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Vision

Audrey Collins FCA recently returned to Ireland after six successful years working in Australia, most recently as CFO of an Australian asset manager. She speaks to Vision about her career to date and experience ‘down under’. Audrey Collins’ career has taken her to America and Australia, from the crisis in the banking world to the top of the growing asset management industry. Now, she is back home to begin the next chapter of her career. “I’m very excited about being back in Ireland at a time of economic growth and full employment. While there is uncertainty around Brexit, there is still a marked change from the country I left in 2012,” she says. Audrey initially considered a career in psychology before deciding to pursue Chartered Accountancy. “Psychology has always interested me but the career path wasn’t as clear,” she explains. “Being logically minded and good at maths, a career guidance teacher suggested that I consider accounting. I could see a career path clearly, so I chose the accounting route and joined EY as a trainee from secondary school. I subsequently completed a diploma in psychology, which confirmed that my choice in accounting was the right one.” Laying the foundations When Audrey embarked on her career in accountancy, many practices participated in the ‘commencement course’, which was in effect an accounting apprenticeship for school leavers. “EY took six trainees into the commencement course programme each year. I went to college full-time for two years and then trained in EY for a further three years to complete my five-year training contract.” Fulfilling a further ambition to travel, Audrey took the opportunity to work with EY in Chicago. “Chicago was an amazing city for young professionals, with a vibrant lifestyle and booming economy. Travel is a great way to broaden both your personal and professional horizons and is something I would highly recommend.” Audrey spent her career with EY in audit. “A lot of people complain about audit, but I found it to be an excellent training ground at every level. Very early on in your audit career, you begin to manage people and teams. The variety of clients I worked with was unparalleled – from leasing to banking to asset management organisations. You interact with clients, build relationships with senior management and help them solve problems. I didn’t want to be an auditor for life, but the training ground was excellent – from people leadership and management skills to the breadth of industry exposure.” Developing a career in industry In 2002, Audrey was approached to join EBS as Head of Internal Audit. On joining, she quickly moved through the ranks to become Head of Compliance and subsequently, Head of Finance. “I really enjoy building teams and improving capability. It’s important as a leader to have a clear vision and goals, and to help your team understand their purpose and role in achieving those goals. You need to be brave when delivering change or establishing new ways of working,” she said. “It’s important not only to bring the team on the journey, but also the stakeholders. Getting the right people into the right roles as quickly as possible is a critical lesson I’ve learned along the way. This often involves having tough conversations and it’s important to be compassionate and respectful in such situations.” While on maternity leave following the birth of her first child in 2005, Audrey was offered the Head of Finance role at EBS. “You can never predict when opportunity is going to knock. My strategy in these situations is to ask yourself whether the role will help you develop and grow. If it will, then be courageous and open the door. The timing will never be exactly as you’d like it to be and if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to what you were doing before.” As the crisis took hold on the financial services industry in Ireland, Audrey joined the EBS leadership team in 2009 and became Finance Director of the EBS-covered bond bank. The team navigated the many challenges posed by increasing credit losses and growing capital and liquidity constraints. The challenges were severe, but it was a time of great learning and growth according to Audrey. In March 2011, EBS merged with AIB. Australia calling Australia entered the scene in 2012 and Audrey and her husband took a trip to Sydney to explore the option of moving there. “We used the trip to Australia as a knowledge-gathering exercise, meeting recruiters, potential employers, friends and other ex-pats,” she says. “In addition to the fantastic lifestyle in Sydney, the economy was very strong and there was an abundance of job opportunities. In August 2012, I was offered a role in the wealth division of the Westpac Group and they sponsored us to live and work in Australia. It was a big move for the whole family, but one that has enriched us all.” Audrey spent a year in the wealth division of Westpac Group before moving into the Head of Finance role, supporting the Westpac Retail Bank. “I worked very closely with the retail bank leadership team and learned a lot about business partnering. Learning to influence people around you who don’t work for you, how to be the catalyst for change and how to drive business outcomes are key attributes to success in this type of role,” she says. “Finance professionals should aim to develop these skills as digitisation and automation replace more basic finance functions. The real value-add for finance professionals is in business partnering and being more commercially focused – this is a big part of the future of finance.” In October 2016, Audrey was head-hunted to take on a new role as CFO of Challenger Funds Management and Executive Director of the Australian Funds Management Responsible Entity. “That took me back to a smaller but fast-growing organisation with a presence in Australia, Asia and Europe. “When I look back at what I enjoyed most, it was working in smaller organisations where I could really make a difference. This role was all about finance transformation, change and partnering with the funds management business in delivering their growth strategy.” Returning home and the next chapter And then came the decision to return home to Ireland. “It’s never easy making a decision to leave a country, but we wanted our children to experience life and family in Ireland and decided to return home in time for our eldest to start secondary school,” Audrey explains. The move to Ireland has also provided Audrey with the perfect opportunity to consider the next chapter in her career as she completes the Certified Investment Fund Director course at the Institute of Bankers. “I’m enjoying some time out to settle back into life in Ireland but I’m keen to put my international experience and knowledge in advising boards and leadership teams to good use,” she concludes. You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International.

