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Feature Interview

Alan Johnson, President of the International Federation of Accountants, shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the profession, and the priorities for his presidential term. 1. When you joined the IFAC Board in 2015, did you envisage at that time becoming President? Absolutely not. In fact, I didn’t know much about IFAC until 2011 when I was approached to consider joining the Professional Accountants in Business Committee, which I served on for five years. In 2015, ACCA, my member body, asked me whether I would consider putting myself forward for the board and quite honestly, I had never thought about that – partly because I wasn’t sure I would know what to do given that I didn’t have much knowledge of IFAC beyond my Professional Accountants in Business work. But then, having thought about it, I realised that I probably knew enough. I also realised the value of being a volunteer and giving back to the profession, a profession that had given me a good life and a good career internationally, so I decided to go for it. I knew it would be competitive, and I didn’t honestly expect to get it, but I was selected to my pleasant surprise. Then, when the call came out for board members to put their names forward in January 2018 for the Deputy President position, I didn’t put myself forward because I genuinely believed that other members of the board deserved to become President and would do a better job than me. But things developed by mid-2018 and I was again asked to consider putting myself forward. It was quite late in the process, but I put my hat in the ring. As they say, the rest is history. I was appointed Deputy President and the more I learnt about the role, the more I felt confident in the role so that, by the time the election for the presidency came around, I felt I was ready. So, that’s what happened. It wasn’t planned or envisaged. I never expected to get on the board of IFAC, let alone become Deputy President or President, but sometimes things work out. 2. And how has the work of IFAC changed over the five years of your involvement? The profession faces many challenges, as do all professions today. Number one, we have the scrutiny of the regulators concerning the quality of audit. Sadly, corporate failures will always bring the spotlight onto the audit profession, whether we like it or not. Failures – and I would not necessarily call them audit failures because it is not as if the audit itself failed – arise for various reason, including for example when management deliberately keeps information away from auditors. Now, that is not a good enough excuse to the public because every corporate failure leads to significant loss of jobs, loss of livelihoods, loss of value to investors, and damage to the society in which businesses operate. So, I don’t want to minimise corporate failure; it’s quite serious, and we have an important role in helping prevent it as part of a broader ecosystem. We also have to demonstrate that we operate ethically, that we act independently, and we do our best to provide independent, high-quality assurance on financial statements. We, therefore, spend a lot of time reinforcing the importance of ethical behaviour, independence and judgement. There’s a firm commitment to operate with sound and robust independence in what we do. The other thing I would say is that we talk about the auditors when it comes to corporate failure, but we should also think about the professional accountants in the business who are responsible for performance, oversight, risk and governance. We must look at ourselves from within the corporate entities and ask: where are we as professional accountants, and is this a situation where we should blow the whistle? That’s where the profession plays a vital role and that’s why the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, which covers not just accountants in practice but also accountants in business and the public sector, are essential as we support our professionals and encourage them to speak out when that is needed and necessary. You know, we talk a lot about the public interest, but if you asked me 30 years ago, when I was CFO of one of Unilever’s subsidiaries, if my job was a public interest role, I probably would have said no. We have a big role to play in explaining what public interest really means. I think the auditors get it, but I’m not sure whether professional accountants in organisations understand that they have a critical role in protecting the public interest. Yes, they are employees of an organisation. Yes, they are paid by the organisation. And yes, their careers are often dependent on those organisations. But since I got involved with IFAC, I have become aware that I’ve always had a “public interest” role. I always acted in the public interest, but I would not have defined that part of my role as it needs to be clearly defined, especially today in a world of multi-stakeholder capitalism. So, we have a significant role to play through our member bodies to ensure that our professional accountants understand their unique roles in protecting the public interest. And part of that is making sure that private enterprises operate correctly, ethically, within the law, and do everything that is right for society – not just what is right for shareholders. 3. For many professional accounting organisations, volunteers tend to come from public practice. Given your extensive background in industry, what does the perspective of an accountant in business bring to IFAC’s standard-setting and industry-convening roles? It’s an interesting question because that was precisely what I had in mind when I had concerns about whether I would be of any use on the IFAC board. Having said that, in all the roles I have had in business, I have always interacted with the profession. I was on the other side of discussions with auditors for many years. I was on selection panels to select auditors. I was the Chief Audit Executive at Unilever for six years and in that time, I engaged regularly with our external auditors. Even though I don’t come from that part of the profession, I understand what they do, what they need, how they operate, their challenges, and their critical role in society. And that’s why I have been able to contribute to the discussions in the Monitoring Group – because I understand the role standard-setting boards play as part of building trust and confidence in financial markets. When I joined the IFAC board, many colleagues came from the audit and assurance side of the profession. Today, we have a much better balance of people from business and the public sector while retaining expertise from the audit and assurance profession and improving the level of representation for small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) on the standard-setting boards and IFAC’s advisory groups. If there is one thing we should feel proud of, it is how much more diverse the board is today. I thrive in working with diversity. As a person, you learn a lot more; you become a better leader; you become a better person. By the way, diversity of thought, views, expressions and debate around the table will, more often than not, improve outcomes. 