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

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

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

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

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

Feb 10, 2020

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

Feb 10, 2020

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

Dec 06, 2019

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

Dec 02, 2019

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

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

Oct 01, 2019

Paul Duffy, Ding’s new Head of Finance, discusses his move from practice to industry and life in an entrepreneur-led environment. What enticed you to move from practice to industry? I spent 10 years at PwC. I worked in the audit practice in Dublin for five years, specialising in the technology and telecommunications industries. I then spent the next five years working in the deals practice in Boston, advising private equity and corporate clients on their M&A deal execution. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I felt a move to a new industry would provide a fresh challenge. I’ve always wanted to work for an entrepreneur-led company in the technology sector and, preferably, one going through a period of accelerated growth. Ding seemed like a good fit all round. What does your new role at Ding entail?  As head of finance, my role covers a wide remit. My colleagues in finance are much more than retrospective number-counters at Ding. The team is central to how Ding functions. It is a complicated machine, due in no small part to the number of jurisdictions in which it operates. I also oversee the financial operations function, which comprises a team of 15 employees in Dublin, London, Barcelona, Paris, New Jersey, Florida, Dubai and Dhaka. Our financial operations team acts as a business partner to our business development team, so the tasks can vary from on-boarding and negotiating with new mobile operators to implementing new systems to support business growth. What do you find most challenging about your role? It is probably the demands that come with having such an international business. Ding operates in more than 140 countries and works across multiple time zones, in over 100 currencies, and across a myriad of complex regulatory environments. This brings its challenges. It’s been an adjustment just getting used to the various time zones and holiday schedules alone. We sell operator airtime so we hold stock for over 500 operators around the world, which the finance team manages. To facilitate this, we buy and sell in multiple currencies every day, and we need to forecast demand to determine stock levels.  Describe your typical day. Given the international nature of our business and the demands that brings, no two work days are the same. I try to start off the day with a quick gym session, then to the office. I tend to catch up with our CFO mid-morning to discuss the status of ongoing finance projects and the latest business performance. Each day, I try to speak with our various teams around the world so I have to work within the time zones. Before lunch, I usually have a video call with Dubai to chat through any issues or ongoing projects. In Ding, we try to promote collaboration across different business functions. I’m a believer in doing things face-to-face where possible and we have an in-house barista and coffee bar, so it’s a nice place for regular meetings with colleagues. In the afternoon, I could be working through the key commercial terms of a new customer agreement with legal, or meeting with business development to discuss things like banking and tax requirements for a new region. In the evening, I usually log on to answer emails from our US team, who are often on the road meeting potential new customers. What traits do you value most in your colleagues? Intellectual curiosity, which isn’t always encouraged as people come up through the ranks in finance. In today’s business world, speed and efficiency are often a key focus but possessing an intellectual curiosity encourages critical thinking and ultimately yields better results for the business. Flexibility is another trait that I value. In a fast-paced environment such as Ding, deadlines and targets change frequently and having the ability to be flexible and agile is important. It makes for a better team player, and a better partner for customers. What is your best piece of business advice? Build a meaningful network.

