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Imelda Hurley has had a challenging start to her role as CEO at Coillte, but her training and experience have proved invaluable in dealing with the fallout from COVID-19, writes Barry McCall.Imelda Hurley’s career journey to becoming CEO of Coillte in November 2019 saw her work on every continent for a range of businesses spanning food to technology. That varied background has helped prepare her for the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.“We have been working remotely since March, and the business has kept going throughout the pandemic,” she says. “We closed the office straight away and have had 300 people working remotely since then. Our primary focus since has been on the health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, and against that backdrop, on ensuring that a sustainable, viable and vibrant Coillte emerges from the crisis.”A diverse challengeThis has not been as straightforward as she makes it sound. “Coillte is a very diverse business,” she adds. “We are the largest forestry business in the country, the largest outdoor recreation provider, we enable about one-third of Ireland’s wind energy, and we have our board manufacturing business as well. We needed to continue operating as an essential service provider. That remit to operate was both a challenge and an opportunity.”The company’s timber products are essential for manufacturing the pallets required to move goods into and out of the country. “Some of our board products were used in the construction of the Nightingale Hospital in London,” she adds. “And the wind energy we enable provides electricity for people’s homes and the rest of the country.”Organisationally, the task has been to enable people to continue to do their jobs. However, the challenge varied depending on the nature of the operation involved. “In forest operations, people usually work at a distance from each other anyway, so they were able to keep going. That said, we did suspend a range of activities. We needed to continue our factory operations, but we had to slow down and reconfigure the lines for social distancing. And we kept the energy business going.”Those challenges were worsened by an ongoing issue associated with delays in the licensing of forestry activities and by the unusually dry spring weather, which created ideal conditions for forest fire outbreaks. “Even a typical forest fire season is very difficult,” she notes. “But this one was particularly difficult. In one single weekend, we had 50 fires which had to be fought while maintaining physical distancing. Very early on, we put in place fire-fighting protocols, which enabled us to keep our colleagues safe while they were out there fighting fires, and to support them in every way possible.”The lure of industryHer interest in business dates back to her childhood on the family farm near Clonakilty in Cork. “I was always interested in it, and I enjoyed accountancy in school and college at the University of Limerick. I did a work placement in Glen Dimplex and that consolidated my view that Chartered Accountancy was a good qualification that would give me the basis for an interesting career.”She went on to a training contract with Arthur Andersen in Dublin. “The firm was one of the Big 6 at the time,” she recalls. “I availed of several international opportunities while I worked there and worked in every continent apart from Asia. I really enjoyed working in Arthur Andersen, but I always had a desire to sit on the other side of the table. Some accountants prefer practice, but I enjoy the cut and thrust of business life.”That desire led her to move to Greencore. “I wanted to be near the centre of decision-making and where strategy was developed. I stayed there for ten years, learning every day.”And then she moved on to something quite different. “Sometimes in life, an opportunity comes along that makes you pause and think, ‘if I turn it down, I might regret it forever’. The opportunity was to become CFO of a Silicon Valley-backed business known as PCH, which stood for Pacific Coast Highway, which was based in Hong Kong and mainland China with offices in Ireland and San Francisco. It was involved in the supply chain for the technology industry and creating, developing and delivering industry-leading products for some of the largest brands in the world.”The experience proved invaluable. “It changed the way I thought. It was a very fast-moving business that was growing very quickly. I got to live and work in Asia and understand a new culture. I took Chinese lessons and the rest of the team took English lessons. There were 15 nationalities on the team. It was remarkably diverse in terms of demographics, gender, culture, you name it. That diversity means you find solutions you would not have found otherwise.“I spent three years with PCH and ran up half a million air miles in that time. It had a very entrepreneurial-driven start-up culture. The philosophy is to bet big, win big or fail fast. It was a whole new dynamic for me. I also got to spend a lot of time in San Francisco, the hub of the digital industry, and that was a wonderful experience as well.”Returning to IrelandImelda then returned to Ireland to become CFO of Origin Enterprises plc. “As I built my career, I always had the ambition to become CFO of a public company. And I always believed that with hard work, determination and a willingness to take a slightly different path, you will succeed. Greencore and Origin Enterprises gave me experience at both ends of the food and agriculture business; they took me from farm to fork. A few more years in Asia might have been good, but Origin Enterprises was the right opportunity to take at the time.”Her next career move saw her take up the reins as CEO of Coillte on 4 November 2019. “I always wanted to do different things, work with different organisations and with different stakeholder groups,” she points out. “Coillte is a very different business. It is the custodian of 7% of the land in Ireland, on which we manage forests for multiple benefits including wood supply. It is a fascinating company. It is an outdoor recreation enabler, with 3,000km of trails and 12 forest parks. We get 18 million visits to forests each year. We also have our forest products business – Medite Smartply. We operate across the full lifecycle of wood. We plant it and it takes 30-40 years to produce timber.”Imelda’s varied career has given her a unique perspective, which is helping her deal with the current challenges faced by Coillte. “Throughout my career, I have worked in different ownership structures and for a variety of stakeholders. I worked for public companies, a Silicon Valley-backed business, and have been in a private equity-backed business as well. Now, I am in a commercial semi-state. That has taken me across a very broad spectrum and I have learned that a business needs to be very clear on a set of things: its strategy, its values, who its stakeholders are, and how it will deliver.”Entering the ‘new’ worldWhile Coillte has kept going during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still affected by the economic fallout. “We are experiencing a very significant impact operationally, particularly so when building sites were closed,” she says. “There has been some domestic increase in timber requirements since then, and there has been an increasing demand for pallet wood. That has had a significant financial impact and it’s why I’m focused on delivering a sustainable, vibrant and viable Coillte. We remain very focused on our operations, business and strategy. In the new post-COVID-19 world, we will need a strategy refresh. We must look at what that new world looks like, and not just in terms of COVID-19. We still have a forestry licensing crisis and Brexit to deal with.”The business does boast certain advantages going into that new world. “Our business is very relevant to that world. The need for sustainable wood products for construction is so relevant. Forests provide a carbon sink. The recreation facilities and wind energy generated on the land we own are very valuable. It may be a difficult 12-18 months or longer, but Coillte is an excellent place to be. In business, you manage risk. What we are managing is uncertainty, and that requires a dynamic and fast-paced approach. Time is the enemy now, and we are using imperfect information to make decisions, but we have to work with that.”Coillte will begin the first phase of its office reopening programme in line with Phase 4 of the Government’s plan. “We have social distancing in place and it’s quite strange to see the floor markings in the offices. We are doing it in four phases and carried out surveys to understand employee preferences. We then overlaid our office capacity with those preferences. Our employees have been fantastic in the way they supported each other right the way through the crisis.”Words of wisdomDespite the current challenges, she says she has thoroughly enjoyed the role since day one. “It would be wrong to say it’s not a challenge to walk into a business you were never involved in before and take charge, but I have a very good team. None of us succeeds on our own. We need the support of the team around us. The only way to succeed is to debate the best ideas and when there isn’t alignment, I make the final decision, but only after listening to what others have to say. You are only as good as the people around you. You’ve got to empower those people and let them get on with it.”Imelda believes her training as a Chartered Accountant has also helped. “It facilitated me in building a blended career. The pace of change is so incredibly quick today and if we do not evolve and learn, we lose relevance. Small pieces of education are also very valuable in that respect. Over the years, I did several courses including at Harvard Business School and Stanford. I love learning and I’m not finished yet. I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning.”Her advice to other Chartered Accountants starting out in their careers is to seek opportunities to broaden their experience. “Learn to be willing to ask for what you want,” she says. “Look for opportunities outside finance in commercial, procurement or operations. Look through alternative lenses to bring value. Make sure you are learning and challenging yourself all the time. Keep asking what you have added to become the leader you want to be someday.”And don’t settle for what you don’t want. “Be sure it is the career you want, rather than the one you think you want or need. It’s too easy to look at someone successful and want to emulate them. You have to ask if that is really for you. This role particularly suits me. I love the outdoors and I get to spend time out of the office in forests and recreational areas. That resonates particularly well with me.”