May 03, 2019
Vision

Mitchel Simpson is CFO of FPG Amentum, a leading full-service global aircraft lessor and asset manager. Mitchel recounts his fascinating career journey, from qualifying as an accountant to the heights of his current position. Indeed, he has much to discuss: Mitchel opened an office for a global transportation lender in Dublin, co-led a management buy-out and partnered with one of the largest tax equity arrangers in Japan.   Mitchel Simpson would be the first to admit that he lacked career clarity during his college years. While a career in financial services was always an option, Mitchel was involved in several small-scale ventures that would ultimately set him up well to spot opportunities as he progressed in his career. “Lessons learnt during this time, albeit on a small scale, certainly helped me with decision-making on much larger projects in the future,” he said. Mitchel followed the well-trodden path of his BComm colleagues into a Chartered Accountancy training contract but rather than join one of the Big 4, he joined a mid-sized firm where he garnered hands-on experience in a number of sectors. Mitchel subsequently joined the Bank of San Francisco, before returning to Ireland once again to take up a position in the leasing subsidiary of Rabobank, De Lage Landen, where he ultimately rose to the position of Head of Structured Asset Finance. “It was a great learning environment,” he said. “Career development was encouraged, and I had the benefit of working with tremendous people who helped me see things from a different perspective.” The early years During his time in Rabobank, Mitchel was offered the opportunity to head up the bank’s office in Edinburgh. “It gave me a huge amount of confidence and the lure of gaining experience outside Ireland was immediately appealing,” he said. The move didn’t come to pass, however, as an opportunity arose with a start-up captive aircraft lessor – an opportunity that would eventually fulfil Mitchel’s entrepreneurial interest. “The more I looked into aviation, the more interesting it became,” he said. “At that time, aircraft leasing was at a reasonably early stage of development in Dublin and there were opportunities for senior people. I took the plunge; it proved to be a great time to enter the sector and I haven’t looked back.” Amentum was then owned by a German state bank, HSH Nordbank, which was a prominent global transportation bank at the time. The company quickly grew as it supported the bank’s expanding aviation business into the operating lease sector. According to Mitchel, it was the launchpad that enabled Amentum to establish itself as one of the leading third-party asset managers in the market, supporting numerous aircraft equity investors – including its main shareholder. Following the financial collapse, however, HSH Nordbank was required to deleverage its balance sheet and divest certain sectors – including aviation. “Following a beauty parade in front of established players in the industry, it was clear that any trade sale for the business would be at distressed levels. The opportunity to acquire the company through a management buyout (MBO) quickly followed,” he said. “It will forever be that sliding door moment in my career where the MBO question changed from ‘why would we?’ to ‘why wouldn’t we?’” Building the team The new management team gave itself 24 months to steady the ship and find the right capital partner. Securing the team during a downturn was paramount. “The time and money required to invest in highly specialised people in a high turnover industry demands that you get it right and keep the team in focus. Uncertainty can be very demotivating, so the need for openness and transparency is huge.” Financial Products Group (FPG) – a Tokyo-listed equity arranger – was soon after unveiled as Amentum’s capital partner. Having started as a minority shareholder, FPG now owns 75% of the business but gives the local team the freedom to operate independently. “We were extremely lucky in many ways to find FPG. The personal fit between the two was very strong from day one,” said Mitchel. “FPG has a very progressive and innovative ethos emanating from its founder, and those key values permeate the organisation. Trust is an absolute prerequisite for any relationship, as it should be, and especially so for a new Japanese partner. Once the parties got to experience working with each other, the independence and the operational freedom quickly followed.” Indeed, this focus on trust and autonomy is synonymous with Amentum’s culture. “From day one, we built a team we directed but didn’t necessarily manage,” said Mitchel. “We operate a flat organisational structure where everyone is encouraged to take ownership and responsibility within their specific competencies. In our team, you’ll never be micromanaged and equally, you won’t walk the plank for a bad decision.” Life lessons Now an established player in Ireland’s booming aviation industry, Mitchel is quick to point out that his good career fortune is due in large part to having an excellent mentor in his younger years. “I have been very fortunate to have had a number of excellent mentors who took a genuine interest in my career. Those mentors are now good friends and I continue to seek their counsel whenever possible,” he said. “In turn, I now make a conscious effort to help or mentor people developing their careers. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I certainly know the questions that they should be asking.” Mitchel does sound a cautionary note for people building their careers, however. “Our business is truly global and people must be willing to travel extensively and even relocate abroad for periods during their career. Any reluctance to travel, in my view, can significantly limit future career opportunities – not to mention the intangibles of experiencing different cultures.” Mitchel also learned some very valuable lessons during his career, particularly with regard to decision-making. “When opportunities present themselves, don’t be afraid to make decisions,” he said. “As Chartered Accountants, we are trained to identify the risks in any opportunity and this can make us overly conservative and indecisive when confronted with major decisions. Such decisions may involve a business or career opportunity.” And his final piece of advice for his fellow Chartered Accountants? “Take the leap, all day long. Life is far too short to worry about it.” You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International.

