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Neil: returning to practice

After almost 10 years working in industry, there was a combination of factors that led to me deciding to move back into practice, but I suspect that if lockdown hadn’t happened, I may not have made the jump. When COVID-19 started, I was CFO of an international events group, which was one of the first industries to be hit hard by the pandemic. I was commuting daily to London with frequent trips to Dubai. Once I stopped doing it and spent more time with my family, I realised what I was missing out on, including time to engage in my hobbies.

Once I’d decided that I wasn’t overly keen to continue as a finance director, I became focused on re-joining the accounting profession. I had a network of contacts at most of the big firms, but the first – and only – person I reached out to discuss this was with John O’Mahony, a tax partner in the Gatwick office who I’d known for the best part of a decade from when I was a client of Grant Thornton. From my working relationship with John and attendance at several Grant Thornton events, I’d got a pretty good understanding of what differentiated Grant Thornton from the other firms, and although there had been some challenges the firm had faced, the way they’d taken positive steps to address those issues also resonated.

I had probably underestimated how big a move it was back into practice after so long in industry, and how much learning I would have to do on audit methodology – a lot changes in 10 years. But, with the training and support available through the firm, I have been able to get back to somewhere near where I was technically when I left the industry originally, and have recently been promoted to senior manager. 

Leading by example

One of the things that surprised me once I joined the firm, was the focus on balance. Work/life balance has often been a challenge in audit but I genuinely feel like the leadership here are not only saying the right things, but actually delivering on those words. Obviously, there are times when you do have to put in the extra effort, but that is often the case whether you work in industry or in practice, and it definitely feels like there is less a culture of ‘presenteeism’ here. The fact that one of the RIs at Gatwick always tries to manage his week so that they didn’t work Friday afternoons was a real eye opener and absolutely demonstrated that they lead by example.

As my wife is a paramedic, her very unsociable hours have meant that I have had to provide a lot more support to the family than I previously had to. However, as I am genuinely being measured on outputs, not just being sat at a desk between certain hours, audit has provided the flexibility to fit the job around some of these commitments, and still find time to do things I want to do.

The art of saying no

The best piece of advice I can give to anyone early in their career is learning how to say “no” to a client, a good example of doing what’s right as opposed to what’s easy. Most of the ridiculous deadlines we used to work ourselves to death to were as a result of not standing up to a client making unreasonable demands on still hitting a deadline despite them failing to deliver earlier in the process, when saying it’s not possible will ultimately help everyone, including them. 

How to do this is an art in itself, but I would recommend you watch and learn from partners, RIs and managers as they will all have their own style and approach on how to tackle this – like auditing itself, there is no right way to do this, and it really depends on which approach best suits you as an individual.