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Feature Interview

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

Oct 01, 2019
Feature Interview

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
Feature Interview

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
Feature Interview

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
Feature Interview

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
Feature Interview

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
Member Profile

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

Dec 06, 2019
Member Profile

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
Member Profile

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
Member Profile

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
Member Profile

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
Member Profile

Michael Dineen founded Contracting PLUS, a financial advisory services firm for professional contractors, in 2002. Here, he shares some insights into life as an entrepreneur. What was the ‘a-ha!’ moment that gave you the idea for your business? When I understood that large, project-driven companies in Ireland really needed a complete service for their professional contractors. I knew we could provide a complete, professional and compliant service that would dovetail into the client’s way of operating. When did you consider yourself a success? The business wasn’t an overnight success. It took 18 months of hard work to get people on board, but then I landed two big clients and from there it went from strength to strength. We’ve enjoyed about 15 years of continuous growth thus far and we’ve since expanded into the UK and have established operations in India. What was the most important part of your business journey? Building a team and bringing my business partner of 15 years, Fergal Lennon, who is also a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland, on board. The shared responsibility allowed us to go places much more quickly. What are your success habits? Staying fit, emphasising fitness and work-life balance in the workplace, and leading by example. We provide pilates, freestyle fitness classes, mindfulness and support those seeking further educational training. Being open to learning and new ideas is a big plus. Our company is also working to create an innovative approach to getting work done by introducing more flexibility in our teams, which will assist greatly in bringing more talent into the workforce. This is essential, given the country’s low unemployment rate and our need for more skilled workers. What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? I don’t have one. I was never an employee, except for 15 months in 1990. Since then, I’ve been my own boss and I sincerely believe that this is the best way to work. I’m a big supporter of the flexible workforce and the world is moving in that direction. I’d love to see Ireland as the ‘best place to get work done.’ Michael Dineen FCA is Founder and Chairman of Contracting PLUS.

Aug 01, 2018