Oct 01, 2019

Conall O’Halloran FCA, President of Chartered Accountants Ireland, outlines his plans as he prepares for a busy year in office. After six years as Head of Audit at KPMG Ireland and more than 20 as Partner, Conall O’Halloran is very well-prepared to assume his position as President of Chartered Accountants Ireland. The timing is fortuitous given the feverish debate over the value and future of audit. But that is just one of the many issues the Cork native plans to address during his presidential year. Speaking at the Chartered Accountants Ireland AGM following his election on Friday 17 May, Conall noted that his tenure as President would also focus on broadening the public’s understanding of the role and value that Chartered Accountants bring to business and society, and widening access to the accountancy profession at graduate level. Building blocks of the profession At the core of his ambition for the profession, however, is quality. That, he said, begins with the profession’s trainees. “When I graduated from University College Cork with a degree in engineering, Chartered Accountancy offered the most flexible and most appropriate route into business with any degree of authenticity,” he said. “And over three decades later, that still holds true. The training, the discipline and the analytical skills are embedded in a foundation of ethics and integrity, and it is this that makes Chartered Accountants a very compelling proposition as business leaders.” Despite the negative publicity levelled at the profession, Conall points out that demand for the services of Chartered Accountants – particularly in the areas of audit and assurance – continues to increase year-on-year. This, he adds, is mirrored in the number and quality of candidates pursuing a career in the most versatile of professions. “We continue to attract top-quality candidates to this day and they are the profession’s basic building blocks,” he said. “If you don’t have the right foundations in place on day one, you can’t expect quality further down the road. Chartered Accountancy is very fortunate in that respect and that’s very precious to me, to the Institute, and to the wider profession.” Rising to new challenges However, Chartered Accountants and the profession as a whole are facing into an era of new challenge. From regulation to technology, the business landscape has changed in recent years but in Conall’s view, the biggest changes are yet to come. “While there have been huge advances in technology, most of what our audit trainees do today isn’t vastly different from what previous generations of audit trainees did,” he said. “But we are on the cusp of massive change. The larger firms have invested heavily in their data analysis tools and electronic audit capabilities, which are capable of achieving a transformational change in the quality of evidence available to the auditor.”   To help the profession thrive in this new data-driven environment, Conall plans to focus on enhancing the routes of access to a career in Chartered Accountancy in an effort to harness the profession’s full potential. “We are very fortunate that our large- and medium-sized member firms train the vast majority of our students, but there are many other very capable candidates who simply aren’t interested in that particular training mechanism and would prefer to begin their career in industry,” he said. “Training in professional practice is a wonderful discipline, but it isn’t for everyone so I will focus on working with senior Chartered Accountants in industry to reinvigorate our industry training programme while at the same time, the Institute will continue its work on the syllabus to ensure that we train Chartered Accountants who are much more IT savvy.” The value of audit Further change may be forced on the profession as the UK’s various audit reviews are concluded and acted upon. From the Kingman recommendations to the current review by Lord Brydon and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Study, the profession – and audit in particular – is under unprecedented scrutiny. Speaking on the issue following his election, Conall noted that he has recently been looking to the UK and reflecting on the fractured relationship with the regulator, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and with society. “Many of the reforms recommended by Sir John Kingman’s recent independent review have now been accepted by the FRC and by the profession and politicians generally. However, the wider review by the Competition and Markets Authority and also the independent review into ‘The Quality and Effectiveness of Audit’ being conducted by Lord Brydon will be fundamental to our future and the future of business more broadly,” he said. “I think we need to be very careful here in Ireland that what works, and indeed what may be required to work in the UK, is not necessarily or automatically right for Ireland. I will work very hard as President to ensure the profession delivers what is expected of us by society and regulators and ensure the very particular strengths that we have in Ireland are protected and nurtured.”   He added: “It is very clear to me that the absolute focus of KPMG and all the large audit firms is on audit quality. We have had a very strong and robust auditor oversight regime in place in Ireland now for many years, and it is heartening to note that our audit regulator, IAASA, has confirmed that, following its recent complete round of inspections, the quality of audit here is generally of a good standard. However, we need also to recognise IAASA’s shared role in driving quality and take actions ourselves to reinforce public confidence in audit.   “Take for instance auditors’ provision of non-audit services to audit clients. The reality for almost all Irish public interest entities (PIEs) is that auditors do not provide any consulting services and only modest levels of tax services. However, because the profession campaigned for a more permissive regime over many years, the impression was created that audit was somehow a loss-leader for the provision of other consulting services. This is absolutely not the case in the PIE market here in Ireland but as a profession, I feel we could have shown more leadership and more respect for the societal role auditors play when we campaigned for more relaxed rules,” Conall continued. “While we need to do a better job of explaining what we do to the public, audit committees can also play an important role in representing and reporting to shareholders,” Conall added. “They understand what we do and the positive feedback from audit committee chairs with regard to the quality, robustness and integrity of our work is incredibly powerful and a great endorsement of what we actually believe about ourselves. What we as auditors read about ourselves in the press is completely alien to how we see ourselves and how we actually deliver our duties to the public.” Acting in the public interest Conall is also very clear on how auditors can play their part in rebuilding trust with the public and key stakeholders; particularly focusing on anything that could damage the perception of audit independence. “That’s the core area where society wonders if we are acting in their interest, or not,” he said. “While the quality of our audit work is difficult for the public to assess, any suspicion that our independence is impaired is easily understood and very damaging to our relationship with society and we do recognise that much more keenly now. I think that all firms and PIE auditors understand that they have an incredibly important societal responsibility and that they treasure the responsibility very carefully.” The voice of business Despite the dialogue and debate surrounding the profession, Conall is extremely optimistic about the profession’s prospects for the future and members can expect to see the Institute take a more prominent position on a range of issues affecting businesses and the economy on the island of Ireland. “Chartered Accountants Ireland is the largest professional body on the island and I think anyone would say that we represent the gold standard in accountancy,” he said. “But beyond our technical capabilities and business acumen, we can also add value by commenting on economic and tax policy, and by essentially acting as the voice of business to help Government and policy-makers understand the consequences of the many options placed before them. Yes, they have to listen to many interest groups also – but when they hear a view from a body like Chartered Accountants Ireland, they take it as being balanced, informed and fair.”   And as with past presidents, Conall will also lead the Institute as it navigates the unpredictable terrain of Brexit – but he has lauded Chartered Accountants Ireland for being to the fore and discharging its all-island remit in the best interest of society both north and south of the border. “We were one of the first business bodies to publicly express a view on Brexit and although there are members who may not have supported our position, we were very strong and very public,” he said. “I also think that while Brexit will certainly challenge our ability to operate as an all-island body, it will not prevent us and my sense is that there is little appetite in the UK to diverge significantly from EU standards in any meaningful way – there is no commercial rationale to do so.”

Jun 03, 2019

Baker Tilly’s Diarmaid Guthrie ACA divides his time between Ireland and Cyprus, where he helps Cypriot banks manage their non-performing loan portfolios. What does your current role involve? My current role is divided between Dublin and Nicosia, Cyprus where I was on secondment for 12 months in 2018. In Dublin, I am responsible for managing and overseeing the progression of cases such as examinerships, liquidations and advisory projects together with training and development of other team members as they progress through their own careers. I am still involved with a number of projects in Cyprus, particularly restructuring and advisory services to Cypriot banks, which requires me to travel regularly to Cyprus. How did the secondment opportunity come about? After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in early 2017, I made the decision to travel and experience different cultures around the world. I didn’t travel after college; I instead jumped straight into my training contract with Baker Tilly so this was the perfect opportunity to combine work and travel. I approached Neil Hughes, Managing Partner in Baker Tilly, in mid-2017 and expressed an interest in going on secondment to another firm within the Baker Tilly International network. Neil’s response was: “tell me what you need me to do”, which was exactly what I wanted to hear. I explored a number of options for the secondment but I settled on Cyprus as it recently enacted examinership legislation, which is almost a verbatim copy of the Irish legislation. Our department had also worked on a number of projects with our Cypriot colleagues and from my research, it was also interesting to see that the Cypriot economy was where Ireland was five or six years ago. So, I thought I could bring some of our experiences from the last five years to Cyprus to help kick-start the recovery there How did your average day pan out in Cyprus? Similar to the Dublin office, every day at Baker Tilly Cyprus was different – different challenges, meeting different people. One of our contracts in Cyprus required me to spend three days per week in a bank providing them with restructuring advice in relation to their non-performing loan portfolio, which was around €500 million. I spent the other two days in the Cyprus office working on liquidations and other restructuring projects and meeting potential new clients. Do you have any habits or routines to help you get the most out of your day? One routine I certainly find helpful is taking five minutes at the start of each day to plan or map out what I need to get done; it’s kind of like a mini ‘work-in-progress’ list. I might not get to every item on the list as other emergencies may arise and need to be dealt with first, but at least I know I’ve made a note of matters to be addressed and they won’t be left to one side. Another good habit is managing my mail inbox. Once I’ve dealt with an email or read it, I immediately move the email to a specific folder for that case. I aim never to have any more than 10 emails in my inbox at any one time. What’s the most interesting thing about you, which we wouldn’t learn from your CV? I have a great memory for remembering pointless details and nuggets of information. This comes in very handy for charity table quizzes here and there.

