Date posted: 08/10/2018 8 min read

Rising stars: the managers

In the second of Acuity’s three-part series on rising stars in the world of accounting, we ask managers who have achieved success relatively early in their careers how they did it.

In Brief

  • Barbara Richmond joined EY in 2004 after working in a Dublin auditing firm.
  • Lauren Cross started with PwC when she was 19 and within seven years had been appointed senior manager in the assurance business.
  • Charis Halliday joined EY straight from Massey University, where she studied business, accounting and agribusiness.
  • James McNeil joined BDO Advisory Services in New Zealand when he finished university five years ago.

By Carolyn Boyd, Claire Scobie and Cameron Cooper

Barbara Richmond CA

Director, EY Assurance Audit Practice, Sydney

Barbara Richmond joined EY in 2004 after working in a Dublin auditing firm. She has a Bachelor of Business and Legal Studies from University College Dublin, and a Masters in Accountancy from the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

Growing up in Ireland, Barbara Richmond was a finance natural. “I loved numbers,” Richmond explains. “And I liked the logical nature of accounting and problem-solving.”

With 15 years of professional experience in Australia and Ireland, Richmond now prides herself on adding value to fast-growing companies in sectors such as health and aged care and private equity.

She is good at what she does, too. EY assurance partner Greg Logue calls Richmond “an excellent communicator who delivers great solutions ... always focused on strong technical and commercial outcomes”. He also finds her “heaps of fun to be around”.

After she moved to Australia in her mid-20s, a brief detour into a regulatory role at a major bank convinced Richmond that her heart lay with auditing and EY. What does she most love about the role? Managing people, helping clients, developing businesses, mastering technical problems. “Every day we have new challenges,” Richmond says.

Barbara Richmond

Earlier this year she sat on EY’s Sydney assurance group panel for International Women’s Day to discuss issues including flexible work arrangements in the profession. A working mother of two young children, she champions work-life balance and workplace flexibility And she’s grateful for the support she’s had from partners male and female.

Every day we have new challenges
Barbara RichmondDirector, EY Assurance Audit Practice

Looking to the future, Richmond believes automation will change auditing and put the focus on skills in data analytics, but she is confident he profession will embrace the evolution. “I don’t see any resistance or pushback,” she says. “We need to be at the forefront of this.”

- Cameron Cooper

Lauren Cross CA

Senior manager, PwC

Lauren Cross started with PwC when she was 19 and within seven years had been appointed senior manager in the assurance business. She has worked with large listed companies and multinationals, among them Elders, where she was the lead manager on the company’s audit. Lauren has a bachelor of commerce (accounting and finance) from Flinders University, Adelaide.

Eighteen months ago, Lauren Cross was struggling to see where her career was heading. The now senior manager at PwC in Adelaide had been working with the firm for seven years and couldn’t envisage her career path. She handed in her resignation.

“I was burnt out,” she reflects now. “I was struggling to see the bigger picture.” But what happened next surprised her and transformed her career.

“A handful of people knew about that decision,” she says. They took a close interest and helped her unpack the reasons for her resignation. They helped her realise she was feeling burnt out from working longer and longer hours.

“I was beginning to fill my day with low-priority tasks, which meant that all the high-priority tasks were happening outside of hours,” she says. “As we see with a lot of people, that meant that my personal life ... began to be sacrificed for tasks that didn’t actually contribute to my career in any way, shape or form.

“The support I received at that time, and the care I was shown, was just amazing. When I talk to other people who work in completely different industries, different professions, [they say] they’d never get that.”

Lauren Cross

Cross withdrew her resignation and now looks back on the process as a learning experience. She might still work 12-hour days when needed, “but at the same time if I do that, I am very conscious that I’m doing the things that are a priority. And because I’m doing the more high-priority tasks, I’m getting more value out of them ... so I see the return on investment. Whereas, probably previously I felt ‘you’re running really hard but you’re not actually getting anywhere’.”

Cross was promoted to senior manager at PwC in late 2017, at age 26. She believes entering the industry as a junior accountant with her first firm at just 18 helped her reach a senior level earlier than many of her peers. She won a role with PKF Chartered Accountants during her first year at university and then seized a graduate position with PwC, starting out three days a week when she was 19 and still studying.

I grew up very much around that small business dynamic, watching and observing my parents make business decisions, and a lot of that was based on the financial information presented to them
Lauren Cross Senior manager, PwC

Cross has stayed in Adelaide rather than move to the bigger cities. But PwC Adelaide partner Julian McCarthy testifies to Cross’s leadership and notes she took a national facilitation role building the skills of PwC teams. “She is one of our brightest and best talents and has a huge future,” he says.

- Carolyn Boyd

Charis Halliday CA

Senior Manager, Financial Accounting Advisory Services – EY

Charis Halliday joined EY straight from Massey University, where she studied business, accounting and agribusiness. From 2011 to 2016 she worked for EY in accountant and manager roles in Calgary. Now back in New Zealand, she is a senior manager in EY’s financial accounting advisory services team, about to celebrate her 10th anniversary with the firm. She focuses on agribusiness, construction firms and public benefit entities.