May 03, 2019
Vision

We are delighted to support Chartered Accountants Ireland in publishing the second issue of Vision, which documents the journeys, thoughts and advice of experienced fellow members. We received enormously positive feedback from the inaugural issue, and we welcome any further feedback that will help make the next edition even more relevant. As a collective, there is no better-connected professional body than Chartered Accountants Ireland. Our colleagues have moved into industry and have been hugely successful, scattering themselves far and wide. We permeate the top echelons of business life, both in Ireland and abroad. We operate at executive level in, and often run, public and private companies, banks, insurance companies, private equity firms, consultancy firms and the list goes on. While we may highly value our professional membership, given the multitude of professional and personal demands on us, many of us do not have the time or energy to invest in fully leveraging its potential benefits. This does not mean that we are disinterested – far from it. This publication provides members with the opportunity to read and reflect upon the career paths others have taken. You might even recognise someone! For experienced members, it may help us take stock of where we are in our own careers. For more recently qualified members, the stories will hopefully provide an insight into the range of opportunities available and the exciting journey that lies ahead. My teenage son turned to me the other day and said: “Dad, in 10 years’ time accountants won’t exist, it will all be done by computers”. If this is reflective of that generation’s thinking, it will become increasingly difficult to attract the brightest and best into the sector. We all have a vested interest in keeping the Institute professional, relevant and interesting to those looking to forge a career. To attract them, we must sell the profession by telling them what we do. Most importantly, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the participants for their time spent in contributing to this publication. I owe a debt of gratitude to all. Marcus Kelly FCA Managing Director, FK International