Jun 03, 2019

Niall Anderton FCA, CEO at Circle K, talks about life at the wheel of one of Ireland’s most visible brands. Always be open to change, because things will change around you anyway. That’s the key lesson Circle K Chief Executive, Niall Anderton, has learnt during his career to date. “Be open to changing your career because things will change whether it’s consumers, the industry or the ownership of your business,” he says. “There’s no point getting worried about what’s going to happen next because it will happen irrespective of what you do. Don’t be afraid of change, look for it.” And he has lived that philosophy since setting out on his career as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG in the mid-nineties. “I love fast-paced and dynamic business environments that are constantly changing.” The son of an IBM engineer, Anderton had no history of accountancy in his family but he knew from a relatively early age that it would be the career for him. “I’ve always liked working with numbers and I was very good at maths at school,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed the structure to accounting; what I liked most about it was the ability to balance things.” Having considered investment banking and becoming an actuary, he chose accountancy for its more defined career path. But that thirst for change led him to move on from auditing and into industry. “I learnt an awful lot in practice in KPMG when I was there, but I felt that I was going in a bit of a cycle. I was there for nearly five years and you were seeing the same customers, clients and challenges but you really weren’t making any helpful decisions in terms of turning the business around or driving it in a certain direction.” Niall worked with a number of retail-focused clients before deciding to make the move into that sector. “I was always aiming for the retail business because my preference would have always been to work in an industry that I could relate to,” he explains. His first role was Financial Controller with Brown Thomas subsidiary, A-Wear. “I did the Brown Thomas audit when I was in KPMG and they had a role as Financial Controller for A-Wear, and I went in there.” It was far from an easy option. “Retailing is tough,” he says. “Whether it’s in finance, operations or buying, what might look glamorous at the front in terms of the models and fashion is very hard work behind the scenes. That’s probably one of the things I learnt from going into the A-Wear business. A-Wear was at a size that meant I learnt a lot from working with the operations guys and the buying guys and I got a lot of exposure to a range of stuff. I was in there doing a negotiation on the leases, walking the streets with the operations guys, going out to China to see how the buying was done, so I got huge exposure to how the business was run and was able to influence decisions. You don’t always get the broad experience that I was very lucky to get.” He moved on from A-Wear to logistics firm, Target Express, before being asked to join telecoms company O2. “The Finance Director of Brown Thomas went into O2 and he asked me to come across because there was an opportunity to look after their retail business and bring it forward. I spent three years in a non-finance role, which was very interesting. You’re promoting a product which is a commodity at the end of the day, so you have to put a lot of marketing behind it. I got lots of really good experience and it was very enjoyable as well.” From there he moved to Primark as Finance Director just as the business was making the change to becoming the slick multinational operation it is today. “Primark is a brilliant business, I really enjoyed it. The cultural change from when I went in was huge in terms of moving from a very old-fashioned, typical retail business into a multinational fast-paced business was incredible. Huge credit to what they’ve done in there.” But then Topaz came calling with the missing piece of the jigsaw. The one thing he hadn’t done so far in his relatively short but highly varied career was mergers and acquisitions.  And what timing. Topaz was just about to acquire the Esso business in Ireland and within 10 months, had itself been acquired by Canadian firm Alimentation Couche-Tard. “I gained invaluable M&A experience within 10 months of joining.” Incredible and a little fraught. Topaz had to deal with the Irish Competition Authority in obtaining approval for the Esso deal on one side while at the same time, negotiating the sale of the enlarged company to Couche-Tard. “We eventually got clearances for the Esso business on 1 December and we agreed to sign everything on 2 December. It was incredible. You can imagine the late night we had on 1 December when we were still negotiating with the guys in Canada and were just closing the deal with the Esso guys in Europe.” Within months, he had become CEO of Topaz, which was about to rebrand its retail operations as Circle K. He is very modest when it comes to that appointment. “I had the experience and the finance background as well, I was probably seen as the safer pair of hands initially.”  The transition from CFO to CEO allowed Niall to develop a more wide- ranging role encompassing all areas of the business across retail, brand, strategy, strategic HR, understanding changing consumer demand and crucially, organisational change by preparing to lead the organisation through an impending and significant period of change. Two years of groundwork went into the Circle K rebrand. “The first two years were spent getting the systems lined up. We had to change our ERP systems, we had to change our structures, our reporting line, basically everything had to change. That was a lot of hard work in terms of alignment and understanding it from a people point of view, understanding how the business works and the cultural changes and so on. That all had to be done in the background. “We started on the rebrand last April and that’s been very quick – we’re doing eight a week – but that’s the last piece if that makes sense. That’s when the consumers see it, but there was an awful lot of work to get us to that position in the first place. I am very grateful for the support I received along the way from my colleagues on our exceptional and energetic young leadership team, and for the hard work and dedication of our wider team at head office and across our network of sites nationwide.” The filling stations are just part of the business. There is also the aviation fuel side, the terminal business in Dublin Port, and the commercial business supplying fuel oil distributors and so on. But Niall is keenly aware of the challenges facing a traditionally low-margin business in the fossil fuels sector. “The fuel business is traditionally a very low-margin, high-volume business,” he notes. We are very dependent on getting customers in as it is a very competitive industry. We have tried to diversify our offering over the past number of years to a more food-based offering whether that’s coffee, food or car wash.” That has seen a €50 million capital investment in the brand and the add-on consumer offers. “I see the business as being much wider than forecourts and it’s all about getting the person to buy the coffee from us rather than making it at home.” Brexit is a challenge in the short-term in terms of its potential impact on consumer spending, but Niall is looking further than that. He mentions a speech by Minister for Energy, Richard Bruton, where he stated that all energy must be from renewables by 2050. “It will be very interesting to see how we get there. The growth of electric vehicles is both an opportunity and a risk so we’re looking firstly at how we meet that demand – there are Tesla and other chargers on our sites, and we have the biggest network in the country. We’re also looking at how we work with other electricity providers to potentially ‘white label’ our products into people’s homes. “Obviously, the challenge for us is to really replace the main footfall driver because people today go to forecourts to buy their fuel and then buy products in the stores. We now need to turn it on its head so that they buy products, and then they get fuel, so we become much more of a retailer than a fuel provider. And as electrification becomes more prevalent, you’ll be charging your car at home or at the office and what does that mean for our business? We need to stay relevant, but the one good thing is that we’re thinking about it now and you won’t really see the impact of this for another five or six years in Ireland. We have time on our side, which is good.” And his own future? “We continue to make Ireland more relevant for the global Circle K business, which is really important,” he says. “I think for us to continue holding the market position we have, developing new offers and so on. In my capacity as CEO of Circle K, I’ve joined the National Council of IBEC which is important for me in the context of the wider business environment Circle K is operating in and as a business, we have much to contribute both from the point of view of our experience in recent years as well as our plans for the future and the opportunities we see.”