Jul 28, 2020
Feature Interview

As the saying goes, rough seas make great sailors and the new President of Chartered Accountants Ireland, Paul Henry, has abundant experience of leading in times of crisis. Perhaps in a sign of the times, Paul Henry sat down at his desk at home in Belfast to conduct this interview. With the lockdown in full effect, he was working from home as he sought to run his commercial property business and prepare for the year ahead as President of Chartered Accountants Ireland. And it will be a busy year indeed. In July, Paul will also become Chair of CCAB – a forum of five professional accountancy bodies that collaborate on matters affecting the profession and the broader economy. There will undoubtedly be much to discuss. From recovery to regulation, Paul will lead the charge for both Chartered Accountants Ireland and CCAB at a turbulent and fragile time in the island’s history. The global COVID-19 pandemic has spawned an economic malaise that may well be compounded by the effects of Brexit but leading through such crises was far from his mind when he decided to become a Chartered Accountant in the 1980s. The path to industry From an early age, Paul was determined to become both a Chartered Accountant and businessman – influenced in part by the apparent success of his friends’ parents. Upon leaving his science-focused secondary school in North Belfast, Paul attended Queen’s University Belfast where he studied accounting at undergraduate level before completing what was then known as the Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting. He readily admits that his first year studying accounting was “a wee bit of a mystery” but with some perseverance, both the art and the science of the subject began to make sense. Paul went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant with PwC Northern Ireland in 1989, where he met his wife, Siân. He subsequently held positions with the Industrial Development Board, Enterprise Equity, PwC (for a second spell), and ASM Chartered Accountants before joining his current firm, Osborne King, where he is now a Director and equity partner. The move from practice to real estate advisory came about when Paul was working with ASM Chartered Accountants, primarily on corporate finance projects. “I had been speaking with the team at Osborne King about developing the business and the commercial skills they would need to do that, so I helped to shape a role and job specification for them,” he said. “They went to market with the role and close to the closing date for applications, one of the team said: ‘We’ve received some good applications, but we didn’t receive one from you’. For me, that was the light bulb moment because it was precisely the career I wanted. So, I went through the application process and thankfully landed the job.” Becoming a businessman Paul’s evolution did not end there, however. Having joined Osborne King in 2000, he led transactions involving sophisticated financial structures including private finance initiative and public/private partnership deals. Business was booming but unbeknownst to most, the financial crash of 2008/09 was not far away. The global downturn that followed decimated many sectors and industries – not least commercial property. Osborne King, like many others, felt the pinch but out of crisis comes opportunity and Paul went on to achieve his second childhood dream: becoming a fully-fledged businessman. “Through a series of developments and the downturn in particular, I ended up completing a management buyout of Osborne King with one other colleague. We restructured the business and the shareholders haven’t looked back since,” he said. With the benefit of hindsight, Paul can identify several lessons that are pertinent today as employers attempt to stay solvent and keep their businesses afloat. “The critical thing is to be open and honest with your people. In a downturn such as this, businesses must reduce their cost base and conserve cash, and that means having difficult conversations – particularly with staff and suppliers,” he said. “But if you communicate clearly and often, people will trust you and that is a precious asset to have. So be straight with them about the challenges facing your business, but don’t forget to repay that trust when the business landscape improves.” Indeed, one of Paul’s proudest achievements is keeping the full Osborne King team intact throughout the 2008/09 crisis and its aftermath. “We were probably the only commercial real estate firm that didn’t make any redundancies during the last recession,” he added. “We did that because, in my mind, we have great people and it is our people that will help us thrive once the economy recovers.” The current crisis Nobody expected to be in an even worse economic predicament just 12 years later, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to plunging world economic growth. Businesses are operating in a near-absolute environment of uncertainty as governments scramble to provide the necessary lifelines for corporations, entrepreneurs, and their staff. In that context, Paul has been impressed by the agility and ingenuity of the governments in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in responding to the needs of both businesses and citizens. “People are often very critical of the public service but in recent months, we have seen its very best elements – not least in the health sector and emergency services. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe,” he said. Paul is also keen to highlight the vital role of the Institute in helping its members through the pandemic. “In times of adversity, we become incredibly creative and innovative and the Institute has responded very well to offer members even more services – whether it’s the COVID-19 Hub on the website or our regular webinars on soft skills or the Wage Subsidy Scheme,” he added. “Since March 2020, the level of member engagement with the Institute has increased significantly so we can see clearly that our Digital First programme is the right strategy. If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is that we have been forced to accelerate many of the innovative member services initiatives that were already on our agenda for 2020 and beyond.” All of this, he said, complements the traditional role of the Institute as a source of support for its 28,500 members. “CA Support is there to support all members and students in times of difficulty or crisis, and the service has seen an increase in activity in recent months,” Paul said. “Whether you have lost your job, are struggling to cope with uncertainty, or feeling lonely, all members and students can turn to their member organisation for support and guidance, and that is something that makes me immensely proud.” The role of the Chartered Accountant In addition to helping each other, Chartered Accountants will also be relied upon to help steer businesses through the pandemic and towards a sustainable future in what remains a very uncertain economic and regulatory landscape. Paul is hopeful that the global economy will recover relatively quickly, but there remains much to be done even if the economic signals begin to improve. “As we work through the fallout of the pandemic, businesses will need to be aware of the ‘wall of creditors’ waiting for them on the other side of the crisis,” he said. “Although survival is the name of the game at the moment, rent, commercial rates, and other obligations will need to be settled at some stage and Chartered Accountants – both in business and as advisors to business – will need to turn their focus to that issue.” All the while, Brexit rumbles on in the background and although it has the potential to compound the economic woes bestowed on the island of Ireland, Paul points to the profession’s pragmatism as its most valuable asset in navigating the added uncertainty. “The Institute has made clear that it would be preferable if Brexit did not happen, or if it did, that it happened in a planned and managed way with ample time for businesses to acclimatise to the new reality. But Chartered Accountants will play the hand they are dealt and work to understand what role they must play in making Brexit work without judgement,” he said. The President’s priorities Paul takes the helm at Chartered Accountants Ireland at a distinctly turbulent time but as the saying goes, rough seas make great sailors and Paul’s experience – both in industry and practice – gives him a rounded view of the needs of the membership during times of crisis in particular. In the year ahead, the Institute will launch a new four-year strategy that will hopefully outlive both COVID-19 and Brexit and despite the uncertainties, Paul’s focus will remain very much on people, talent, and potential. “When I joined Enterprise Equity, my chief executive said ‘Paul, it’s going to cost me £1 million to train you’. I was thrilled because I thought I was going to be educated in the best universities in the world, but he really meant that I would make many costly mistakes along the way,” Paul said. “In business, you are often backing the jockey and not the horse. It is the people, team and leaders that will get you around the course and win the race, and this focus on people will be a core element of my Presidency in the year ahead.” Paul will also focus on other strategic imperatives during his tenure: building on the recent evolution of the education syllabus, supporting the Institute’s Digital First initiative, and adapting to the ‘new normal’ for students, members and staff – whatever that ‘new normal’ might be. “My key priorities will revolve around member experience. It is vital that we engage with members, both at home and overseas, and become increasingly relevant to members in all sectors,” he said. “Building engagement with our members will be central to that sense of relevance. And as someone who wasn’t engaged with the Institute for many years, I can say with conviction that once members engage with Chartered Accountants Ireland and come to understand the breadth of services and support available to members and students alike, they will be amazed.” Conclusion Paul’s presidency will be a presidency like no other. Travel will be restricted in the short-term, a global recession is looming, and the world of professional services work has undergone a dramatic upheaval. But Paul remains optimistic for the future. “Through our education system, we are equipping the next generation of Chartered Accountants with the skills and expertise necessary to lead businesses into the future and support economic recovery and growth,” he said. “Meanwhile, our members continue to be relied upon as the people who connect the dots, bring people together and make individual elements more effective and valuable by creating and leading great teams. For me, the future is all about empathy, people, and teams – and if we get that right, we can and will recover.”