4. A feature of Chartered Accountants Ireland’s membership is the relatively high proportion of our members working overseas. What supports should professional accounting organisations offer to their overseas members to encourage loyalty to their qualification while maintaining standards? I worked extensively in Europe, Africa and Latin America during my career, but I always had a strong affinity with Ireland through my early career in Unilever when I visited Dublin and other cities frequently. It’s a unique country that has always been a top talent provider around the world and Chartered Accountants Ireland is no exception. The Chartered Accountants Ireland qualification is highly sought-after, so it’s no surprise that there are so many Irish Chartered Accountants working worldwide, either because their companies have moved them or they sought opportunities abroad. When I look at where we are today, the three things that stand out for me are ethics, leadership and governance. Professional accountancy organisations need to equip their members with these skills wherever they are in the world because reputation takes years to build but can be lost in a flash. We need to protect the profession’s reputation, which boils down to ethics, leadership and governance. It’s also about courage and confidence. So, when I look at what our member bodies need to do, they not only need to support their existing members, they also need to attract the brightest, best and most committed people into the profession because we are a profession of people. Robots and machines might help us be more efficient in some areas, but most of what we do is people-centred and requires good judgement. It’s essential, therefore, that we remain an attractive profession for the next generation. If I look back at my memories of the profession, I think of long hours, hard work, no work/life balance, travelling a lot if you’re in audit and assurance, terrible for families, terrible for working mothers. Your career might pause if you’re a working mother and you take maternity leave or time away to look after young kids – that role that is still more typically assumed by women, although that is changing. As a result, the accountancy profession is not a natural first port of call for the next generation who want better work/life balance. So we must find new ways of doing what we do – not only more efficiently, but doing different things and often in different ways to make our profession attractive. I think accountancy remains very attractive and when I look at the statistics, we are a growing profession. Many young people in many countries are coming through the professional qualification so we can attract them, and that’s great – but we also have to retain them. Purpose is a critical element in achieving that. Young Chartered Accountants want to work for an ethical company, as we all do. It’s is not just about rapid career advancement; they want to see the purpose and the impact their organisation – and by extension, they themselves – can have on society. Young people are thinking about purpose much more than I did 40 years ago. It means much more to them, and they will form their views about whom they want to work with, where they want to work, and what work they want to do based on the ethos and the purpose of organisations. And to go back to the point about the public interest, if we can make it clear why our profession is truly a public interest profession, we will remain a very attractive profession in the future. 5. Your predecessor, Professor In-Ki Joo, described the Monitoring Group’s challenges as “among the most difficult circumstances” in his memory. What opportunities do you see for IFAC as the Monitoring Group’s work takes effect? As you know, the Monitoring Group is a group of international institutions and regulatory bodies that are working to advance the public interest in areas related to international audit standard-setting, audit quality and ethics. The initial Monitoring Group discussions started in May 2015, before I joined the IFAC board, and it remains a feature today.  Today we’re in a much better place, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There will be some changes to the structure of the standard-setting boards and the process to select standard-setting board members. But whatever the outcome is, I think there is a clear recognition that the profession has developed high-quality standards for auditors, professional accountants and the public sector. The question is how we move forward in a changing environment with more agility, more speed, and more diversity – that’s what we’re discussing now. IFAC and its member bodies will continue to play an important role in the standard-setting process. Why do I say that? First of all, we have the knowledge and expertise. We are either the preparers, users or assurers, so we must have a role because we understand what good standards look like. That’s accepted by the Monitoring Group and the other players, including the PIOB (Public Interest Oversight Board) and the standard-setting board chairs. We also have to play a critical role in adopting and implementing international standards. A standard-setting board can write excellent standards, go through the due process, get them developed and get them approved – but indeed international standard-setters have no force of law. Standards need to be adopted and implemented by national standard-setters. That is where our profession comes in and why the profession has to stay connected to the standard-setting process, provide good quality resources to the standard-setting board and the technical teams that do the work, and – an even bigger job – facilitate adoption and implementation in jurisdictions around the world. IFAC will clearly have a very important role in standard-setting and an even more important role in making sure that the standards get used. A standard is worth very little if it’s never implemented; sometimes we forget that.  