Apr 01, 2019

Notwithstanding her successful career in accountancy, Yvonne Cohen’s love for history remains as strong as ever. What led you to a career in Chartered Accountancy? I fell into a career in Chartered Accountancy accidentally. I was doing a master’s degree in Mathematics at University College Cork (UCC) when the Big 6 accountancy firms were doing the ‘milk-round’ interviews. A classmate suggested that I attend, as he felt it would suit me. When I was accepted by Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) in Cork as a “non-relevant graduate” in 1989, I literally didn’t know a debit from a credit as I had never studied any business subjects previously. With lots of help from my colleagues, it all started to make sense after a few months and to my amazement, I got first place in the Professional 2 exams in 1990. How did you come to co-author a book on the mathematician and logician, George Boole? My primary degree was a BA in Mathematics and History. Professor Des MacHale of UCC was one of my mathematics lecturers and had published his biography of Boole, The Life and Work of George Boole, in 1985 when I was an undergraduate. Just before Des’s book was published, UCC purchased a collection of Boole’s personal papers and letters from Sotheby’s in London for the Boole Library in UCC (named in Boole’s honour in 1984). Unfortunately for Des, it was too late to incorporate much of the new material into his biography but luckily for me, it provided a wonderful opportunity for a master’s thesis, which I completed in 1989. Des felt that the collection contained enough material for a second book on Boole but with accountancy exams, marriage and three children in quick succession, the book got put on the long finger. In 2014, Des rang me out of the blue to say that UCC would celebrate the bicentenary of George Boole’s birth in 2015, so it was now or never! The book took four years to complete and was published in 2018. What was the greatest challenge and reward in writing this book? The greatest challenge was to do justice to George Boole. He was a self-taught genius from a very humble background. Despite a limited secondary education and no third-level education, he became a prominent mathematician and the first Professor of Mathematics in Queen’s College Cork (now UCC) in 1849, publishing mathematical papers prolifically and corresponding with the leading mathematicians of his day. His magnum opus, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), written in Cork, contained the origins of Boolean algebra and symbolic logic, which provided the ideal foundation for the design of the modern computer, and Boole is often referred to as ‘the father of the information age’.  The greatest reward, however, was the privilege of having a unique window into the life of this genius. Many of the personal letters written by Boole had remained hidden for over 150 years. The letters to his sister, mother and close friends revealed his most personal thoughts and his attitudes on a variety of subjects. How did you manage to squeeze this into your busy schedule? With great difficulty! I used to work on the book in the evenings from about 9pm onwards. I didn’t see much television for about four years and my husband and family were very tolerant of George Boole accompanying us to Kerry on summer holidays and weekend breaks. Although Des and I live only about three miles apart in Cork, it was as though we worked in separate time zones. Des is a bit of a night owl so when I emailed him my work at the end of my day, he would generally be online working into the small hours and there was usually an email waiting for me the next morning. If you weren’t a Chartered Accountant, what other career would you pursue? History was always my first love, so I would have liked to have been a career historian.

