought a great energy to the partnership and it has brought a lot of people into leadership positions who haven’t sat around the table before.” While some might view this as a high-risk strategy, two or three “hardchaws” will bring an element of corporate memory to the table, he added. From training to tax O’Rourke began his career in Russell Brennan Keane in Athlone, where he received “the best life training I ever got” while sifting through shoeboxes of invoices during his summer holidays from University College Dublin. He had “great intentions” of returning to Athlone once his academic endeavours were complete, but a training opportunity at PwC scuppered those plans. Even an approach from the Fianna Fáil Executive failed to lure him away from the big eight firm, as it was then, following a brief discussion with his then-mentor. “I had a very good mentor in here and he said to me, ‘Look, there’s a fair chance you can run the country or there’s a fair chance you can run here, but you can’t do both’,” he said. Turning his back on politics as a profession, while taking his mentor’s optimism with a pinch of salt, O’Rourke embarked on a path that would ultimately prove his mentor right. He is now at the helm of a firm that will be forced to grapple with “a number of fluxes” in the years ahead, but he is clear on what needs to be done. “Our challenge in the short- to medium-term is managing mandatory firm rotation, managing the fact that we will be restricted from providing certain other services for public interest entities that we would have done heretofore,” he said. In the medium- to long-term, on the other hand, O’Rourke will investigate areas where a firm like PwC can give assurance as – in his view – the world is changing and PwC needs to change with it. “If you fast-forward 20 years, what the auditor does today will be different,” he said. “I think we will still have the statutory audit for years to come, but it may be more real-time as we go into the future rather than historic.” The goal, according to O’Rourke, is to develop a broad assurance offering that will allow PwC to capitalise on its position as a non-statutory auditor. Areas under consideration include non-financial assurance and areas such as analytics and cybersecurity, but the list is – and will remain – open-ended. “There are businesses and business models that didn’t exist when I was coming through the system, or even if you go back to 2000,” he said. “So we’ve got to make sure we’re continuously looking at how business is evolving and how we can provide services to match those businesses.” While the firm has scope to expand its offering into new areas, O’Rourke has spent much of his career helping foreign businesses establish a base in Ireland or increase their activity in the jurisdiction. He agrees that he will have to sharpen his knowledge of certain aspects of PwC’s business as a result, but isn’t fazed by the prospect. “While I would have been heavily involved in tax, that was as a subject matter expert in the wider sphere of business generally,” he said. “I would always see myself as a business advisor whose speciality happened to be tax and now I’m a business advisor who is chief executive of an organisation that provides tax, assurance and advisory services, so I’m just broadening my areas of expertise.” High expectations One area O’Rourke has researched in recent weeks is the proposed EU changes on auditing. As a person who is known for selling Ireland to US companies looking for a gateway into Europe, however, he is troubled by recent soundings from government departments on the issue. “At the moment, many of our European competitors are going to 10 plus 10. In other words, you can appoint an auditor for 10 years and then you must have a tender, but you can reappoint for another 10,” he said. “We’re hearing some indications that Ireland is only going for one 10 year… but nobody has been able to give me a convincing reason why we would only go for 10.” Deviation from international competitors on this score could put Ireland at a distinct disadvantage, he added. O’Rourke has been on the front foot historically when it comes to other issues. Once described as the “grand architect” of the double Irish, he said in early 2013 – long before it was on the horizon – that the system had less than two years to go given global changes and, more recently, called for a “sustainable” tax offering that was acceptable to other countries. He has also sought to close “the expectation gap” when it comes to the role and function of an audit. “I’m hoping one thing that comes out of the banking inquiry is a greater understanding of what an audit is about and a greater clarity about what our legislators and regulators might want an audit to be about,” he said. “And I would like to hear from them as to their expectations of an audit. If you watched the banking inquiry over the past couple of weeks, that expectation gap is there at the moment.” Despite this, O’Rourke doesn’t believe that auditors’ relationships with the authorities are in any way fractious or acrimonious. “I hope discussions will lead to a greater understanding on both sides of what is needed,” he added. “We need to understand what regulators and legislators are looking for, and we then need to respond to that.” A boon for business According to O’Rourke, PwC has form when it comes to responding to changing environments and new challenges – not least in the evolving area of tax, where his speciality lies. With freedom of information and the evolution of in-house tax departments, some might expect firms like PwC to struggle to generate business. The reality, he said, is quite different. He cites tax systems’ increasing complexity, the cross-border nature of business and the demand for greater transparency with revenue authorities “competing for a bigger share of the same pie” as a boon for business. “The type of work we do and the type of engagement we have is different than it was, but it’s a better and richer engagement,” he said. “You are dealing with more substantive issues at a higher level because the world has got much more complex and cross-border in nature.” Keeping key clients Over the course of the next four years, and possibly eight if he is re-elected at the end of his first term, O’Rourke will be busy working as an ambassador for the firm. While this could easily monopolise his time, he is determined to carve out time to prepare for succession and continue an element of ‘business as usual’ activity with key clients. “I am scaling direct client work back quite a bit, but I have spent 15 years now every quarter going to the west coast of the US,” he said. “I’ll be keeping one or two of those major clients. I will have other partners helping but I will stay involved because, to be honest, if I didn’t have a certain amount of client engagement, I’d go mad.” Feargal O’Rourke is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland and Managing Partner of PwC Ireland.

Aug 01, 2015

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