I am much more confident today that we have the right framework in place to have proper and fruitful discussions. There is also the right understanding of each player’s relevant and relative roles, and there is an acceptance that we all have important roles to play in delivering high-quality international standards that are adopted across the world. That’s the objective of all of us, and there is no argument or disagreement about that. 6. IFAC is actively promoting the development of coherent standards for ESG. Are there pitfalls as well as opportunities for accountants as these standards are developed? First of all, we need a truly international approach to ESG standards. At the moment, we have fragmentation with five or six bodies working on different elements of ESG standards. It isn’t joined up, and there’s no mandate to deliver. Like audit and assurance standards or accounting standards, we need a framework and structure to develop international ESG standards. Some time ago, we concluded that the IFRS Foundation had a role to play because it has credibility, capacity, resources, and a proven track record in delivering internationally accepted standards. IFAC put out a call to action in September, which outlined the importance of one body taking responsibility for setting standards. It cannot continue to remain in the hands of five or six independent bodies without the capacity, resources, funding, and authority to deliver. The paper called for a new sustainable standards-setting board under the umbrella of the IFRS to take responsibility for developing credible, international sustainability standards that can be adopted widely across the world. Why? Because there’s an increasing demand for all organisations to report against a consistent set of high-quality standards. The demand from society, investors, stakeholders, suppliers, customers and employees is that companies deliver against a set of high, internationally comparable standards. It goes back to the point of purpose. Whether in our profession or other professions, the next generation will want to work for companies that take this seriously. It’s one thing to say that we will deliver against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but the hard truth is: how do we know we’re getting there? Where’s the measurement, and against what measures? Are they consistent measures? How do we know that what a company is reporting is authentic, is accurate? That’s where our profession has an important role to play on both sides, both as preparers who help organisations implement the necessary processes and as accountants in practice who provide independent assurance over, and audit, what is reported to give credibility. As a profession, the pitfall will be if we aren’t up to the mark in helping organisations implement the reporting regimes to meet the new standards. If we don’t do that, somebody else will. That might be a pitfall, but I see it more as an opportunity – not necessarily a commercial opportunity, more an opportunity for our profession to play our rightful role in ensuring that organisations become more sustainable and helping society, in general, become more sustainable. This all links back very strongly to the concept of the public interest, which I have mentioned several times. Wherever you go, you will find a link to our role in the public interest – and this is a critical public interest role we must fulfil. That’s why I see it as an opportunity, but a pitfall if we fail. And if we fail, we have not fulfilled our public interest mandate and therefore don’t have a right to speak out on issues. 7. What other areas of focus would you like to bring to bear during your tenure as IFAC president? Beyond the important points I’ve already discussed, I have canvassed intensely for increased professionalism in the public sector. I was on the board of the UK Department for International Development for just over two years and during that time, I chaired the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee. That period really shaped my awareness of how higher levels of professionalism, particularly in terms of the accountancy profession, could make a massive difference to the public sector. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, and I want to drive that agenda much harder during my presidency. And we are starting from a position of strength, as we now have great public sector representation on the IFAC board. When I joined I think there was one public sector member; we now have four out of 22 and many more on our advisory groups. Another area of focus is what I call ‘Save the SMEs’. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are critical to every economy, large or small. Big corporates get lots of attention, but we often forget that big corporates not only rely on SMEs, but a significant part of their supply chain is also made up of SMEs. The largest employer worldwide is the SME sector, so we need to save the SMEs by ensuring that they have access to high-quality professional accountants. We can do that by advocating to ensure that they employ professional accountants, and ensuring that the SMPs that support them have a high profile on our agenda. Who is Alan Johnson? Alan Johnson became IFAC President in November 2020, having previously served as Deputy President from 2018-2020 and as a board member since November 2015. He was nominated to the IFAC board by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Alan is a former non-executive director of Jerónimo Martins SGPS, SA, a food retailer with operations in Portugal, Poland, and Colombia, having completed his board mandate in 2016. He is currently the independent chair of the company’s Internal Control Committee. Previously, Alan was Chief Financial Officer of Jerónimo Martins from 2012 to 2014. Between 2005 and 2011 he served as Chief Audit Executive for the Unilever Group. Alan also served as Chief Financial Officer of Unilever’s Global Foods businesses and worked for Unilever for 35 years in various finance positions in Africa, Europe and Latin America. Alan was a member of the IFAC Professional Accountants in Business Committee between 2011 and 2015, a member of the ACCA’s Market Oversight Committee between 2006 and 2012 and chair of the Accountants for Business Global Forum until 2018. He was a member of the board of Gildat Strauss Israel between 2003 and 2004. Alan is the chair of the board of governors of St. Julian’s School in Portugal and chairs its Finance and Bursaries Committees. In October 2016, he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the International Valuation Standards Council and chairs its audit committee. Between July 2018 and September 2020, he was a non-executive director of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and chaired its Audit and Risk Assurance Committee. In January 2021, he joined the board of Imperial Brands plc as a non-executive director. Source: The International Federation of Accountants.