May 03, 2019
News

Liam Dillon explains the concept of transformational leadership and its role in motivating others to achieve a shared vision.   Servant leadership is not a new concept. Indeed, the phrase ‘servant leadership’ was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”. Wise words – and words that are being adopted more and more as organisations look at transforming the role of leaders.   The idea of servant leadership is to serve those who aspire to lead and allow them to lead. So why don’t we do this more and serve rather than manage those we lead? You must take a few factors on board to make this a reality. Become a transformational leader  Rather than act in a certain way in order to gain trust and avoid the pitfalls of human nature, tap into the needs and values of people. Inspire them with new possibilities that raise confidence, conviction and desire to achieve a common, moral and motivating purpose. This is commonly referred to as ‘transformational leadership’ and is a core element of servant leadership.   Is this a risky method of leadership? Of course it is, but the value and result is one of empowerment rather than management. Is this worth doing? That question is best answered through the three characteristics of leadership:   Will your work environment support – and, more importantly, sustain – the transformational leadership ethic? Will the people that you manage respond positively to transformational leadership? Will you embrace transformational leadership and support its positive qualities? One of the key objectives for any manager is to attempt to answer these questions and then focus on servant leadership to develop these skills. Create the vision for others To be a servant leader, there must be a direction – or vision – for people to follow. The vision needs to be exciting, adapted and – most importantly – easy to connect with. If it isn’t, we become a ‘transactional transformational leader’ in a management world, i.e. we may talk the talk, but not walk the walk. The vision must be focused on those we lead.    Servant leaders understand the importance of clarifying and reinforcing the vision for their team because they know that vision isn’t about them. It’s about using an organisation’s culture and its people to capture the vision in a way that positively impacts the lives of others. When servant leaders courageously declare and pursue a vision that can only be accomplished with the help of the organisation, other people become inspired and motivated to participate in pursuing that vision as well. The vision can be ‘being an excellent team’ or, simply, ‘having fun’.   Make an impact on your team and become the transformational leader you always wanted to be.    Liam Dillon is President of Turlon & Associates, an international training and consultancy firm.  

Apr 27, 2019
News

It may be difficult to know where to start when it comes to diversity and inclusion but for those prepared to take a leap of faith, the reward can be substantial. BY DAWN LEANE Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is an increasingly significant issue for Irish business. It’s about more than the gender pay gap or public interest entities’ reporting – D&I provides a solution to two of the greatest challenges currently facing organisations: innovation and sourcing new talent. A diverse workforce improves innovation; it makes sense that the people who design and market products should be reflective of a diverse customer base. Bringing different experiences and perspectives together allows teams to challenge one another and generate new ideas. Competitive advantage Current levels of underemployment are now close to those of the pre-crisis period. In a recent survey of CEOs by PwC Ireland, 63% planned to expand their workforce while 75% said hiring is difficult. However, employers that are prepared to focus on attracting and maintaining a diverse workforce will gain a competitive advantage. In addition to finding new sources of talent, a diverse organisation will become a more attractive proposition for all candidates. Yet, many organisations focus their D&I initiatives solely on women when one of the main challenges for women is advancement rather than access. When other groups are considered, it is all too often in the context of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, rather than valuing the person's contribution. Barriers to entry Many groups of people face barriers to entering the workforce: 71% of people with disabilities in Ireland are not currently employed, for example. An ESRI report also found that despite wanting to work, people with a disability are less likely to get a job and more likely to leave employment – even when their impairment does not create difficulties with everyday activities. A report published by the CSO, based on data from the last census, highlights higher unemployment rates in the Traveller population. The majority (80%) of Travellers in the labour force are unemployed. Meanwhile, the Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market study shows that black non-Irish people are five times more likely to experience discrimination when seeking employment in Ireland compared to white Irish people. People from the black Irish group are also twice as likely to experience discrimination when seeking work. Both black non-Irish and black Irish groups are much less likely to hold a managerial or professional role. And for women, and increasingly men, who have taken time out of the workplace to care for family, their readiness in their 40s and 50s to reignite their careers is all-too-often met with resistance from potential employers. There are many other categories too – socioeconomic status, neurodiversity, and religion or ethnicity. And, of course, people aren’t only one thing – we can all identify with multiple groupings. Driving employee engagement So, why do employers overlook the benefits of greater diversity when hiring? Many are unsure how to make the transition from intention to action while others focus on potential difficulties — are they more at risk of litigation if the recruitment is unsuccessful? How will they manage and integrate people who are different? Yet, there is no evidence that more diverse organisations are subject to a greater degree of litigation from disgruntled employees. In fact, diverse workplaces experience a higher degree of employee engagement. And as for questions about the practicalities involved, there is ample support available from State agencies and voluntary organisations. Or better still, ask the candidate. Dawn Leane is Founder of Leane Leaders, specialists in diversity and inclusion and leadership development.