Jun 02, 2020
Feature Interview

Joan Curry, who recently joined the first female majority board of IFAC, discusses her varied career in the public sector. Joan Curry is Head of Finance at the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport; ex-chair of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Public Sector Interest Group; member of Council at Chartered Accountants Ireland; and a board member of the International Federation of Accountants. Add to that six children and a keen golfing interest, and one could reasonably say that Joan leads a hectic life. In terms of her professional career, Joan had an interest in figures and accountancy from an early age. “I was the eldest of five children, and my mother and father both worked outside the home,” she recalled. “We swam and my father was treasurer of the swimming club. I helped him with the money, so it was a subliminal introduction really.” At school, Joan and three friends were the first pupils of Mercy College in Coolock to do higher-level maths. “It didn’t occur to us that we were trailblazers or anything like that,” she said. We just did what we did. I got an honour in maths in the Leaving Cert, so I suppose I always had a head for figures.” No college fun Joan planned to do a commerce degree in university when fate took a hand. “My brother’s football coach was an accountant and he called to the house one evening and convinced me to become a Chartered Accountant by working for an accountancy firm,” Joan said. “I took that advice and qualified with Smith Lawlor & Co., now JPA Brenson Lawlor in 1988.” Joan completed her training contract and qualified in 1988 when she moved into industry with Nokia with a desire to gain commercial experience. Nokia was a tissue paper manufacturer, and Kittensoft was its major brand. The company was a big player in the Irish retail FMCG scene at that time. As a financial accountant, Joan was responsible for budget and financial management including the preparation of accounts for consolidation into the European group headquarters and, subsequently, for the United States when it became part of the James River and Georgia Pacific corporations. Looking back, Joan reflected: “In practice, you are engaging with clients annually. There is more continuity in industry; you are part of decisions and can see their cause and effect and results.” It wasn’t all work in Nokia, however. Joan made up for the lack of fun at college as she met her husband in Nokia. “I married the site engineer after he left the company,” she said. A wide and varied career Joan has spent the past 18 years in the civil service in several roles that have broadened her capacities. She gained extensive experience in multi-disciplinary environments and brings all of that to bear in her current financial role with the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport. Joan’s career in the public sector began with a contract role as a project accountant for the Department of Finance, as it implemented the JD Edwards financial management system. This was later extended into a contract of indefinite duration. In 2011, Joan moved to the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform on its formation to work in the Government Accounting unit, the standard-setter for government accounts in Ireland. There, she built relationships with colleagues in both finance and internal audit in each government department. Joan also spent three years as Head of Corporate Services for the National Shared Services Office. A role that Joan particularly enjoyed while working in the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform was a secondment as Secretary to the Public Service Pay Commission. This was a non-financial role, utterly different to anything she had done before, and involved supporting the Commission in its examination of recruitment and retention matters in specific areas of the public service. Joan managed the research, contribution and report-writing phases of the Commission’s work and engaged with the public sector employer, union and other stakeholders in the process. Current role Joan joined the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport as Head of Finance in August 2019 and her role covers “vote and expenditure management, financial management, risk management, and responsibility for the procurement framework”. The use of the term “vote” serves to highlight the differences between the public sector and private sector accounting practices. This refers to the financial allocation made to a department or public body by the government, which is approved by a vote of the Oireachtas. The differences run deeper than mere terminology, however. The State doesn’t utilise private sector financial reporting standards, nor does it prepare its accounts on an accrual basis. Joan is a firm believer that the State’s move to re-examine this area and consider the use of accrual accounting is the right one. A change in policy here would be consistent with OECD guidance on the matter Joan stressed. Joan reflects that, in contrast to government accounting, local authorities have been engaged in an advanced form of accrual accounting since 2002. They prepare their accounts in accordance with an accounting code of practice, which complies with FRS102 where applicable. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has an oversight role in various bodies under its aegis and at times, Joan’s expertise is called on by departmental colleagues directly involved in the oversight function. “It extends into the transport sector – public transport, roads, local authorities, and then we have the tourism industry and Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland and the breadth of activity they are involved in to attract tourists. It goes right down to sport and grants to local clubs. I didn’t realise the breadth of services involved until I started working in the department.” And unsurprisingly, there is no such thing as a typical workday for Joan. “There is a huge variety on any given day,” she said. “I try to look at it in its different compartments – vote management, financial management, risk management, and procurement. Those are the four key areas I try to interface with every day.” At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic was taking up much of Joan’s time. “We have been engaged in emergency planning and contingency planning and arranging for staff to work remotely and so on. The staff here have been really fantastic,” Joan said.  Joan is also working daily with critical stakeholders on liquidity funding strategies to keep key transport systems and supply chains going – getting people and goods to where they are needed in light of COVID-19. Volunteer work Joan is a Fellow of the Institute and a Member of Council at Chartered Accountants Ireland. She is also a member and former Chair of the Public Sector Interest Group and recently became a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). Joan describes her initial introduction to the Institute’s Council as the result of ‘a tap on the shoulder’. “I was approached to run for Council and I agreed. It all goes back to networks. I play in the Chartered Accountants Golf Society and have made some great contacts there. Within an hour of seeking nominations, I had ten nominations and I only needed seven.” Joan’s next step came when she was asked to go forward for the IFAC board. “I was nominated by Chartered Accountants Ireland and was short-listed. I went for the interview and was fortunate enough to be invited to join the board. Being there for Ireland is an immense honour, and being able to contribute that public service perspective is also very important to me.” The 23-member board includes 12 males and 13 females. “It’s gender-balanced, and the overall diversity is great,” she said. “I have four girls and two boys, and I have always stressed to them the importance of equality.” Life outside the office In Joan’s view, one of the best things about working in the public service is the scope offered to do other things. “The support I have received over the years has been invaluable,” she said. “I got better at managing my time and learned that I don’t need to be involved in everything that’s going on. I have improved at delegating and saying no. I have also learned that the time you spend on yourself is good for you and your employer. If you’re not feeling good, you won’t perform at your best.” When her children – Aisling, Ciara, Dearbhla, Shane, Sonia and Karl – are not keeping Joan busy with various college, school and extracurricular activities, she can be found on the golf course. “It’s the perfect place for headspace for me,” she concludes. “And a little competition as well!”