Feb 08, 2021
Feature Interview

Six Chartered Accountants assess the events of the past year and consider what could lie ahead as the New Year approaches.2020 has changed the trajectory of many lives. Some have seen their careers go in unexpected directions while others have adjusted to the new working world around them. No-one can say that they have escaped unscathed by the events of this year, personally or professionally. Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, Jude Fay, Declan Walsh, Fiona Byrne, Henry Duggan and Jennifer Harrison explain their challenges and triumphs from 2020, the changes to their personal and professional lives during the pandemic, and their predictions for the New Year. Remote working goes mainstream For Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, author and activist shareholder, 2020 has taken him away from the office, colleagues, family and friends, but a changing business world had prepared him for remote working. When COVID-19 announced itself on the world, I had already been a member of the remote working community for a number of years. When I started working in my native Killarney after returning from London, I was able to take advantage of the strong communication network in Kerry, the two direct flights a day to London and a good rail connection to Dublin. As a director of an activist fund that has invested in quoted companies across Europe and being involved in a number of early-stage businesses in Ireland and France, I was still able to conduct business from a distance.  Remote working, of course, has now become more mainstream. This has been facilitated by the rapid growth in shared office providers across the country and the ‘internationalisation’ of rural Ireland. The opening of the Box CoWork space in Killarney, combined with an emerging coffee culture in the town, has given me access to a community of similar-minded people. The enforced lockdowns have brought a major change to my work life; no office, no travel, no coffee. Of course, this is a minor inconvenience next to the impact the pandemic has had on many other people’s lives. But, COVID-19 has not just impacted negatively on my work life. I have not met some close friends and colleagues in nearly ten months, including the parents of one of my godchildren, and I am unlikely to meet them for another six.  However, there have been compensations. I was able to put the final touches to my first book – Crowdfunding the Revolution: The First Dáil Loan and the Battle for Irish Independence, the story of the founding and funding of the well-known start-up called Ireland. Going forward, I expect some structural changes in the post-pandemic world; more remote working, less international travel and a greater appreciation for the environment. Humans are social animals and we will adapt as necessary.  It is important that the Government continues to provide support to SMEs, in particular the retail, pub, restaurant and wider tourism sector. We need to ensure those businesses make it through to the other side. Embrace transformation Jude Fay, a psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice in Co. Kildare, considers the challenges and opportunities faced by the mental health sector this year and outlines the important changes she plans to make in the years ahead. Previously, psychotherapy services, therapist training and CPD were mostly delivered in person. Like other industries, we have had to adapt to providing services online. Psychotherapy can be delivered online, but it is not the same. We lose some of the visual clues, such as body language. However, the transformations are not all bad. There is greater awareness of the importance of mental health. For some, online access makes it easier to engage, both practically and emotionally. Services online do not rely on physical proximity. For practitioners or clients in rural areas, this offers greater choice. But since the pandemic began, I have been very aware of a free-floating grief, and hear others in the profession saying the same. A sense of confidence and certainty has been lost. While, intellectually, we know the future is always uncertain, the pandemic has brought that uncertainty much closer. COVID-19 losses are not just the obvious ones. I believe this pandemic is an opportunity to reflect on what is important, to look at where our lives have become unmanageable and take action to change that. Personally, the biggest impact has been the inconvenience and a restriction of my normal movements. A couple of friends contracted the virus but, thankfully, I have not lost anyone to it. A good friend died in April, and I was unable to attend the funeral. My mother was hospitalised shortly before, and again during, the lockdown, and the family was unable to visit her. Those experiences were very hard.  On a lighter note, I turned 60 this year and had many plans for celebrating, most of which had to be shelved. I should be preparing to travel to South America, but clearly that’s not going to happen! Going forward, I will look for the joy in each day and be mindful of my many blessings. I will connect more with loved ones, let small things go, and appreciate my good health.  Adjust accordingly Declan Walsh, founder of Deferno Solutions, the Chartered Accountants Northwest Society and The Neurology Support Centre, reflects on the drastic changes the charity sector was forced to undertake in 2020 and what all organisations should look forward to in 2021. COVID-19 has, and will continue to, negatively impact the charity sector. Not only has it had an impact on the charities’ ability to fundraise, but the more direct impact has been on the actual provision of services to the end-user. Over the next 12 months, charities will have to think differently about how services can be provided. New service delivery platforms will become the new short-term norm. While not ideal, the move to online service provision is becoming necessary and differing skillsets are needed. At the Neurology Support Centre, we have just launched, in conjunction with Spectrum Life, an online counselling and wellbeing service for users and their families, which provides 24/7 confidential access to a range of services. Strategic planning, both from a business and charity perspective, has been turned upside down over the past year. The five-year plan is now often replaced by a five-month or five-week plan. However, it is critical that board and management teams review their long-term goals and make sure that the short-term goals are equally aligned. The near future will continue to be uniquely challenging as we emerge slowly from COVID-19 restrictions, restart the economy, and deal with Brexit. However, this change to a new norm has, in many cases, provided time to reflect on what may be a person’s main motivator in life. Ultimately, it is all about