When ambition meets ability...

May 03, 2019
Ambition is a key ingredient for success, and Martina Keane has it in spades. Originally from Ballygar in Co. Galway, the Chartered Accountant now leads the Irish assurance practice in EY EMEIA Financial Services having spent well over a decade specialising in financial services in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. Today, Martina is responsible for the development and leadership of a large group of professionals – a challenging, yet familiar role given her early start in leadership.

The feedback loop

“I was probably 21 years old when I started leading people,” she said. “I’m very driven and focused, but you need a stellar team with a mixed skillset if you really want to succeed.” Having been mentored from an early age, Martina is aware of the value in a positive role model – something she tries to replicate in her day-to-day work in EY. “In my work as a mentor, I focus on giving an honest view. That can only be done when there’s integrity and trust on both sides,” Martina added. “And face-time is extremely important in this context. You need to tell people that they have done a great job but you also need to point out areas for improvement, and you simply can’t do that by email.” Although some managers shy away from giving developmental feedback, Martina is living proof of its benefits. “It’s hard to take criticism at the best of times but people are motivated to achieve. They work best when they have a bar to reach and one of the roles of those in positions of leadership is to set that bar high and help people reach their full potential.”

The importance of prioritisation

To rise through the ranks at EY, Martina learned quickly that she needed to acquire a number of key skills. “I was appointed as partner in large part because I’m client-focused and solutions-driven. Nowadays, technical excellence is expected of the Chartered Accountant, so you need to build on that base and demonstrate your ability to lead if you want to advance your career,” she said. “One of the downsides of being solutions-driven is impatience. Once a solution is identified, I’m always in a hurry to implement it, but the reality is that people and processes don’t always move at a pace you would like – so I’ve had to work on that.” To help her team make valuable progress day after day, Martina’s daily routine begins with setting three tangible goals. “I would love to do a lot of things on any given day but if you spread yourself too thinly, you will fail. Now, I prioritise effectively,” she said. “I’ve also learned how to say no. If I’m asked to do something by a colleague, it has to align with my priorities and those of my team. If they don’t, then I am not as quick to accept. There’s a certain guilt that comes with that approach but at the end of the day, you can’t ruminate on it. You have to move on and stay focused on achieving your goals.”

Future-proofing your business

Amid intense debate about the role of artificial intelligence and robotics in the accountancy profession of the future, Martina is adamant that the focus on human skills will need to intensify in the years ahead. “The two critical challenges facing the business community are transformational digital change and the huge demand for talent,” she said. “Chartered Accountants need to consider whether the talent in their organisation is fit for purpose in an innovation age. The talent mix must align with the organisation’s innovation strategy because, as an example, the audit process will look entirely different in five years’ time. Coping with that type of transformative change begins with who we hire today and in short, they need to be adaptable, continuous learners and innovation-focused.”

Stand by your values

Despite the complexity of her role and responsibilities, Martina follows one very simple rule to help her maintain her commitment to ethics and integrity. “I have to sleep with ease at night, so I have to be happy with my decisions during the day. The world of leadership can be very challenging at times, but you have to stand by your personal values and never, ever leave them at the door,” she said. “I’m the type of person who needs to be very comfortable with the decisions I make from a values perspective and even when that brings you into conflict with the views of others, you actually get a lot of kudos from those who see you stand up for what you truly believe – even if they fundamentally disagree with you or your point of view.”

Martina Keane FCA leads the Assurance practice in EY Financial Services, specialising in banking and capital markets. She works across the Irish and UK banking landscape, serving both assurance and advisory clients.

You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International.