Apr 01, 2020
Feature Interview

President of NUI Galway, Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, the first Chartered Accountant to be appointed president of an Irish university, reflects on his career in academia as he embarks on his third year at the helm of his alma mater. When people talk about Chartered Accountants’ career progression, they often refer to the ‘linear path’ to the position of Managing Partner or CFO. While Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh’s professional path has been similarly structured, albeit in a different sector, his route has been more circular than linear. From his youthful days as a BComm student in NUI Galway to his current post as President of that same university, Ciarán has enjoyed academic success in a range of roles. As an educator, however, his teachings are grounded firmly in the values of fairness and the greater good – values that he was embued with at a young age. A social science When Ciarán joined the BComm class in NUI Galway, he was drawn towards a career in corporate law – an area that was gaining traction as a viable career option. However, he was converted to accountancy by two lecturers – Keith Warnock and Seamus Collins – who taught accountancy as a social science. They looked at the impact of accounting on decision-making in both business and society, and according to Ciarán, “it was a really nice way of looking at accounting; not just as a technical subject, but as something much more interesting than that”. It may be dramatic to describe this as a Damascene conversion, but following his experience at undergraduate level, Ciarán followed a path to accountancy. Having completed the Diploma in Professional Accounting in UCD while training with Arthur Andersen, he went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant before moving swiftly into academia. His career has taken him to the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Boston College as a Fulbright Scholar, and he has also taught at Dublin City University and University College Dublin. Indeed, he has enjoyed his greatest success in Ireland, becoming UCD’s Dean of Business in 2011 before joining NUI Galway as President in 2017. Teaching “at the heart of my day” Ciarán’s rise to the role of Dean and, more recently, President of two of the country’s most respected academic institutions did not come at the expense of his love of teaching, however. He continues to teach into one accountancy module per semester, taking a number of classes with first year accountancy students, for example, in 2019/20. As Warnock and Collins did back in the 1980s, Ciarán positions the subject as part of a broader landscape. “In research, accountancy is seen as a social science to a great extent, but it’s also seen – because of the professional requirements – as a technical subject. Trying to marry those two is always an interesting challenge,” he said. While Ciarán teaches for the enjoyment it brings, there are other more strategic reasons for stepping up to the podium every week. “I’d miss it if I didn’t teach,” he said. “But teaching is also a great way to get into the routine of the year and get to know what’s happening on the campus. It’s a great way to meet students, but more importantly, it sets a good example to both students and staff. Teaching is an essential part of the mission of the university, so putting teaching at the heart of my day is important from that perspective.” The leader’s skill set This type of signalling is an important aspect of Ciarán’s skill set as a leader. When he assumed the role of President at NUI Galway, there were several challenging issues in his in-tray, including issues of gender equality.  “Diversity is strength, particularly in a university. It is not a burden, and should be cherished rather than challenged,” he said. Ciarán is very pleased that NUI Galway has since been awarded Athena Swan Bronze status and has been designated as a University of Sanctuary, meaning that it welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and travellers as part of its community – but he is clear that “there’s always work to be done” in this area.  At the time of his appointment, one of Ciarán’s first acts on his first day was to meet with the Students’ Union President and to send an introductory video to all his new colleagues. In this communication, he talked about our “kindnesses to each other”, a phrase he found echoed across the university community during his subsequent ‘listening tour’.This strategy, according to Ciarán, was very deliberate. “I try to deal with issues early on,” he said. “And a lot of my role as President involves signalling, so you turn up at things that you think are important and you push with determination on issues that are important.” An ambitious new strategy  It will therefore come as no surprise that the university’s new strategy, which Ciarán launched last month, centres in large part on respect and openness. It also channels his business acumen and skills as an innovator by ensuring that the university complements the region’s strengths in medical technologies, culture and creativity, and climate and oceans. Speaking at the launch, Ciarán described the university as being for the “public good”, belonging to the people. And given that NUI Galway has no gates, this sense of openness is very much part of the university’s cultural fabric in his view.But running a university with 19,000 students is an expensive business, so this public good comes at a high cost. That said, Ciarán is keen to guide the debate away from price and towards value. And given that Ireland and Croatia are viewed as “systems in danger” by a European University Association report published in 2017, this debate couldn’t be more timely. “First and foremost, we must make the argument that universities are for the public good and good for society. After that, society needs to think about how we fund that ambition,” he said. “If the funding doesn’t match that ambition, then we need to find some way to translate that ambition for the third-level sector with a funding model that supports us in an international context.” Life lessons When you devote your life to something, as Ciarán has done, it often becomes difficult to draw a line between the person and the professional. To counter that, Ciarán relies on a Flann O’Brien tale – one he shares with his students regularly. “In The Third Policeman, a policeman cycles the roads of the west of Ireland so often that he becomes part-policeman, part-bicycle,” he said. “For me, the lesson is simple: don’t become the job. Always maintain your personality and joie de vivre, because that’s important.”It will come as no surprise that Ciarán, who has spent decades educating the leaders of the future – and, more recently, leading the educators themselves – has a wealth of advice for fellow Chartered Accountants, colleagues and students alike. He advocates being yourself as this makes for a more comfortable life; he’s a firm believer in trying new things; and he advises everyone to take the time to think and read. But overall, Ciarán returns to the philosophy of his BComm lecturers, Warnock and Collins: “Accounting has a role to play in shaping society and we should be a profession that supports not only the powerful but those on the periphery as well,” he said. “That would be a very good future for everyone in the context of the changes we see in society today.” Ciarán on... His family “Dad and mam had a real view on making a difference, doing your best. And as the youngest of six, I think that was helpful as I grew up with adults and people older than me.” The threat to third-level education “It isn’t about the universities or the staff; it’s actually about our students, their families, about companies and civic society.” Launching UCD’s MA in aviation finance “The idea here is that you work with your hinterland. Dublin is a global hub for aviation finance so the feeling was, let’s include that group and educate the talent pool for the industry.” The potential impact of Brexit “If we position ourselves as the gateway to Europe – Galway in particular and Ireland in general – we can capitalise on student mobility and research opportunities.” Venturing into the unknown “If you try something you’ve never tried before, one of two things will happen. You will either find that you are good at it, or you will find that you’re not – in which case, the sky doesn’t fall in and you learn something and perhaps emerge even stronger from the experience.” Communication “The people aspect of accountancy is often missing. When you are doing audits, you have to ask questions and talk to people. It can be a very people-oriented existence and people too often think of accountancy as not involving people when generally speaking, it does.” Doing the right thing “I make decisions that I think are right, and that makes it easier to sleep at night. The ones that unsettle you are the ones where others convince you, but you don’t quite think it’s the right thing to do.” Logic and morals “Someday, you will have to make a decision that looks entirely logical. You know you should do it, but it has implications for others that you might not be aware of at the outset. Endeavour to find, and consider, that implication or consequence for an individual or group because not everyone is as well off as ourselves.”