Apr 01, 2019

Tadhg Young, State Street’s Global Services Country Manager, reflects on his career, the crisis and his positivity for the future.   When State Street Global Services country manager, Tadhg Young, looks out from the company’s office on Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, he can see the Central Bank headquarters across the river, a growing number of new apartments and commercial developments, and the original IFSC up-river. “We have a growing community here and it’s great to be part of that,” he says. Young has been part of that community for more than two decades, having worked in both Dresdner Bank and Allianz Global Services before joining State Street in 2007. He began his career with PwC in the 1980s and moved into industry to gain wider experience. “I had specialised early and young in tax,” he recalls. “I was just 21 or 22 years of age and I felt that it was too early. I wanted to see what else was out there. I probably took the first job that came up and that was in W&R Jacob, the biscuit manufacturer. I was never going to stay there for long, but I enjoyed it. I left to join Dresdner after just over a year.” After several years with Dresdner and Allianz, he joined IBT Ireland as Head of Trustee, Custody and Middle Office Servicing. That company was acquired by State Street in 2007. “Any person who gets acquired with a company has to go through a period when the new organisation gets to know them,” he notes. “I had the fortunate experience of moving from being a client to a competitor to an employee of State Street within 24 months. We knew each other quite well already so it made the transition quite easy when I joined.” The financial crisis That aspect of the change might have been easy, but the onset of the global financial crisis was about to change everything. “It was a bit different for us here,” he points out. “While almost everyone was preoccupied with the domestic situation, we were preoccupied with the international situation. You learned more than you ever thought you were going to learn. Everything that was tried and trusted had to be questioned – liquidity risk, counter-party risk, everything. All these things we had relied on had to be questioned from the ground up. State Street had a group of risk management experts to manage our way through that, in Ireland and globally. “By 2010, the worst was behind us and we started growing in Ireland again,” he adds. “They were a very intense few years, having to deal with the challenges of the acquisition and the crisis. In hindsight, they were great learning opportunities.” Winning trust Young’s modesty becomes apparent when he is asked to describe his career journey in State Street. “Since 2010, we won a number of significant mandates here in Ireland. I was put in charge of on-boarding one of them, then I got another. I got more and more challenging work to do. I ran a group, then a bigger group, then became COO, then became country manager. It was a question of showing what you are capable of and winning the trust of management and staff.” That matter-of-fact recollection belies the scale of projects he undertook, which included on-boarding the largest exchange traded fund (ETF) platform in Europe at the time. “That was a hugely significant transaction for State Street in Ireland,” he says. “ETFs have different characteristics to other funds. They are traded on the stock market, so the level of precision required for valuations and so on is very high. I got to understand State Street from end-to-end and got exposure to senior management and investment managers.” He quickly shifts the focus back to State Street. “In Ireland, we offer depositary, transfer agency and fund administration services,” he explains. This sees the company hold trillions of dollars worth of assets for clients across the world and value them every day.  “That’s why we have about 2,000 people in Ireland,” he continues. “We do business across every kind of investment product including ETFs, tax transparent funds, hedge funds, alternative funds and so on. Ireland has built an industry here over the past 25 years, which allows investors across the world to invest in products that are domiciled and administered in Ireland but managed globally.” State Street has a 38% share of the global investment funds market here in Ireland. “We service some of the world’s largest and most successful fund managers,” he says. “It’s been very intense and rewarding work. It’s a great way to develop your skills in areas like project management. You also develop inter-personal and technical skills.” But it isn’t all about business. “We have a social purpose as well. A large proportion of our business is servicing people’s retirement savings. That’s very important.” Positive outlook Looking ahead, Tadhg believes State Street is set to continue to grow on the base of the solid platform it has built. “At present, investment funds regulated by the CBI (Central Bank of Ireland) total $2.8 trillion and State Street services over $1.1 trillion of that. I am really convinced that we have the best workforce in the sector in Europe and globally. The team here services complex investment funds as well as anyone on the planet.” He is also positive about Ireland. “It’s fantastic to see how Ireland responded to the crisis,” he says. “I have three children and it’s great to see them grow up in a country with so much to offer compared to the mid-1980s. IBEC has done some fantastic work on projections around housing, education and so on. Social capital is what’s going to drive Ireland and help the country to continue to grow in a reasonable way.” Tadhg is also quite open in his admiration for the Central Bank and the work it is doing. “It goes back to what this business is about – managing other people’s money. That requires regulation. You have to give credit to the Central Bank for developing the sector in the first place. For example, Ireland hosts 54% of the assets held in exchange traded funds across Europe. Internationally, the Central Bank has taken thought leadership positions in many forums and it is widely respected for that. It hasn’t been a passive supervisor. It is very active in the space and is committed to being a forward-thinking regulator. Of course, there will be times when we think regulation might be too constraining but ultimately, these things find equilibrium.” The role of the Central Bank will become even more significant in the wake of Brexit, he believes. “It will be the only English language regulator in Europe. It’s very important to recognise that. The roles that individuals from the CBI have filled in ESMA (European Securities and Markets Authority) and other bodies will also be very important.” On tax, he points out that the 12.5% rate is of secondary importance to the funds industry. “Tax certainty is key,” he contends. “State Street is in Ireland because international investment managers decided to domicile funds here. They didn’t come here for the 12.5% rate; they came here for the ability to passport funds to the EU and globally. We came here to service clients. The investment funds themselves are tax neutral and operate in a tax environment that is clear, transparent and compliant with OECD practice and EU law.” Inclusion and diversity Inclusion and diversity are topics close to Tadhg’s heart and he describes the organisation’s commitment to them as “one of the most attractive parts of working for State Street.” Under the wider banner of global inclusion, State Street offers programmes such as flexible work, which allows five possible options: flexible place (remote working), flex time, compressed schedules, reduced schedules or job-sharing; a global mentoring programme; a wide variety of employee networks and affinity groups; sponsorships of external events and organisations focused on diversity and inclusion; a formal work/life programme to help balance professional life and personal responsibilities; a recognition programme for employees who display best-practice inclusion behaviour; inclusion-focused leadership initiatives, with a 30-member global working group; performance goals focused on inclusion-related behaviour; a Global Employee Engagement Survey; and a ‘Voices of Inclusion’ programme and other opportunities to share feedback. “We don’t want to blow our own trumpet,” he adds. “Lots of companies are doing things. But it’s not about ticking a box. This is something we want to do, not something we think we must do. You have to work really hard at it. It’s a very complex topic. You have to be sensitive about it. If you are well-intentioned and work at it, you will get a better outcome.” Future leaders When asked for his thoughts on leadership, Young’s self-deprecating nature is in evidence once again. “I am not the most self-reflective of people,” he says. “For anyone who wants to be a leader, if you plan things out, you have a better chance of success. You need to grasp opportunities and take an element of risk. Don’t go for perfection; 80% is probably as good as 100% in terms of the information you need to make a decision. Make the decision based on facts, but trust your instincts as well. You also have to explain why you are making decisions; if you have good people, they will come with you. You also have to be self-aware and know what you can’t do.” And he has no concerns about the next generation of leaders in State Street. “I was at a management update with 50 of our vice-presidents recently and I saw five or six people in the room with the ability to do my job in five or six years’ time.” Tadhg Young is Global Services Country Manager at State Street.

Feb 11, 2019

Pauline Madden ACA works in a fact-paced environment, but always finds time to fundraise for a cause close to her heart. What do you most enjoy about your role? I am the Financial Controller at Valeo Foods and as my role is a very varied one, no two days are the same. I also work with a great bunch of people. What particular aspect of training has stood you in good stead? I trained at PwC and the audit skills I gained there have been invaluable. This, coupled with the experience I gained from working in several industries in finance roles, has given me a very focused commercial outlook. I have also had some excellent mentors throughout my career, who have helped me develop both personally and professionally. Who is your role model, and why? I don’t really have any one role model, but I do admire anyone who leads by example, believes in themselves and overcomes the obstacles that life throws at them. What gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction? Completing the goals I set for myself. One of your goals recently had a charitable motive. Tell us about that. My proudest moments include completing a trek to Mount Everest base camp, a 32-county challenge run in Ireland and the New York Marathon three times. All of this was done to help raise funds for children with a congenital heart defect (CHD). How did you get involved with CHD and ‘Team ANNAtude’? It’s all to do with Annabelle and Abbigael, who are twin daughters of a college friend, Anita O’Donnell, and her partner Mark. The girls were born six weeks premature with Abbigael showing no ill effects and coming home at eight days old. Annabel, however, was born with a CHD called ‘tricuspid atresia’, where the tricuspid valve in the right side of the heart has not formed. This is a potentially fatal heart defect and can only be treated by multiple open-heart surgeries. Annabel spent her first 10 months in the neonatal intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital and left after having four open heart surgeries. She suffered multiple heart failures, cardiac arrest, addiction to pain medications, intensive care unit delirium, gastrointestinal issues and various developmental delays. Thankfully, Annabel is now a happy five-year-old, going to school with her sister and enjoying life. Almost everyone knows someone born with a CHD, and I’m very proud to be able to raise awareness and funds for such a great cause.