Charis Halliday, 30, says her six years in Calgary shaped her professionally and personally. From the business side, she learned about oil and gas and the SOX accounting requirements specific to those industries. But it was six weeks working with jewellery manufacturer and retailer Daniel Espinosa in Mexico City in 2015 that took her out of her comfort zone – and was defining.

“I was there as part of the EY vantage and leadership development program, which matches an accountant with a high-impact entrepreneur,” she explains. “My goal was to develop a budgeting process from scratch for the company that had never had a budget and couldn’t track their current results.”

Charis Halliday

Halliday didn’t speak Spanish and they didn’t speak English. “I was five months pregnant and had terrible morning sickness.” Even walking to work was stressful: “It’s an amazing city but doesn’t feel that safe.”

But the experience “made me feel confident that I could be resourceful and leverage my previous experience.” She succeeded in developing a budget and process manual for the company and Daniel Espinosa praised Halliday for her “professionalism and [being] business sensitive ... asking the right questions at the right time.”

Having a hands-on approach is what drew Halliday to business in the first place. Drawn to languages at school, she switched her focus to accounting when a great teacher “brought the subject to life with actual examples that were happening in the business community ... I could see how accountants could shape businesses, be part of the leadership team, and add value.” At university, she knew accounting would be her focus and aimed for the Big Four.

Large corporations will come to us but if the client can’t grasp what we are saying because it’s too technical, then you haven’t done your job properly
Charis Halliday Senior Manager, Financial Accounting Advisory Services – EY

Halliday is also a believer that you need the so-called soft skills. “If you can’t communicate with others, or work to problem-solve, then you’re going to struggle. It’s really about relating to people. I deal with very technical topics. Large corporations will come to us but if the client can’t grasp what we are saying because it’s too technical, then you haven’t done your job properly.”

During her years at EY, one of the best pieces of advice has been “not to expect other people to be a mindreader. It’s about setting my expectations and other people’s expectations.”

Graeme Bennett, Assurance Partner at EY, notes her ability to quickly bring new technology and services to the firm’s clients in New Zealand. She sees the industry’s greatest challenge as “staying relevant in an age when data is at everyone’s fingertips. It’s about how you interpret that data which will become important.”

- Claire Scobie

James McNeil CA

Assistant manager, BDO Advisory Services

James McNeil joined BDO Advisory Services in New Zealand when he finished university five years ago. An assistant manager, McNeil is helping his employer unearth opportunities from emerging technologies. McNeil has a Bachelor of Commerce (accounting, finance, commercial law and taxation) from Victoria University in Wellington.

James McNeil is competitive, a little geeky, and highly numerate. He tackles soccer, snow and water skiing, and badminton. He plays the computer strategy games Age of Empires and Civilization competitively with friends. And he started studying accounting in high school. When he joined BDO New Zealand at age 21, he had been learning the subject for seven years.

McNeil blames his father for his childhood fascination with business. “From a really early age my sisters and I would be subject to our dad’s long car trips without a means of escape and we were forced to discuss finance with him,” he explains. McNeil senior wanted his kids financially literate. “He’d often talk to us about money and investing and how businesses works. Given that I’d already been lectured on Business 101 by dad, accounting was a pretty easy choice.”

James McNeil

His father “went to the school of hard knocks”, worked his way up to managing director of a large retail food group, and gave McNeil a piece of advice that he sticks by today: a smart person is someone who surrounds themself with people who are smarter than them. For the 26-year-old, who is passionate about the accounting profession meeting the digital disruption head-on, that can sometimes mean seeking out the advice of younger, more tech-savvy staff than himself.

“I’m almost too old, not having grown up with all the social media and Instagram, but we get other people on our team together to help us bridge that gap and find ways to best use technology to communicate with clients,” he says.

Digital disruption is a huge factor that’s shaping the accounting industry
James McNeil Assistant manager, BDO Advisory Services

McNeil has a broad role managing compliance work, assisting staff in developing their skills and also researching emerging technologies to unearth opportunities for his employer. Adam Davy, BDO’s head of advisory in New Zealand, notes his leadership of an around-the-country roadshow for the firm’s BDODrive advisory product.

“Digital disruption is a huge factor that’s shaping the accounting industry,” McNeil says. “At the same time, it also provides a massive opportunity. Accountants and bookkeepers normally perform manual tasks but when we automate those tasks, we can really shift the focus and the industry from completing compliance work to value- add services. For us, we are the drivers of that solution.”

Davy says that as automation changes the role of accountants and threatens much of their compliance work, “James is one of those really focusing their energies on where the future lies for accounting” – advisory insights and products that help clients drive their businesses forward.

- Carolyn Boyd

Carolyn Boyd is a journalist with 20 years’ experience and an MBA. Claire Scobie is an award-winning author, business storytelling consultant and journalist. Cameron Cooper is a freelance business journalist who lives in Brisbane.

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