Feb 10, 2020
Feature Interview

Trócaire’s Michael Wickham Moriarty speaks to Accountancy Ireland about his career in the non-profit sector and the satisfaction he gets from volunteering. From Monaghan to Dublin to Khartoum and back again, Michael Wickham Moriarty’s career path as a Chartered Accountant has been anything but predictable. Trócaire’s Director of Corporate Services, who recently collected the ‘Best Large Charity Annual Report’ award at the Published Accounts Awards, and two additional accolades at the Good Governance Awards, has worked in the charity and non-profit sector since completing his training contract with PwC’s tax department – but in fact, that’s where his passion for meaningful work began. As a trainee, Michael’s work exposed him to several family businesses and non-profit organisations. Reporting to PwC’s Teresa McColgan, who is a board member at Concern, helped him realise the value he could bring to organisations as a Chartered Accountant – both as an employee and volunteer. The first stint overseas Despite enjoying his work in tax during the Celtic Tiger years, a career in practice wasn’t in Michael’s long-term plan. Rather than move straight into another ‘career’ role, however, he instead opted to work overseas for one year with GOAL. “In 2008, when the economy was beginning to wobble, I moved to Khartoum in Sudan to work with GOAL as their on-site donor compliance officer,” he says. “I was working under the supervision of GOAL’s financial controller in Khartoum, which was great because donor compliance was a new area for me.” At the time, Sudan was also ruled by Arab dictator, Omar al-Bashir, whose forces imposed an arbitrary sharia legal system within the country. “I experienced a lot of changes in a very short space of time,” Michael recalls. “Plus, I had to get used to a new way of living. The stipend provided by GOAL meant that you had just enough to get by and this was a major drop from my salary as a Chartered Accountant working in practice, but it was never about the money. Ultimately, it was a fascinating experience and I learned a lot during my time there.” Over the course of the year, many of Michael’s colleagues returned home for brief spells. At this point, the financial crisis was taking a wrecking ball to the Irish economy and he was hearing reports that described a different country to the one he left behind. After a year of volunteering with GOAL, he took up another donor compliance role with Plan International Ireland, which divided his time between Dublin and West Africa. “It was quite shocking for me to hear just how bad things were in Ireland. I was in Guinea when I heard on French language radio about the IMF coming into town, and I remember having to explain to the locals about the situation back home,” he says. “It was devastating because so many people overseas rely on Irish aid. In one village, for example, the only stable concrete building was built using Irish aid and the locals were extremely grateful because it allowed them to care for disabled children safely.” Returning to a changed Ireland Michael worked with Plan for three years – before joining the Ana Liffey Drug Project as Head of Finance and Administration. Working with Ana Liffey was very different from working overseas, Michael recalls. “Our clients were in and out of the building every day and I had the opportunity to meet them and hear their stories,” he recalls. But the most interesting thing he noticed about small charities is how little they have by way of resources to get by. “The organisation had an amazing ethos that really appealed to me, but every cent mattered,” he says. “So much so that when a computer broke down, I found myself carrying it to the local PC repair shop rather than spend money on a courier. And that’s the reality for many small charities in Ireland today.” Michael’s stint with small charities came to an end, however, when an opportunity arose to join the team at the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC). The CRC had survived a major scandal in 2013 that involved top executives receiving salaries far in excess of agreed official public service pay rates – and these executive salaries were being topped-up in part by public donations. Although Michael was a spectator to many scandals, he now found himself in an organisation that was working to rebuild its reputation and regain the trust of the public. “Eighteen months after the CRC scandal broke, the new CEO decided to recruit a new Head of Finance. I applied for the job and it helped that I was interested in governance and reform, as that was a critical objective for the entire organisation,” he said. “And it was a wonderful experience. I headed up a great Finance team and we quickly recruited a new external audit firm, adopted Charities SORP and implemented a new internal audit regime.” The key to success, in Michael’s view, was the fact that change was supported at all levels of the organisation – not least by the leadership team. “The technical changes weren’t without their challenges, but that was my area of expertise,” he says. “What really impressed me, though, was the CEO’s focus on culture change. The entire organisation moved from an old reality to a new reality in a relatively short space of time, and it was fascinating to observe that shift happening.” Stepping up During this time, Michael was also volunteering as the Company Secretary and Deputy Chair of EPIC – a national organisation that works with children and young adults who are either in care, or who have experience of being in care. He stepped down in July 2017 after five years as a board member, to take up a voluntary role with the Rotunda Hospital where he is now Honorary Treasurer, Vice President, and Chair of the Audit and Governance Committee. According to Michael, both volunteering and working in the non-profit sector allowed him to see both sides of the same coin – something that benefited him in his capacity as an employee and board member. “In my younger years, I volunteered because I had the time and inclination to put my training to good use, but it ended up being a mutually reinforcing experience,” he says. “The time I spent at the board table certainly made me a better executive when reporting to the board. It also introduced me to an entire network of people with similar values to my own and it has become an outlet of sorts for my own need to make some sort of positive change in society. So, in that respect, I’ve found volunteering very worthwhile.” Living a meaningful life While Michael is a volunteer in one sense, he is very clear about his paid role as an employee – and this extends to his approach to management within Trócaire, where he now works. “I lead a team of accountants and IT professionals, so I think about talent retention a lot. My colleagues don’t get paid as much as they could elsewhere, but they don’t work as a favour either. All staff in the not-for-profit sector need to be paid fairly; you need to be able to send people home with the ability to pay their bills and support their families,” he says. “Otherwise, only the independently wealthy could work in this space and that wouldn’t be right or good.” And while Michael himself took a significant pay cut to work with GOAL in Sudan all those years ago, and has only recently recovered the shortfall, he is happy with his lot. “Some of my friends stayed in practice while some moved into industry, and they get paid very well, but I am happy with my circumstances,” he adds. “I am very lucky to do meaningful work, which brings me a lot of value and satisfaction. Many people have been interested in my experience and career path, but I’ve found that they often struggle with what they would be forced to give up financially and that is very understandable. But for me, working in an organisation that provides life-changing and life-saving services gives my work great meaning and ultimately, that has influenced    my career choices and it’s what keeps me in the sector.” Michael on… Volunteering: “We can’t solve all the problems of the world, but volunteering gives you an outlet beyond being upset or angry about it.” Scandals: “There is a sceptical eye on charities, and that will continue. We must respond to that scepticism and the best way to do that, in my view, is through transparency.” Reporting: “Charities need to present financial statements in a way that allows people to understand the issues with ease, and the Public Accounts Awards is doing great work in driving standards up across the sector.” Motivation: “When you see kids donating €2 for their school’s hot chocolate day or pensioners donating part of their weekly pension, there’s nothing more motivating than that. It pushes you to ensure that their money is used for the full benefit of the people you serve.” Diversity: “A lot of boards are dominated by white, middle-aged and middle-class men, and I’m at least two of those myself! We need to help more young people, women and those from ethnic minorities to get involved in boards – and that diverse talent pool is available amongst the membership of Chartered Accountants Ireland."

Dec 02, 2019
Feature Interview

Claire Fitzpatrick FCA looks back on her career, from trainee auditor to the frontier of blockchain technology innovation. What’s wrong with me?” For someone who has enjoyed a varied and successful career in professional services and large corporations, it might come as a surprise to learn that Claire Fitzpatrick asked herself that very question in her 30s as she watched her peers move into senior roles. “You just need to get on the track,” she was told – a less than subtle reference to the perceived linear path to CFO/CEO roles. But as Claire readily admits, this isn’t how she operates. The Dublin native has made serendipitous career moves since leaving PwC in 2000 to work with one of her audit clients, Point Information Systems, but the draw has never been status or salary. Instead, her career has been guided by two things – people and culture. Venturing out While working as a PwC Audit Senior with Point Information Systems, Claire saw the culture she wanted to work in – ambitious, fast-changing and transformative. “I remember coming back after a year and the company had changed completely, whereas some other companies I audited would be the same year-on-year,” she said. “It was evolving at pace and the energy there just stood out for me.” Claire joined the company and her role expanded her knowledge base in a variety of new disciplines from engineering to sales and marketing. This diverse exposure would be of great benefit to her later in her career, not least when she returned from a working holiday with Nestlé in Australia and New Zealand to a role in O2. The company was in expansion mode at the time and Claire managed to experience the full life-cycle from early adoption to the sale of the business, which she was centrally involved in. From there, Claire moved to Wayra, Telefónica’s start-up accelerator, to accelerate digital embryonic businesses. As Claire recalls, it was a move that raised some eyebrows at the time. “A lot of my peers thought it was a step down for me in career terms, but I really wanted to get involved in the innovative digital space,” she said. “It reminded me of the energy and pace I felt in Point Information Systems and I had experience of both start-up and corporate environments, so I was able to bring a lot to the table.” Start-up life In her first three weeks in Wayra, Claire met with hundreds of entrepreneurs and developers across the tech ecosystem and this intensity continued unabated for three years. The hub was a success, investing €6 million in the Irish start-up ecosystem including 33 equity investments while returning the same amount. “For early-stage start-ups, that’s a great return,” she said. However, following the sale of O2 to Three in 2014, Telefónica ultimately closed its Wayra hub in Ireland and Claire decided to take on a new challenge.  The idea of starting her own business had never entered her mind, but the closure of Wayra meant that Claire and her two colleagues faced a fork in the road. “We saw real value in what we were doing at Wayra, and we were good at it,” she said. “So, we decided to set up Red Planet and to flip the accelerator model on its head. We started with the corporate to understand the problem it was trying to solve, and then sourced the best start-up talent to solve that particular problem.” The venture was successful and it achieved what Claire describes as “the holy grail” for start-ups – being sold to a large corporate. Red Planet was acquired by Deloitte in 2017 and Claire continued to work with the firm for 18 months. “Selling our start-up was a tough decision, but the right one. Deloitte was really good at the strategy piece and identifying the challenges facing their clients, while Red Planet was able to find the solutions in the start-up world and develop them to scale. We were very good at curating diamonds in the rough.” Blockchain calling At this stage in her career, Claire faced an inflection point. Not content to simply go with the flow, she began plotting her next move when an opportunity arose to join a new blockchain venture headed by the co-founder of Ethereum, Joseph Lubin. The company was founded in 2014 and was at the forefront of Ethereum blockchain technology innovation. It needed someone to establish its base in Dublin and build its team, and the company ultimately chose Claire as its Director of Strategic Operations. The Dublin hub, which is known as ConsenSys Ireland, is developing the products that will enable society and enterprises to advance to the next level of blockchain adoption. Claire is very excited about the bigger picture. “In the future, you won’t even know you’re interacting with blockchain. It will be just like the Internet where nobody really thinks about or considers the infrastructure or protocols – they just see the applications,” she said. “Blockchain will be as transformational as mobile telecommunications was 25 years ago. We are part of a new industry, a new technology, new products, and a market which we have to create and educate. That’s a big challenge, but a very exciting one.” Leadership style But amid the excitement and potential lies ambiguity, and it takes a certain type of person to thrive in an ambiguous environment according to Claire. “Given the nascent nature of blockchain technology, we’re continually refining our vision and new industries are constantly wanting to explore new directions with the technology. So, although everyone in the company has goals to achieve, some are set in stone and some evolve to meet the needs of our clients,” she said. “That’s no different to a traditional organisation but we do differ in that we could have to tell staff to drop projects and pivot in a new direction at a moment’s notice – and some people find that challenging.” Luckily for Claire, working in a maturing industry adds to the allure of her new role in ConSensys – one she believes will contribute to a decentralised, democratised future for individuals. “It’s a rollercoaster, but with experience and age comes perspective and balance,” she said. “And the most important thing for me, throughout my career, has been the people I work with. My colleagues today are not necessarily wired like me but we work well together in the good times, and the challenging times, to make something great happen. That’s what it’s all about.”   Claire’s advice for Chartered Accountants Chartered Accountants will have a central role in the deployment of blockchain technologies and rather than wait for mass adoption, Claire believes the time to upskill is now. “The conversation around blockchain has moved from proof of concept to pilot schemes so when we’re talking to clients, we’re discussing real systems as opposed to hypothetical ideas,” she said. “So, I wouldn’t recommend waiting to start blockchain projects because we will reach the point of mass proliferation quicker than most people expect.” “The first step for all Chartered Accountants is education. There are free educational resources through ConsenSys Academy and Blockchain Ireland is working to raise awareness of what’s coming down the tracks,” Claire added. “But it’s vital that Chartered Accountants realise that anyone can quickly become a laggard in this dynamic environment.” “Finally, I would stress the point that Chartered Accountants don’t need to worry about losing their heads in the weeds trying to understand the programming and coding side of things,” she said. “They should educate themselves with regard to the characteristics and applications that they can see for blockchain in their business.”