Apr 27, 2019
News

BY JOHN McKENZIE In a world of increasing competition, rapid technological development and political and economic uncertainties, the risks faced in almost every significant decision we take are greater than ever before. Business risk assessment is, however, most usually subjective and organisations and managers display differing attitudes and acceptance of risk.   Yet, risk sets the tone — perhaps more than any other element — for the direction and aspirations of strategic and business plans developed by management. Our perception of risk not only determines the choices we make and their success, but also the ambition (or lack of) of our aspirations.   More objectivity should be brought to business risk management. This can be achieved through a rigorous and standardised process of business case development and risk assessment — a process where the finance and accounting function is at the heart of facilitation, coordination and assessment.   A business case should consider, where appropriate:   The strategic case for change: this should cover rationale, background, policy context and strategic fit. Are there clear SMART objectives in terms of outcomes? And are dependencies, constraints and risks identified? The commercial case: is the proposal commercially feasible and deliverable? What procurement is required? Are there key contractual issues and clear milestones and delivery dates? Is risk identified, quantified and managed? What, if any, are the personnel implications? The management case: is the proposal practically deliverable and what are the delivery plans? Are there clear delivery dates and detailed milestones? Is there a contingency plan with arrangements and provision for risk management? Are benefits realistically evaluated and quantified? Does the plan include monitoring arrangements and post-implementation evaluation? The financial case: is full funding secured and budgeted? What are the impacts on the P&L account and on the balance sheet? Are potential cost over-runs provided for, and are there any contingent liabilities? Have you performed a risk-adjusted discounted cash flow with appropriate risk and funding discount rates? Are the opportunity costs of already-owned assets included? The above should be summarised as follows:   What are we proposing? How will we make it happen? Who will deliver it? When will it happen? Why should we do it at all? When pondering this final question, we should consider the balance of costs, benefits and risk to make optimal decisions. Risk evaluation To aid your risk evaluation, consider these eight risk categories:   Forecast and assumption risk: how well have you forecasted in the past? What degrees of uncertainty are there? Business and market risk: are you extending into new products and services or unfamiliar markets? What is the competitive environment? Are there supply chain/sourcing issues? Technological risk: are you employing new or unfamiliar technologies? Will technological developments outstrip your plans or make them obsolete? Implementation and cultural risk: do you have the skills and resources necessary to realise your plans? If not, can you acquire them? Are there cultural and employment impacts that might be disruptive? Economic and political risk: what is the economic outlook? Are there possible political impacts such as compliance and regulation, tariff and non-tariff barriers and so on? Optimism bias: does past history suggest that you tend to take an overly optimistic viewpoint in your expectations, forecasts and outcomes? Discontinuity risk: do you run the risk of business disruption if your plans go awry? Have you the means to mitigate disruption risks? ‘Do nothing’ risk: is the risk of doing nothing significant in terms of competitive threat, customer dissatisfaction, product or service obsolescence, loss of revenues and so on? You can think of this as a ‘negative’ risk, by which you can offset other risks when considering a risk-adjusted cash flow analysis. By using a standardised framework encompassing all of the above in your business planning and the construction of business cases, you can bring a more objective approach to the process of risk assessment. Furthermore, it allows you to review past plans and cases, and identify both what you get right and where your planning weaknesses lie. Most importantly, it enables you improve in the future.   John McKenzie is a management consultant and lecturer at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Apr 27, 2019