people, connecting directly, listening, understanding and being more empathic and, perhaps, relegating the necessary, but invisible, forms of instant communication and social media to a more secondary place. Whether as the founder of a charity, or as a financial advisor, the same rules apply. You must not only listen, but also hear what is being said, and adapt accordingly. Find value in community relationships Fiona Byrne, Director of James Byrne & Company, has found that, while this year has presented challenges, it has also strengthened her relationships with her clients, community and colleagues, and given her a better work-life balance. Our industry was transformed overnight – the move to remote working has definitely been the most significant challenge. The majority of our team had previously operated entirely from the office, so there was an immediate need for IT infrastructure to be mobilised to our teams’ homes. This added to the uncertainty and stress at the time. Luckily, we had already begun the process before COVID-19 hit. It is incredible how people across the age spectrum and industries have been able to adapt and demonstrate an agility that, perhaps, we knew we had but never truly tested before.  Despite this, we all miss the social aspects of the traditional office environment, of course. Although technology keeps us in touch, the lack of daily in-person contact has been tough and I am very conscious of the mental health and wellbeing of our team. Assuming this is the new normal, we need to work on how we can continue to build our office culture while taking in these new ways of working. The current circumstances have really demonstrated the value in relationships, and I take great pride in the fact that my company has offered support to both our clients and community.  Looking at my own life, remote working allows for additional flexibility, less time is spent commuting and more time is spent with my family. I have noticed that as our professional and personal worlds have become blurred, people were extremely accepting and understanding. At the end of the day, we all have various family commitments and the fact that everyone went through this together meant that we all learned a little bit more about each other.  2021 looks challenging but, hopefully, the New Year will bring a fresh sense of optimism and new ideas. As we approach Christmas, I am mindful that we will need to be focused on people taking a break – it is clear we all need to refresh.  On the whole, the combination of virtual working and people’s adaptability is a positive development for our industry, and new innovative ideas will emerge that allow us to be fully compliant and work more efficiently. I believe remote working is here to stay and, if used properly, will allow accountants to become more efficient and have a better work-life balance.  Secure a different future Jennifer Harrison, sole practitioner at Jennifer Harrison Chartered Accountants, left the security of a “guaranteed monthly income” to set out on her own in September, leading her to walk down a more fulfilling professional path. The pandemic has probably been one of the biggest life-changing events for me professionally. Like many others, 2020 started full of optimism, working in full-time employment with the opportunity of promotion in sight. This pandemic threw a spanner in the works with cutbacks, increased workload and home-schooling. I was forced to re-evaluate the priorities in my life, allowing me the opportunity to see a different future professionally. I was a firm believer that security was in the form of a guaranteed monthly income, but this year has proven that nothing is guaranteed. Life is full of curveballs and we need to learn to change and adapt as they come.   This change in perspective encouraged me to set up my own practice. It has only been a few months since I opened my doors, but I can already see the benefits along with a steady increase in interest and commitment from new and future clients. Although the pandemic has prevented the face-to-face interaction with clients, it has allowed many clients to experiment with online communication, expanding my customer base. It has also allowed me to work alongside some amazing organisations, offering online support to businesses in Donegal. This is something I really enjoy doing and now, I hope to expand my business to include online training and support as a standard service (but it’s early days).   I have to say, this year has been challenging personally. Restricting movements, fear for the health of my loved ones, reducing my social life and so on, but it has taken me down another, more fulfilling path professionally. This is a big step for me, which is scary and exciting all at once. Utilise the tools you have Henry Duggan, Managing Director of EMEA Financial Services at FTI Consulting, has found that the agile nature of his job was ready-made for remote working, leading to greater collaboration and creativity on his team. COVID-19 has highlighted the need for flexible solutions to meet client demands. My work primarily focuses on sensitive, multi-jurisdictional investigations relating to money laundering, terrorist financing and breaches of international sanctions. My organisation has been extremely proactive in exploring how technology can facilitate such investigations during the current pandemic and been very successful in that respect. My team is leading multiple remote investigations across many jurisdictions, and COVID-19 has emphasised the need to embrace new ways of working and think about more creative tools and solutions. I relocated from the Middle East in March, so I have worked from home since then. FTI Consulting has invested in forensic technology, which has ensured that I (and my team) have been able to continue conducting our investigations work since then. Notwithstanding the inability to socialise and travel, I have found that my ability to respond to client needs has been unaffected due to advances in this firm’s forensic technology. And, while normal face-to-face interaction has been lost during the pandemic, I have found that many colleagues have embraced virtual meetings, and this has led to greater collaboration and creativity. Sure, the casual coffee chats and unexpected catch-ups have been lost, but productivity has increased in my view. Personally, given the agile nature of the work that I conduct, I don’t anticipate any major changes in the coming year. The biggest change that I have experienced so far is in relation to conferences and seminars. Previously, I would travel to other countries to deliver lectures on financial crime and money laundering. However, the increased prevalence of webinars has been refreshing and has reinforced the importance of distance and blended learning. The tools are there if you’re prepared to adapt and use them.