Oct 01, 2019
Student Profile

Tilly Downes, trainee in PwC in Cork, is moving on to her FAE after grabbing the top spot in her CAP 2 exams. Tilly answered some questions about exam preparation and her future as a Chartered Accountant. Can you bring us through your preparation process for the CAP 2 exams? I began my study leave ten weeks before the exams were due to commence. At the beginning, I spent some time preparing my folders and dividing them into sections so that when it came to study and the exams, I knew where everything was. Following this, I focused on completing the exam papers in the fastest time I could which helped me during the actual exam; I knew how much time to allocate to each question and learned how to work against the clock.  What was the most challenging part of your preparation? Ten weeks of study leave is a long time, and it can be hard to motivate yourself to keep going, so this is definitely what I found the most challenging. What is one tip you would give to someone going into their CAP 2 exams in the next year? My advice would be just to give your best shot at the interim exams. These exams will really set you up for the final exam if you have a steady mark going in. It gives you that bit of extra confidence.   What do you plan on doing with your career once you qualify? At the moment, I have no definite plans on what I want to do after I qualify. I have toyed with the idea of moving abroad; I feel living in another country and meeting new people from different cultures would be a great experience.  If I do move abroad, I hope to work in the financial industry. The idea of getting insight into how businesses operate, the different challenges they face and, ultimately, what makes these businesses successful appeals to me. I also believe this could be an invaluable opportunity to develop myself both personally and professionally. For the time being, my main goal is to obtain my ACA qualification so that I will be able to reap the rewards it offers to its graduates.  In third year, I chose to go to PwC for my six-month placement. PwC has always come across as a progressive firm, and anytime I spoke to someone who had done an internship in their offices, the feedback was always positive. Given its global recognition, I felt it was a good place to work that will hopefully stand to me later in life if I end up moving abroad.  Why do you want to qualify as a Chartered Accountant? From a young age I had an interest in numbers. As a child, I used to count all the change for my mother’s newsagent and bring it to the bank. This passion continued throughout my life. In secondary school I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a Chartered Accountant which is why I opted to study BSc Accounting in UCC. I have always been someone who enjoys learning, and the fact that the BSc Accounting offers a broad range of modules appealed to me. I liked the idea of discovering new areas of interest and developing skills in a variety of areas. I believe studying accounting, and now pursuing the ACA qualification, has allowed me to continuously build on what I already know and to further develop my skills.

Nov 05, 2019
Member Profile

Lucy-Anne O’Sullivan, a trainee Chartered Accountant at KPMG and qualified radiographer, talks about her recent return to the front line at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis.How did you arrive at a career in accountancy?It is safe to say that I have taken quite an unconventional route to accountancy. I studied radiography at University College Dublin (UCD) as my undergraduate degree and started working in St Vincent’s University Hospital shortly after. I worked there for two years with a fantastic team and made life-long friends. I was always drawn to the corporate world and wanted to explore this interest further, so I completed a Masters in Management at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. It was something totally different and allowed me to explore various aspects of business. This was my steppingstone to KPMG Risk Consulting, where I am currently preparing to sit my CAP 1 exams.You recently returned to the front line. What was that experience like?When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country earlier this year, I felt compelled to make use of my skills as a radiographer and returned to St Vincent’s. Radiology has had a huge role to play in both the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 patients. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to help out a department that has been under a lot of added pressure.The transition back to the hospital was smooth as I was familiar with St Vincent’s, having worked and trained there before. KPMG was hugely supportive of this move, which I am very thankful for. The first week or two took some getting used to as there were numerous new protocols, but wearing head-to-toe PPE and voluntarily walking into the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) quickly became the new normal. The hospital looked and felt quite different, but I felt quite safe as the protocols in place are very effective. There are enormous backlogs of exams as a result of the lockdown, but it is reassuring to see that these patients are slowly but surely starting to come back to the hospital as it looks a little more normal each day.Describe your typical day at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis.The role of the radiographer is very hands-on and, as a result, there is no scope to shy away from the virus. A standard day involved running to COVID ED (the COVID-19 emergency department) to perform chest X-rays on every query case that arrived into the hospital. Every ICU patient needed a daily chest x-ray to monitor progress and assess new line positioning. Radiographers can be seen running all over the hospital with portable X-ray machines to examine patients on the wards, as well as treating non-COVID-19-related patients in the emergency department. I trained in the Cardiac Catheterisation lab, so I also spent some time there as standard illnesses are still occurring.What lessons will you bring back to your role in Risk Consulting?My lessons are quite simple: people are critical to the success of any team, regardless of the working environment. My time in St Vincent’s was tough at times, but I never had to face it alone and always had the full support of my team. It is incredible to see what you can overcome with the backing of a good team behind you.If you could give the public one piece of advice, what would it be?Don’t get too complacent too quickly, as the virus is still out there. That said, I am as excited as anyone to get back to normal. Also, hand sanitiser is your best friend!