Feb 11, 2019

Lucinda Woods ACA, the 2018 winner of the Early Career Accountant of the Year Award, shares her success story. Describe your current role at The Restaurant Group plc. The Restaurant Group plc operates over 500 casual dining restaurants, pubs and concessions across the UK. It employs roughly 15,000 people and is listed on the FTSE with a market capitalisation of around £500 million. I’m lucky to have a very diverse role within the group. I work for the CEO, managing a team that spans group strategy, commercial decision support, customer and market insight, and M&A. The breadth of my role has enabled me to support many strands of the turnaround of our casual dining division, as well as run deals such as the £15 million acquisition of the 11-pub company, Food & Fuel Ltd., and work on business development opportunities in our concessions division, which manages foodservice operations at airports. I also served as Interim Chief Marketing Officer last year, which was a great development opportunity for me, landing outputs on digital, brand strategy and retail marketing operations. Describe your average working week. I get up at 4.30am on Monday to commute to London and I fly back to Dublin on Thursday evening in time to put my son to bed. Fridays are spent catching up on things at home, and the occasional visit to the gym! How did you feel when you were announced as the Early Career Accountant of the Year? Humbled. There was a strong bench of talent nominated for the award so to be called out amongst that was an honour.  What in your view gave you the advantage over your peers? A combination of factors have enabled me to pursue my career ambitions and constantly challenge the boundaries of my comfort zone. From an early age, my parents inspired me to seek out opportunities and my husband has always been very supportive of my career choices and travel commitments. I’ve been very fortunate in terms of the organisations I worked with earlier in my career – KPMG, Investec Corporate Finance and Paddy Power Betfair – as management across all three provided me with tremendous encouragement and support. In addition, I’ve been supported by superb peers and mentors including my boss, who has been generous with his time, always encouraged me to focus on the customer and areas where I can have the most impact, and shown faith in me to do that. I’ve also been lucky to have many talented people work for me, and from whom I have also learned an enormous amount. You have also studied at Harvard. What was that experience like? I was fortunate to do the MBA programme at Harvard Business School. The experience of being surrounded by so many diverse and interesting perspectives was invaluable. I was also taught by many outstanding professors, including Michael Porter and Clay Christensen. What’s next for you? Nappies and sleepless nights! Our family headcount is about to increase with a new baby due in early 2019. Lucinda Woods is Strategy & Business Development Director at The Restaurant Group plc.

Dec 03, 2018

Ian Mathews, outgoing CFO at Trinity College Dublin, reflects on his career as he prepares for a new challenge in Abu Dhabi.   As curtain calls go, Ian Mathews couldn’t have scripted it better. The Chartered Accountant and outgoing Chief Financial Officer at Trinity College Dublin will leave the university this month having won three major accolades in recent weeks – Finance Team of the Year at the Irish Accountancy Awards; Finance Team of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards; and Best Diversified Asset Investment Fund: Trinity Endowment Fund at the Wealth & Finance Investment Fund Awards. In January, he will take up his new post as Vice-Chancellor of Administrative and Financial Affairs at Abu Dhabi University. Ian describes it as “purely fortuitous” that the university won three accolades as he prepares to leave the stage, but it is an arguably just reward for a man who led Trinity’s Financial Services Division out of 3 College Green and integrated 60 finance professionals into the day-to-day operation of the university. “It all started in 2007 when my predecessor and I proactively commissioned an external review,” he said. “The findings were clear, but tough to swallow. We had a great team but we weren’t great on customer service, we didn’t focus on our stakeholders and we said ‘no’ a lot.” Reaching out With the financial crisis just around the corner, the team would be forced to say ‘no’ even more in the years that followed but Ian was determined to bring the finance function closer to the action and make the team more accessible to the university’s 1,800 full-time and 4,000 part-time staff.  “We knew we were good accountants, but we needed to translate that into something of value for our non-finance colleagues. So we recruited a Services Liaison Officer to help us reach out to the different areas of the university,” he said. “We introduced an outreach programme within the Financial Services Team to help the different departments get to know each other and we brought them in groups to the main campus to attend lectures. The whole idea was to build empathy with our colleagues and help us understand where they might be coming from when they have a finance-related issue.” Systems development Today, the Financial Services Division is recognised as an integral part of the university’s operational structure and this is due in large part to Ian’s vision for a more open, approachable and understanding finance function. Such organisational development initiatives were followed some years later by the introduction of a new real-time procurement and reporting system. According to Ian, the university “had no visibility on what it owed or purchased. While we were able to pull accounts together, we had no real strategic data.” In one instance, it took the university three weeks to respond to a relatively straightforward parliamentary question about the university’s taxi expenditure. The university is now on the front foot when it comes to data-led intelligence. Its real-time accounting system allows staff to access the university’s procurement system on their smartphones and make orders around the clock. “We secured €13 million in savings over five years by streamlining our procurement and focusing on value. Where we once had 60 travel agents serving the university, we now have one. Where 10 years ago one department was buying a ream of paper for €8 and another was making the same purchase for €2, everything is now aggregated and we know that we’re getting the best value possible.” Setting these processes and systems up is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to shift the culture of an organisation as large as Trinity College Dublin. Luckily for Ian, he has always been blessed with the power of persuasion. “I have a capacity to listen and build relationships, and this has certainly been an advantage. I also try to lead by example because if you can do that, you will inspire people and create the basis for a workplace that is built on loyalty, integrity, commitment and hard work.” His accessible style was also an asset in his negotiations with the university’s Students Union. Over the years, Ian made a point of meeting the incoming officer group to establish a clear line of communication. “I’m quite people-oriented and I like to keep lines of communication open,” he said. “I fully respect the mandate of the Students Union to fight for more resources and fee certainty. I only ask that if they want to raise a question at a meeting, that they speak to me first. That way, they still have their say at the meeting but they will have the added benefit of a considered, informed response. We won’t always agree, but I’ve heard past presidents of the Union saying that the first thing you do when taking office is talk to Finance. We’re now part of the solution, not the problem, and that’s a great credit to the team.” Strategic investment In the midst of rebuilding his division’s culture and reputation within the wider university, Ian also led Trinity College into uncharted territories. “When I took over as CFO, Trinity College had never borrowed in its 400-year history,” he said. “Our first loan was drawn down in 2010, a second in 2015 and the university has just secured a further 30-year €100 million loan from the European Investment Bank to fund the soon-to-be built E3 Institute (Engineering, Environment and Emerging Technologies), which will develop the knowledge, technologies and aptitudes needed to design and shape the planet’s natural capital. The loan will also fund a refurbishment of the arts block, an expansion of the law school, and new student accommodation at Trinity Hall in Dartry.” The next act Over the past 24 years, Ian has played a central role in the rejuvenation of Trinity College Dublin. Now the university has its sights firmly set on the future, the time has come for a new challenge – one that came in the form of an unsolicited email. “I was asked to put myself forward by an agency in Dubai and it was an operations role as opposed to pure finance. If I waited another five years, my options would be restricted and the time was right from a family perspective,” he said. “Trinity has been great but now, the future excites me in a new way. If you don’t take these opportunities when they arise, you might live to regret it.” So with three awards in the bag and a string of investments at work, which will no doubt benefit the university for generations to come, the curtain comes down on a sterling career in Trinity College Dublin. But the university hasn’t heard the last of him. “I recently facilitated a visit by Abu Dhabi University to Trinity to talk about the potential for collaboration in the area of health sciences,” he said. “I’ll maintain my links with the university because that’s just me, it’s who I am. Two decades of corporate knowledge isn’t going to disappear overnight and if anyone needs to talk, they’ll only have to pick up the phone. I’ll be happy to help.” He might be leaving Trinity’s stage, but don’t bet against an encore.