Dec 01, 2020
Feature Interview

Enda Gunnell FCA had a successful career in corporate advisory but the entrepreneurial impulse was always there. When the opportunity to start his own company presented itself, he couldn’t turn it down, writes Barry McCall.There aren’t many successful companies based on a business model of selling less product to its customers, but that pretty much sums up the Pinergy strategy. Established in 2013 to provide electricity on a pay-as-you-go basis to budget-conscious households, Pinergy has evolved to become a purpose-driven business with a mission to help customers reduce their electricity consumption by providing them with ‘energy with insights’.Founder and CEO Enda Gunnell began his career as a Chartered Accountant with Mazars but entrepreneurship was probably always in his DNA. “My family had a shop and filling station on the outskirts of Roscrea,” he explains. “I was raised in a business environment and we all had to put our shoulders to the wheel to help out.”The varied and challenging life of a Chartered AccountantBut his pathway to accountancy was certainly not mapped out from an early age. “I was surprised when I was accepted for a place in UCD Commerce,” he says with a degree of self-deprecation. “I was the first member of my family to go to college. I got in because my matric maths mark got me a few extra points. When I went to UCD, I did work experience with a local accountant in Roscrea during the summers and other breaks. I gravitated towards the Chartered Accountancy route.”He says he got a bit fed up with the ‘milk round’ recruitment interviews but was still offered a training contract with Rawlinson Hunter which went on to become Mazars. “I stayed with them for 23 years and ended up working with the then-Managing Partner Joe Carr in the consulting team doing corporate advisory work. That was always my type of work; I enjoyed it more than audit. I really liked working with SME owner/managers. You get a chance to form a relationship with them. They might have 50 employees but no one to talk to.”He also worked on some major projects during the years, including a strategic review of the GAA and a review of Irish banks’ loan books for Blackrock which was working on behalf of the Troika at the time.Interesting though these projects were, they couldn’t really compare to an assignment in Lithuania on behalf of the World Bank. “It was just after the country had gained independence from the former Soviet Union. One night, I was approached in the office lobby in Vilnius by an armed man who asked me to value some uranium for him. His English wasn’t very good, and my Lithuanian was even worse, but I managed to say thanks but no thanks. When I think about that, I always remember something that Joe Carr said about the varied and challenging life of a Chartered Accountant.”The start of PinergyHe believes the entrepreneurial impulse was always there to one extent or another. “When I was working with owner/managers, helping them take their businesses to the next level, it was always in the back of my mind that I would like to do it myself. I was open to the opportunity for a long time, I just didn’t know what it was. I knew I wanted to get out of the dugout and onto the pitch and try it.”As often happens, the stars aligned to create the opportunity. “A set of circumstances came together,” says Gunnell. “The funding was available, the market conditions were right, and the idea was there. I figured someone would give me a job if it didn’t work out. I had come across the pay-as-you-go electricity space a few years previously and then met someone in the electricity market and another person interested in funding a start-up in the space. I put the three together. Everyone needs electricity; the country was on its knees. The regulator was telling electricity retailers that there must be a better way to provide the service. Pay-as-you-go already had 15% of the UK market but had almost no share here.“The technology was there in a box ready to roll out and we had the other elements in place. We weren’t reinventing the wheel. The technology and the model were already being used around the world. It was of its time, and we were introducing it in a recessionary market. It took a little while to get going. We had to do a lot of work before we could sell a single kilowatt. We had to integrate the technology with the existing market and systems. It’s a regulated industry so you can’t just do it your way.”The next stage was to go out and sell. “We got a sales team together. As an accountant, I liked the idea of variable costs. We had the sales team knocking on doors and we paid them if they made a sale. We didn’t have fixed overheads. We were rewarding success. Back then, we sold everything through the Payzone platform. I remember driving around Dublin going into shops buying Pinergy credit to make sure the platform worked. Our original plan didn’t have TV ads or brand ambassadors, but we had to do that in the end. We had to learn how to build a brand and I found myself on sets watching TV commercials being made. Today, Pinergy supplies businesses and homes with clean energy as well as insights to give clarity and knowledge to help them change how they use energy.”Creating a sustainable futurePinergy is now a purpose-driven brand. “I believe everyone has a role to play in creating our sustainable energy future,” says Gunnell. “The energy market in Ireland hasn’t really changed in years. The market has not been responding nearly enough. We realised five years ago that the whole industry was fixated on price. It was a bit conflicted in how it approached sustainability. The traditional business model in the retail space is getting paid for kilowatts used and wasted. There is no incentive to encourage customers to be more sustainable and reduce their consumption.”Pinergy was the first company in Ireland to use smart meters. “We showed that by using smart technology, consumers could reduce their electricity usage. We began to view the smart meter as an energy-saving device. Then we started looking at LED lights. They use 80% less electricity than incandescent bulbs, but they were very expensive back then. We knocked on people’s doors and offered to sell them at the wholesale price and use the smart meter to recoup the cost over the next two or three years.”While innovative offers like that won the company customers and admirers, it was all too easy for those customers to switch to another provider with a discount offer. “The regulator’s main mandate is to look after consumers. That makes it very easy to switch.”That saw the company evolve its strategy to look beyond domestic consumers. Initially, the focus was on apartment blocks to get the contracts to supply the common areas as well as gain access to residents. After that came the move into the commercial market. “We were in the electricity sales business, but we wanted to sell less electricity to individual customers. The way we see it, if we can partner with a new customer to save 30% or 40% of their electricity consumption that still means we are selling more electricity overall. When we moved into the commercial market, we realised SMEs could be paying 20% more for their electricity than a householder across the road. We took our smart