Jul 30, 2020
Member Profile

John Convery discusses the critical elements of an investor-grade business plan and what investors and venture capital firms look for in an investable business.The saying “paper never refuses ink” can certainly be applied when business plans are being written. Entrepreneurs and business owners have license to include what they want and can go overboard in producing great looking (and sounding) documents, but to what end? Venture capital firms will tell you privately how many plans pass across their desks but are discarded very quickly because they are not grounded in reality or properly thought through.There is any number of sources that proclaim to give you the formula for “how to write a perfect plan” or “how to write a winning plan”. Thanks to the web, there are now templates galore you can use in tandem. There are also multiple sites that outline what a great business plan should contain.Writing a good plan is not an exercise in producing grandiose business models and frameworks, with dazzling technical language and 2-D diagrams in brilliant, sharp colours and padding the whole lot off with forecasts and various scenarios. This sort of approach might win you a prize in a visual design contest, it will not help you raise investment.A business plan clarifies what a business is going to do, and how it is going to do it. For any start-up or established business, the process of writing a business plan is a discipline in explaining this. The article will therefore focus on what is required to produce an investor-grade business plan, what should go into the plan,     and what investors or venture capital firms look for before they invest in a business.Function and roleThe business plan is a blueprint for a business; it is essential if you are thinking of starting a business and is also an important tool for any established business. It is not static; rather, the business plan for any business will change over time as the business develops and as objectives change. For any start-up business, here are strong reasons why you need to write one:the process of writing a business plan will challenge owners to critically examine the business potential. It will test and serves to clarify the feasibility of the business idea;it allows you to set out your goals and prioritise business objectives;it allows you to measure what progress is achieved; andit is required to attract investors and secure funding.ContentsIn terms of length, an investor-grade business plan of 10-20 pages is reasonable. The key elements and content should include the following:1. Executive summary: the most important part of the business plan, the executive summary is generally the last section to be written. The objective is to grab the reader’s attention, sell the investment opportunity, and to get the potential investor to read the entire plan. It should be succinct and no longer than two pages. The key elements are:Opportunity: in a nutshell why is your product great and what customer problem will you solve? Explain the pain-point, your solution, and what are you offering.Product: describe its benefits and what it can deliver.Value proposition: who is the target market, your customer, and why will they want to buy it? What are the benefits?Marketing strategy: how will you reach your customers and what are your distribution channels?Competitive advantage: who is the competition? What is your competitive advantage?Business model: how will you generate revenue, and from whom? Why is your model scalable?Team: who are the management team, and why will they succeed?Financials: include highlights from the P&L for the next three years, cash balances, and headcount. Explain how you will reach your revenue targets.Funding: how much funding is required, and what will it be used for? Outline plans for future funding rounds.2. Product/service solution: what is it, what does it do, how does it work, who is the typical customer, and why is it different?3. Value proposition: explain the problem your business aims to solve. Where is the pain? Quantify the benefits for your customer in terms of money or time – and remember, the pain must be large and the benefits meaningful to convince a customer. Skip the technical jargon and be customer-centric.4. Market and opportunity: explain the overall industry and market dynamics. Segment the market by customer group and identify your target customer. Quantify the total market size and market opportunity of your addressable market. Use charts or graphs if necessary but remember that all figures should be from accredited sources and referenced.5. Competition: list and discuss all your competitors. Include any product/service that could be a substitute or alternative for your customer and outline how you compare with competitors.6. Competitive advantage/edge: some call this the secret sauce. How are you differentiated from your competitors? Detail your sustainable competitive advantage, highlight any barriers to entry that might keep your competitors away, and explain why any customer would buy your product/solution.7. Business model: how will you make money, who pays you, and how much do you keep after any expenses? Explain all sources of revenue from your customers and explain how your model is scalable.8. Marketing/sales strategy: this is your ‘go to market’ strategy. How will you reach your customers? Will you choose direct sales, partners, resellers or web? Include pricing and how much will go to channel intermediaries; provide a timeline of key milestones.9. The team: detail founders and key members, their qualifications, experience, track record, and domain knowledge. Include any advisory board members or industry figures involved with the business.10. Financial projection: for a start-up, include one-year detailed P&L data, cash flow prediction, balance sheet by month, and annual summary figures for three years thereafter highlighting key figures in P&L, cash flow and headcount. Also, what and when is your peak cash requirement? Cash is critical, and the cash flow statement is the key one. For an established business, include P&L, balance sheet for the last three years, and project P&L, cash flow and balance sheet by month for the next three years. For any financial projection, outline all key assumptions used. These must be based on sober and pragmatic reasoning, clearly justify growth assumptions, and highlight the peak cash requirement and break-even point.11. Funding requirements: explain the amount of funding required for the business. How much is being provided by other investors? State what the funds will be used for and show how much existing founders and owners have provided to date.12. Exit strategy: discuss the opportunities for investors to exit such as an acquisition, trade sale or IPO (beware, IPOs are only for the very best companies). Highlight trends in the market and give examples of valuations relevant to your business, but don’t go overboard and perhaps discuss your aim to build a truly sustainable business.Business plan pitfallsDo not make exaggerated claims. Business plans are meant to inform and reassure, not entertain, readers. Avoid the following types of statements or claims unless you can back them up with robust evidence:according to Gartner, the market is worth X billion; we only need Y% of this.we have no competition.our product is vastly better than anything else available.we can be number two in the market within 12 months.our technology is superior.customers will switch to our product.we will be profitable within 12 months.we can repay our investors after three years.our mission-critical kit is best of breed.we plan to target multiple overseas markets.we need to pay top salaries to attract top people.we want to retain the maximum amount of equity possible.It generally takes at least four years to reach €1 million in annual turnover, and that is if you are exceptionally lucky. It generally costs twice as much and takes you at least twice as long as you think it will to get there.Raising financeA start-up will typically go through different stages of funding sources as it moves from idea stage to product development, testing, initial customer validation and on to generating revenue. Initial funding will be provided by the founder, family and friends. Sooner or later, the founders will need to seek seed funding, which might be provided by an angel investor or seed venture capital fund. When a business seeks to raise outside finance from an investor or venture capital firm, they will look for the following criteria:Team: investors ultimately back people, not ideas. This is the number one criterion. They especially like those with deep knowledge and great experience; they will focus on track record and achievements.Market: they will seek a large market opportunity and strong growth rate. If the market has barriers to entry, better again. It needs to be big to support the returns many venture capital firms seek.Sustainable competitive advantage: a clear competitive advantage or unique selling point over others.Technology: great technology is a fundamental requirement now.Scalability: clear potential to grow in overseas markets.High gross margins: this reduces the amount required for working capital.ConclusionWithout a well-prepared and researched business plan, there is little chance of attracting outside funding. For a reader, the plan should be:credibleplausibleimplementableinvestableIt goes without saying that the plan should be grammatically correct, with no spelling errors. It should also be page referenced with no mistakes in the financials and look professional overall.John Convery is a business adviser to start-ups and small businesses. In the October issue, John will consider why so many start-ups fail, and how to improve the chance of success.

Jul 29, 2020
Member Profile

Pamela Gillies shares her thoughts on the future of the profession, wealth distribution and the therapeutic art of mowing the lawn. What do you most enjoy about your role at BDO? I started my career in BDO Northern Ireland 23 years ago, and today, I am a Director within the Advisory team in the Belfast Office. Depending on the cycle the broader business environment is going through, I see my role as either helping my clients’ businesses to grow or helping them navigate challenging commercial and financial situations. Being able to help and guide my clients gives me enormous satisfaction. What is your professional highlight thus far? One of my earliest career highlights was the sense of achievement when we completed the first M&A transaction I managed. Other highlights range from successfully securing new funding for my clients to helping clients develop their strategic plans and returning to see that they have been successful in achieving their targets. The aftermath of the financial crisis was an interesting period in my career when our team was managing around 200 jobs covering insolvency and land/property receiverships. I worked on several high-profile cases at that time and enjoyed the challenge of managing complex transactions and working to save as many jobs as possible, while maximising the return to creditors – often a delicate balance. How will the profession change in the next ten years? Like all professions, we must evolve with the times. Our clients are becoming much more innovative and we are no different; going forward, we will all need to be adaptable and more agile in the services we provide and how we support them. While the majority of our clients are Northern Ireland-based, we see an increasing number with global reach, and we need to be equipped to support this with a broader knowledge of the global marketplace. As a profession, integrity must be the absolute cornerstone upon which our work is based and as such, I expect to see more advanced regulations, standards, and change for the better in the years ahead. What is the most memorable lesson you have learned? Patience is a virtue. When I was younger, I was probably quicker to react to situations than I am now. This usually came as a result of trying to impress someone with my speed of action and the desire to move onto the next task. I have since learned to take in all the facts, to listen, and to assess all of the information calmly and thoroughly before deciding on the best course of action. What do we most need in this world? We need a more balanced and sustainable approach to the generation and distribution of wealth. As we have, once again, seen over the last 12 weeks, we are all collectively facing unprecedented challenges. The statistics show, yet again, that it is the poorest who are suffering most. The 26 wealthiest people in the world control the same level of wealth as the four billion poorest. There must be a more equitable solution so that everyone can benefit from wealth creation but, importantly, that the creators of wealth are not penalised in doing so.    How do you recharge? I get my energy from staying busy. I like to be ‘on the go’ both during the working week and as a family at weekends. I am not the sort of person who likes to sit down a lot. A perfect Saturday is mini rugby with the boys in the morning, a walk up the Cavehill in the afternoon, followed by a great meal (prepared by my husband) around the kitchen table with the kids. My guilty pleasure is cutting the grass – one day I am going to write a book entitled ‘Zen and The Art of Mowing the Lawn.’