Dec 02, 2018

Jane Downes FCA, Founder of Part-time.ie, talks to Accountancy Ireland about life as a start-up entrepreneur. How did your new venture come about? I launched Part-time.ie, a site specialising in part-time roles, in January 2018. Having worked part-time myself for 10 years, I was very aware of the challenges facing anyone looking for a flexible role and saw a gap in the market for a website that facilitated a more efficient hiring process. What key challenges are you facing? Time and funding are challenges for any start-up. With a young family, I try to work around their schedule. I also wanted to keep my costs as low as possible, as experienced entrepreneurs ahead of me all said it takes more time and money to get a business off the ground than you ever expect. Describe your average day. I get up at 7am and love that first coffee, planning the day ahead. I get the kids out to school, after which I’m usually at my desk for 9am. AIB has kindly sponsored a desk for me in the Portershed, an innovation hub in Galway city, and I usually work from there three days a week. I catch up on emails and social media for the first hour and after that, it’s meetings and phone calls for most of the morning, focusing largely on business development. I usually collect the kids from school and then, work from home in the afternoons. I try to squeeze in a 30-minute walk or jog most evenings and avoid working late. Who inspires you, and why? As clichéd as it sounds, my children inspire me because of their positivity and energy. When kids want something, they find a way to make it happen and it’s exactly that focus you need when getting a new business off the ground. I also worked with Sharon McCooey in my first job after practice. She was fantastic at getting the best out of people and took time out when her children were small, returning to work a few years later to become Head of LinkedIn in Ireland and a regular on Ireland’s lists of successful women. It’s great for women to see that they can make family-friendly choices and still rise to the top. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Listen to your customer. I spend as much time as I can speaking to employers and I’m ready to adapt my product in whatever way I have to to ensure that Part-time.ie is fixing their problems. What’s your favourite hobby? As I grew up Limerick, I still find it a novelty to live so close to the sea in Galway so I push myself to swim in the sea as much as possible. It’s never that attractive beforehand but I always feel fantastic afterwards. What’s your best advice for budding entrepreneurs? My advice for start-ups would be to keep costs low to start. You learn so much in the early days and money will be better spent once you have some experience of the marketplace. Lastly, what three books would you recommend and why? The most recent book I read was Seth Godin’s The Purple Cow, which is all about creating a remarkable product that will stand out in a crowded marketplace. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini really affected me. It tells the story of war through the eyes of women and children in particular. Lastly, I loved Peter Stringer’s book, Pulling the Strings, as I have always admired his sheer determination to succeed.