meter technology and pricing model and sought to apply the same principles to the commercial market.”The energy with insight model gives customers the ability to analyse and understand how and where they use electricity in their business. “For example, a retailer with five branches gets the data from the smart meters on a single portal and they can compare and analyse the usage patterns in the different locations and get insights to help them reduce energy consumption. One of our customers owns a warehouse which closes at 6pm every day, but was still using half as much electricity in the evenings as it was in the daytime. They found that equipment was being left on and were able to make immediate savings.”Immediacy is the key. “Rather than wait for a bill two months after the event, we put real-time data in customers’ hands and give them the ability to take control of their consumption. After that, we can talk about other technologies like LED lighting, microgeneration and heat pumps and so on. Instead of selling a commodity, we want to create an advisory relationship-led business. It’s the same principle as when I was in practice, helping customers to meet their business objectives.”But competitive advantage is fleeting. “All of our electricity comes from renewable sources. This is now taken for granted by our customers,” says Gunnell. “That’s a lesson in business, the market keeps changing and customer expectations change, and you’ve got to keep taking it a step further or others catch up.”The impact of COVID-19The business is now strongly profitable. “We started with a single product in 2013 in an intensely competitive business. The ability to generate a return in the electricity space is all about gaining critical mass. We have installed around 60,000 smart meters around the country but have about 30,000 domestic customers now. The cost of customer acquisition is very high. 2018 was a turning point for us. Our financial performance in 2018 was a negative EBITDA of €3.3 million. Then we transitioned into the commercial space and in 2019 that changed to a positive EBITDA of almost €300,000. For this year, we were projecting €3 million before COVID-19.”While COVID-19 will have had an impact, the business will emerge from the year in a very good position. “We don’t want to supply everybody. Our only interest is in those who want to be more sustainable and efficient, and we will have a significant share in particular sectors.”The COVID-19 impact could have been quite severe though. “The government had said the lights would stay on,” Gunnell points out. “That meant electricity suppliers couldn’t cut people off. We were worried that people would be slow to pay their bills or wouldn’t pay them at all. The way the wholesale market is regulated, we would have had to pay for electricity even if it wasn’t used. Fortunately, that situation was addressed. Working capital was a concern for us but we had been approved for a loan under the government Credit Guarantee Scheme early in the crisis so that helped. Other government and Revenue schemes helped our working capital.”Despite the challenges, there have been positive aspects. “It’s been a really intensive period. We had to respond with quick decision-making and really good staff communications. I enjoyed it, to be honest. COVID-19 has changed how business will be done forever. We told people to continue to work from home if they wanted to after we reopened in June. Even when we do go back fully, 80% of our staff have said they would like to work from home one or two days a week and some of them would like to work from home all the time. We have to look at how we care for the welfare of our people. That will be much more challenging when we don’t have daily contact and those water cooler conversations.”For the immediate future, the company is introducing a number of new innovations for customers. These include Lifestyle, a billing offer for families which guarantees discounted energy prices at the times they use most.Another is a smart charging product for electric vehicles which will allow the vehicle to communicate with the grid and select the cheapest time to charge. “Ultimately, there will even be times when there is excess power on the grid when users will be paid to use electricity,” Gunnell adds.“Instead of ‘there’s a bill two months later and pay it or we’ll cut you off’, we want to change the nature of how consumers are treated and continue the journey towards a sustainable, carbon-free electricity future.”

Sep 30, 2020
Feature Interview

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
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

Three Chartered Accountants talk to Accountancy Ireland about what worked and what didn’t in 2020, and the changes they have made to ensure success in both their work and personal lives in 2021. As we moved into 2021, so did the pandemic, lockdowns and working from home. Three members of Chartered Accountants Ireland – Larissa Feeney, CEO of Accountants Online; Maeve Hunt, Associate Director at Grant Thornton; and Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB – describe what made their 2020 difficult, how they overcame those challenges, and what they hope to change this year. Goal-setting and disconnecting Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online, has found that making realistic goals and not loading up her task list has kept her going during the pandemic. As a company, we were lucky when the pandemic hit as we were accustomed to remote working and automation, but adapting to working from home during a lockdown is challenging for everyone. I put a routine in place from early on: get up at 6.30am to do some reading, yoga and meditation before going for a walk. I am ready for work at 9am. If I keep to that routine consistently, it keeps me focused for the day and on an even keel.  Every Sunday evening, when I am relaxed, I set out all my weekly goals – both work and personal – and there is a great satisfaction to ticking those off during the week. At the start, I tried to motivate myself by putting lots of things on the list but that only served to make me feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious, so I ensure the list is realistic and follows SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) principles. All my weekly goals contribute towards my monthly goals, my annual goals and my five-year goals. I know that I have higher energy in the early part of the week, so I take on the harder tasks during those days.  I have three children at home, so homeschooling means that you can’t give both home or work life 100%, but we are all doing our best. We have to go easy on ourselves and know that we cannot operate at the same level as before the pandemic, but we will get back to those levels one day.  To disconnect, I read in the evenings – but books that are good for the soul, rather than the business and leadership books I read in the mornings. Walking and getting out in the fresh air always helps. At home, a different person makes the lunch and the dinner every day and we take turns to pick a family movie to watch together.  