Jun 02, 2020
Member Profile

Colm Davitt, CEO at Dental Care Ireland, discusses life at the helm of the five-year-old dental business he founded with his brother. What do you most enjoy about your current role? My role involves acquiring dental practices and helping them achieve their full potential. It combines my background in business and accountancy with a passion for the healthcare sector. I love seeing the practices grow and evolve as we invest in facilities, services and management support structures. Our 15 practices are located all over the country, which means a fair amount of travel, but I enjoy getting out of the office every week to meet with current and potential practice teams. What has been your career highlight thus far? Two career milestones stand out. First, I passed my final admitting exams to become a Chartered Accountant at age 21. My qualification has been the foundation and bedrock of my career achievements to date. Second, a major highlight was the opening of our first branded Dental Care Ireland practice. I first came up with the Dental Care Ireland concept in 2014 with my brother, Dr Kieran Davitt. Our vision was to create a group of established, high-quality dental practices nationwide. It has been a hugely rewarding experience to see that idea become a reality in just five short years. How do you stay productive day in, day out? I am a firm believer in setting goals. We have ambitious growth plans for Dental Care Ireland, so I review our objectives and targets at least every six months. I am also fortunate to have built a highly motivated team around me. Our head office is located beside the sea and close to home, so I can walk to and from work. When I’m not on the road, it gives me some guaranteed fresh air and headspace. I try to balance work with plenty of family time too. I dedicate my weekends to watching my kids in action on the sports field or catching up on GAA.  What changes do you anticipate in your profession in the next five to ten years? I expect to see the large-scale automation of routine accounting and data processing over the next ten years. It will be essential for Chartered Accountants to remain commercial and value-focused. In general, I think the need for flexibility in the workplace will continue to grow, and employers will have to adapt accordingly. In the dental sector, we may see fewer dentists willing to run their own businesses due to increased compliance and administration requirements. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Stay true to what you really believe in. Being a CEO can be a lonely place, and there are many ups and downs along the way. If you believe in what you are doing, you will gain respect and trust from those around you. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with several great mentors and CEOs. They all had the ability to create a small but very loyal team, which is probably the most important lesson I have learned. Working with a talented and supportive team makes the days much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Apr 01, 2020
Member Profile

Jenna Mairs ACA, Senior Investment Manager at Whiterock Finance, discusses her career highlights, productivity at work and the future of the profession. What do you most enjoy about your current role? The variety, without a doubt – no two days are ever the same. Whiterock Finance offer loans ranging from £100,000 to £2 million across two funds, so we deal with an extensive range of Northern Ireland-based SMEs from early-stage (two years plus) to well-established businesses on a growth trajectory. We have no sectoral focus, so one day you could be meeting an IT company in Ballymena and the next an engineering firm in Enniskillen. It’s interesting to meet businesses of varying degrees of complexity and to see what a difference our funding can make to their growth story. What has been your career highlight thus far? I’ve had many highlights, so it’s hard to narrow down. Over the years, I’ve worked with some great people who have taught me so much – both professionally and about myself. I’ve made lasting friendships with both past and present colleagues and had a lot of fun and laughs along the way. I’ve grown a fantastic support network and have many people I can rely on for advice and guidance. I’ve also had the privilege to meet some inspiring and passionate business leaders and to learn about their trials and triumphs along the way. If I had to choose one recent highlight, it would be winning the “Woman of Influence” award at the inaugural Northern Ireland Women’s Awards last year. How do you stay productive day in, day out? I am a morning person, so I try to start every day with exercise – either a class at the gym or a 5km run, which means that by the time I get to work, I’m wide awake and ready to go. At the start of each week, I make a list of everything I’d like to achieve that week and then allocate the tasks to each day. To keep my productivity high in the afternoon, I always try to get out at lunchtime for some fresh air and, although it’s a bit of a cliché, I drink a lot of water. I also focus on maintaining a positive work-life balance to ensure that I’m productive in the long-term. I appreciate the importance of having downtime to spend with friends and family, visiting new places and experiencing new things. What changes do you anticipate in your profession in the next five to ten years? In the short-term there will be greater digitisation with cloud-based applications becoming more prevalent, thereby leading to an increased ability to work remotely and collaborate globally. Automation will continue to rise, especially in terms of replacing repetitive and mundane tasks. In light of recent issues within the profession, there is also likely to be a requirement for increased transparency and accountability and further aligning of global accounting standards. Within business, there will likely be an increased focus on sustainability and increasing environmental awareness. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?  When I was completing my training contract, a colleague told me that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I’m not sure I agree with that statement completely, but I am a firm believer that you should not be afraid to ask questions to further your understanding. If you want to increase your knowledge, you need to be inquisitive and you shouldn’t be scared to question everything you are told. It is advice that I have shared with others many times, and I am always more than happy to answer questions put to me.

Feb 10, 2020
Member Profile

When Marie Claire McDonnell noticed that Irish Chartered Accountants in Toronto were left out in the cold, she started the Toronto Chapter. Now, she wants the new group, and her career in recruitment, to gain momentum. Tell us about your current role. I recruit mid-senior level accountants in mining, real estate, energy and technology industries in Toronto, Canada. Describe your typical day.  No two days are the same in recruitment. The focus of my role is relationship building both on the client and candidate side. I have control and influence over people’s career choices, which is very gratifying. How did your involvement with the Toronto Chapter come about? I have had a lot of success placing Irish Chartered Accountants in Toronto. In a city that networks significantly, I noticed there was no formal networking group for all the Irish Chartered Accountants I meet. When Fergal McCormack and Brian Keegan visited Toronto in March, I jumped at the opportunity to work with the Institute to set up a committee here and kick-start the Toronto Chapter. Our first event in July 2019 was a great success. We had four Irish Chartered Accountants in a panel discussion about their experiences living and working in Toronto.  What are the best and worst aspects of living in Canada? Best: the quality of life, diversity and there is always something fun going on in the city.  Worst: the winter. We get a lot of snow. I like to ski so I enjoy that side of it, but when it is still snowing mid-April, the novelty has well and truly worn off! What are your goals/plans for 2020? I would like to host three successful events with the Irish Chartered Accountants in Toronto Chapter in 2020. Career-wise, I am hoping to gain momentum in the technology industry in Toronto, which has become a major hub for talent. I recently visited the Robert Walters office in San Francisco and realised there are cross-border relationships which can be developed through our partnerships in California.  What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? The early bird catches the worm! I wake up every day at 5.30am, start work at 7am. I feel those golden hours pre-9am are crucial in providing clarity and structure around the productivity of my day. It is challenging to stay organised in recruitment, so if I have that quiet time in the morning to set my goals for the day, it allows me to be more focused. Marie Claire McDonnell is Senior Consultant at Robert Walters, Canada.

Dec 06, 2019