Oct 01, 2018

Shaun Kelly, Global COO at KPMG International, recounts a career that took him from West Belfast at the height of The Troubles to the US and beyond. Shaun Kelly, Global Chief Operating Officer (COO) at KPMG International, has moved house 14 times. It is often described as one of life’s most stressful events, but Shaun wouldn’t strike you as the ‘stressed out’ type. Speaking by phone from his office in Manhattan, the Belfast native credits much of his family’s ability to transition from country to country and city to city to his wife of 34 years, Mary, with whom he has four children. Without Mary’s supportive influence, it’s difficult to see how Shaun could have enjoyed such a stellar and varied career, which began in what was then Stokes Kennedy Crowley & Co. (SKC). Shaun had just completed the B.Comm degree in University College Dublin (UCD), lured by the strength of the university’s Gaelic football team (he had played minor football for Antrim). He then went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant in 1983, taking joint first place in the final exams with another SKC colleague, before an opportunity arose for a short stint in the firm’s office in San Francisco. “That was 1984, the same year Mary and I were  married. We married in August, and in September we were in San Francisco,” he said. “It was a tremendous opportunity, going from Ireland in the early eighties to the San Francisco Bay area in the mid-eighties with all the advancements in technology and cultural diversity.” Shaun returned to Dublin after two years but soon after, the US firm lured him back with a full-time role in audit. Following the birth of their first two children in California, however, Shaun and Mary decided that they would raise their children in Ireland. This led to a 10-year break from KPMG, during which time Shaun worked on advisory, corporate finance and insolvency assignments in Belfast, but in 1999 the US firm came calling once again. “I re-joined the firm and spent a couple of years in San Francisco. I was then asked to move to the Chicago office to run the mid-west region of what was our Transaction Services practice at the time, which was essentially the due diligence mergers and acquisitions (M&A) practice,” he said. “While I was there, I was asked to head the US Transaction services practice and soon after, I also became global head of Transaction Services for KPMG. And then, in 2005, I was asked to lead KPMG’s US Tax Practice which involved a move to New York. I did that for five years and in 2010, became the head of operations for the US firm. I did that for five years and in 2015, took on my current role as COO of KPMG International.” The road ahead Although Shaun’s role is global in nature, his travel gives him ample opportunity to visit the family’s home in Donegal. Between his board roles at UCD Michael Smurfit School of Business and the American Ireland Fund, and his advisory role with KPMG’s Belfast office he spends a lot of time in Ireland – and he’s happy to be able to contribute to the island’s success. “One of our core values at KPMG is giving back to our communities so we’re encouraged, particularly at partner level, to get involved,” he said. “One of the things I learned in the 1990s when I was back in Belfast was the impact of a successful economy on a region’s social and political landscape. I also saw the problems and increased violence following the financial downturns in the 1990s, so facilitating investment and creating jobs will help foster a much more stable and prosperous environment in Northern Ireland.” In that context, Brexit and the potential implications of a no-deal outcome for Northern Ireland weighs heavily on his mind. “It’s a concern. Businesses are most successful when we have open markets and they are able to plan investments with a strong degree of confidence,” he said. “Businesses will deal with the scenarios they are presented with. Uncertainty obviously makes that much more complicated because you’re unsure as to what the environment will be. Chartered Accountants have a key role to play in explaining the impact of various outcomes on investment and job creation. Open markets mean more certainty, which in turn means more investment and more jobs created – it’s that simple.” Although Brexit is a challenge, it’s just one of many that global businesses are facing according to Shaun. From tariff threats to the unsettled global trade agreements, there are a number of challenges ahead. However, Shaun sees opportunities also – particularly in the area of technology. “Despite all the disruption coming from technology, a recent KPMG survey of global CEOs found that while the world’s largest and most complex businesses are investing heavily in artificial intelligence and robotics, they see themselves as net hirers over the coming years,” he said. “Back in the eighties, one of the pre-runners to Excel was called VisiCalc. I remember learning to use VisiCalc on floppy disc and we were discussing what was going to happen to all the accountants when these spreadsheets take over. But we learn that technological advances create more opportunity to add value, to grow, to create economic prosperity– and I think that’s what we’ll see in the future.” The drive for inclusion When it comes to dealing with the evolution, Shaun believes that businesses have a choice: you either allow yourself to be disrupted, or you become the disruptor. But becoming the disruptor requires an explicit focus on culture and integrity. “We spend a lot of time in KPMG reinforcing our culture,” he said. “Integrity is the bedrock of everything we do and for every Chartered Accountant, it’s our reputation for independence and ethical standards that makes us who we are and underpins the value we bring to society. “That focus on core values, purpose and integrity is being demanded by the millennial population,” he added. “We deal with a lot of millennials as clients, but more than 65% of our people in KPMG are millennials or younger. They’re looking for purpose-driven organisations where they can pursue their personal goals and objectives so if we are to attract top talent, and in turn serve the top companies, we need to be attractive to this demographic.” Having a dominant cohort that demands inclusivity has given many organisations the impetus to drive their diversity and inclusion agendas, and Shaun has played a central role in KPMG in this regard. He is a member of the KPMG US Inclusion and Diversity Executive Council and co-chairs the firm’s Disabilities Network, which supports KPMG people who either have a disability or care for someone with a disability. Indeed, Shaun falls into the latter category as a carer for his daughter, who has Down Syndrome. “KPMG has had a disability network for 10 years now. Over that decade, it has become acknowledged that having an inclusive organisation isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s actually a business imperative for a couple of reasons. Our clients are demanding it because they want to be inclusive organisations themselves and they want to work with organisations that are inclusive. But it actually makes you a better business too; you’re getting better decisions, you’re getting much better perspective.” The task at hand In one sense, Shaun’s passion for inclusion stemmed from his teenage years growing up in West Belfast in the 1970s. Having lived through the height of The Troubles, his years in Dublin and the US helped him “realise the benefits and pluses of an inclusive society versus one that was very much divided at the time”. “Looking at the violence, maybe your priorities change and you get a better sense of what’s important and what’s not,” he added. Shaun also credits much of his success to the willingness to embrace opportunities as they arise, and he strongly encourages younger Chartered Accountants to do the same. “I remember discussing with Mary the opportunity to move to San Francisco so quickly after we got married, and she really encouraged that we go. In many ways, she’s much more adaptable than I am,” he said. “And when I took over the leadership of the US tax practice in 2005, I had never worked in tax before… it wasn’t as if I had a grand five-year plan that, by 2005, I’d be running the US tax practice. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant, got a couple of years’ experience in the US, was promoted to manager and was fortunate to have other great opportunities along the way that I was able to seize. Young accountants should focus on excelling in their current roles while making it known that they are open to new opportunities. Really focus on what you’re doing now because if you take your eye off the ball and you don’t deliver, that can have a negative impact whereas if you really shine, that will create opportunities. Do well at what you’re doing and stay open to opportunities that arise.” Looking back While Shaun continues to work across the globe in his role as COO, he still finds time to reflect on the things that make him proud over the course of his life and career to date. “On a personal level, we have four great kids. Seeing them become successful – and Mary probably has more to do with that than me – despite the 14 moves is deeply satisfying,” he said. “In one sense, I think it helped them in their careers to be much more open and inclusive. They’re still very much attached to Ireland, but they have a global perspective. “In professional terms, I’ve worked in every part of our business. I was able to move across functions, countries and cities. I’m really pleased I was able to do that and I hopefully have the respect of the partners and staff in all those different practices,” he added. “It is said that one of the best skills to have is a good self-awareness. We don’t do it alone and I think that’s one of the strengths of KPMG – and indeed of Chartered Accountants. We’re trained to be team players. If I go back to my days playing Gaelic football, I think that sport – being part of a team, that collective responsibility and not wanting to let your teammates down – played a huge role in helping my career. “And funnily enough, it also tended to be the prima donnas who, when the going got tough, you wondered: ‘where are they?’”   DATE FOR YOUR DIARY Shaun will speak at Chartered Accountants Ireland’s upcoming Leadership Symposium in Belfast on 3 April 2019. For more information, visit www.charteredaccountants.ie

Sep 30, 2018
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