Apart from ‘getting back to normal’, what I would like to change this year is the further evolution and development of the team and further investment in automation and innovation. Personally, I will continue to work on the home/business divide, which can always do with improvement. Stick with a routine in 2021  Maeve Hunt, Director of Audit and Assurance at  Grant Thornton, first thought the same day-to-day routine would get her down, but it has proved to be a winning habit.  When the pandemic hit last March, we scrambled to leave our offices and head home with monitors under the arm (quite literally) to enter this new way of working. For many, it was a balancing act of working at home in shifts and looking after children. For others, it was an isolating moment in time with no one sharing their working environment. What we needed was a new ‘routine’ of working. Is there a word that is more uninspiring and dull than ‘routine’?  It is a word we want to escape from. We want to travel the world and hide from routine, and seek exciting new opportunities. Can we be creative if we are in a routine?  If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s that routine may be dull, but it is familiar and dependable. A good routine has been key in order to live a somewhat enjoyable and productive working and personal life through the pandemic.  What worked for me was starting my working day earlier, taking an extended break in the middle of the day to ensure I homeschool my five-year-old and play with my two-year-old.  Inevitably, this meant working at night but I found that the shorter, focused periods of work I was completing actually made me more productive. That became a good motivator for me. What I found most challenging in that first lockdown period was how easy it was to go from day to day without talking to another member of my team. I quickly realised that the part I loved most about my job, and missed most during the health crisis, was collaboration.  Scheduling a daily chat with a member of the team has really helped with this. These social calls have helped me disconnect and give me energy for the rest of the working day.  So where do we go from here? There are many things I would change about the last year, but I think I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sticking to a routine that offers a bit of variety. It may not be the traditional working day in the office, but it is all about balance.  It is ensuring you disconnect in the day and take extended breaks. The beauty of working at home is the ability to get back time, cutting out commutes, inevitable down time and unproductive moments in the office. Use this time! Use it to clear your head, go for a walk, read a book, play with the kids. You will be all the more productive for it. A few tweaks to that dreaded routine, which we believe kills all imagination, might end up providing us with enthusiasm and energy for our daily life.   The importance of connections and disconnection  Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB, has gone into 2021 wanting to reconnect with his colleagues and knowing the importance of leaving work behind at the end of the day. I was fortunate in that I had been able to work from home a few days each month before the COVID-19 crisis, so it wasn’t a completely new experience to me. However, there’s a big difference between doing it occasionally and working remotely on a permanent basis.  From the start, I’ve made sure to form and try to keep a daily routine, similar to what I did when I was in the office. I get up at the same time each day, try to start and finish at the same time, as well as taking breaks and lunch around the same as I would have done in the office. I have found that really helps to maintain some sort of difference between work and home.  Working on my own all day, I do miss the social interaction of work. At the start of the pandemic, like most, I tried group zoom calls and quizzes but, as we all know, it’s hard to have group discussions via video call. Instead, I now make the point of scheduling a short video call each week with a colleague or friend to have a coffee and a chat and that does help keep in touch with people. I’m fortunate to have a spare room to work from so I can close the door in the evening and try to leave work behind. However, it can be difficult to switch off when you’re just walking from one room to another at the end of the day. The commute between the office and home was useful to disconnect from work-mode and I do miss that break between home and work. I now take a short walk in the evening after I finish work. That 20 minutes really helps me to disconnect. Plus, my dog is delighted with all the walks he is getting these days.

Feb 09, 2021
Member Profile

Suzie Arbuthnot ACA, the winner of BBC’s Best Home Cook, discusses life as a parent, entrepreneur, and TV presenter.Earlier this year, you were crowned BBC’s Best Home Cook, how did that come about?Back in 2017, I entered the Great British Bake Off. I was first reserve and was devastated when I didn’t get called up. One of my friends told me to enter this other food programme, and so I did. A few days later, I had a phone interview and then a face-to-face meeting in Northern Ireland, where I had to make a savoury and a sweet dish. I was then flown to London to replicate the three stages you see on the show and, as they say, the rest is history!You recorded the show while setting up your own business. What was that experience like?I became self-employed on 1 February 2019 and I flew to London at the very beginning of March to start filming Best Home Cook. I was completely stressed because I wasn’t bringing in an income, but my husband said: “You have worked so hard for this opportunity, you can’t give up now!” So, having won the title and trophy plate, I had to return to normal life and not tell a soul. It was an agonising nine months. I set up my own practice by following the straightforward steps set by Chartered Accountants Ireland. I was extremely fortunate that my old firm (PGR Accountants, Belfast) referred a piece of work to me, and that got me started.What would you describe as your greatest challenge or achievement to date?I used to say: “finally qualifying as Chartered Accountant”, as it took me eight years. I never gave up, and I knew I could do it. I was able to have my family, have my children, and just enjoy life. I don’t regret a moment of it at all. However, I think winning a UK-wide cooking competition and now presenting my own food-focused TV show, Suzie Lee’s Home Cook Heroes, is pretty amazing!What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?Have faith in yourself in whatever you do, as others are quick to knock you down. This has been true in all areas of my life, so be kind to everyone you meet, treat them the way you would like to be treated, and have no regrets.What do we most need in this world?We need to learn how to switch off. I am a huge culprit, but we are too connected these days – attached to our phones, tablets and laptops. The art of social interaction is starting to wane right in front of our eyes, and it’s all down to our devices.How do you recharge?I love keeping busy, but I get my energy from spending time with family, cooking, going to the gym, playing hockey for Lisnagarvey Hockey Club, and singing with Lisburn Harmony Ladies Choir.

Oct 01, 2020
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