#WeAreMazars: an interview with Irena

This week we’re joined by Irena, an Associate Director who works in the Global Infrastructure Advisory team. Irena tells us about how her career chose her, her main inspirational figures, and how stereotyping others is one of the biggest hurdles to creating an inclusive culture.

#WeAreMazars Irena

Catch up on our previous interviews with LouiseMartinSiobhan, Tracy, Monika, Lisa, Hemehra, Natasha, Tejal and Lindsay.

 

Tell us about your career – what do you do?

I advise clients in Mergers & Acquisitions transactions, specifically in acquisitions or divestments of renewable energy assets.

Why did you choose your career?

It kind of chose me – I have been in the same industry since I left university. I originally chose to go into it because I thought it was ‘cool’, and I really enjoyed being in contact with clients. A few years later, I can say that what makes me want to stay in this career is the fact that no two days are the same and definitely the client-facing nature of it.

Who has contributed most to your success?

A combination of people – from a professional perspective – it has to be my first boss: he believed in me from day one and helped me become a confident professional in a male-dominated industry. From a personal perspective, my parents and partner: they never doubted my abilities and have been (and still are) very understanding when I have to travel at short notice or work long hours.

What are your aspirations?

I aspire to become a Partner in the next five to six years.

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Do the work and speak up!

What can organisations do more generally to create a culture of inclusion?

Unfortunately, stereotyping both consciously and unconsciously is a huge hurdle in creating a culture of inclusion. Implementing hard and quantifiable measures is the only way to break this. Over time, equal-treatment and equal opportunities will be a natural consequence, and no longer a target to work towards.

 

 

Thank you to Irena for taking the time to speak to us. We will be publishing more #WeAreMazars interviews over the coming months so stay tuned!

Sustainable Expectations: how the ESG investment agenda is shifting

Investors are placing environmental, social and governance issues at the top of their agendas, and they expect companies to do the same. They are increasingly looking for companies that have adjusted the balance between short and long-term value creation to develop strategies that lean toward sustainable outcomes and provide societal good.

US investment house BlackRock has been taking a lead in this area, their CEO, Larry Fink, has written to companies reminding them that he sees his firm’s responsibility to engage and vote with them as more important than ever. He wrote “companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.”

Quarterly reporting, activist shareholders and the immediacy of investor demands can combine to force directors to take decisions that, while giving a quick response to an immediate issue, might have longer-lasting consequences.

Much of this comes down to good stewardship. In the UK, the Financial Reporting Council’s Stewardship Code, first published in 2012, sets out how stewardship aims to promote the long-term success of companies so that the ultimate providers of capital—the investors—also prosper. The primary responsibility for stewardship rests with the company board, but investors also play an important role in holding the board to account over the fulfilment of its responsibilities. However, the code is directed in the first instance at institutional investors. They are expected to do more than vote; those that sign up to the code commit to meaningful engagement with companies over matters such as strategy, performance, risk, capital structure and corporate governance.

Last year, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an in-depth review of responsible business conduct for institutional investors, setting out key considerations for due diligence under the OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises. By carrying out due diligence in line with these guidelines, the OECD believes that investors will not only avoid the negative impacts of their investments on society and the environment, but will also avoid financial and reputational risks, respond to the expectations of their clients and beneficiaries, and contribute to global goals on climate and sustainable development. The OECD has commented that “Increasingly, failing to consider long-term investment value drivers, which include environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, in investment practice is seen to be a failure of fiduciary duty”. Institutional investors are changing their own internal procedures in light of the OECD’s guidelines; they are now approaching quoted companies and saying that they can’t invest in them until they are on top of their ESG agenda. ESG is no longer a sideshow…we see certain investors really trying to make a difference.

 

This blog is an excerpt of an article, “Sustainable expectations: how the ESG investment agenda is shifting” which appears in the Spring 2018 edition of Board Agenda. The full article can be found here.

 

By Richard Karmel & Anthony Carey

#WomenAtMazars: Helen Parker

Today is International Women’s Day, and to show our support for this year’s theme; #PressforProgress; we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women from across Mazars.

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be hearing from women in the firm about their careers, how they’ve progressed and what they’ve learnt along the way.

In our first interview in this series, we’re speaking to Helen Parker, a Director in the Entrepreneurial services team in London. She shared with us her career path at Mazars – from joining the firm as an audit trainee to her current role as a director.

Keep reading to hear how her grandmother’s words influenced and guided her, the mentors who’ve supported and encouraged her and how moving to Dublin to work with the global team on the EB strategy and Optimize programme has been a defining point in her career.

 

Let’s start with your career journey, can you tell us how you got started at Mazars and how you’ve progressed in the firm?

I did a BSC in Geography at Kings College London so not really connected to accounting. I realised that geography didn’t have much practical application to the working world and so I did an MSc in International Business and Management at Manchester University.

I joined Mazars as an Audit trainee in 2006 which was my first job after leaving university. I worked in the Audit department for eight years, where I progressed to Senior Manager.In March 2015, I went on a secondment as Project Management Officer (PMO) for the Head of Owner Managed Business.

In March 2016, I made the move to Dublin to work on the development of the Optimize programme – the first global bespoke programme in Mazars’ history. The programme is designed to help our EB clients identify all of the actions that they need to take in order to improve their performance and enhance the long term value of their business. As part of my global role, I am the PMO for Optimize training and delivery and this has taken me to Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, New York (three times) and Dublin to give training workshops.

In March 2017 I was promoted to Director and it was also at this time that we launched the pilot phase of Optimize in the UK. A few months later in June I moved back to UK, still as PMO, but to the now Entrepreneurial Businesses strategic market segment and with Gareth Jones now as the UK Head. I came back to UK to work more closely with Gareth on rolling out and embedding Optimize across our 13 EB offices. This involved lots of training – in total I have given training to over 300 people across Mazars globally.

Due to the success of the pilot, we are now rolling out Optimize in another eight countries and further developing the product offering. So at the start of February 2018, I moved back to Dublin so that Joe and I could work together on the development of Optimize 2.0. It is expected that I will be here for about six months.

What have been the enablers that have helped you get to where you are today?

My grandma was a very intelligent woman and was always frustrated that she grew up in a time that didn’t afford women the rights that we have now. She repeatedly told my sister and I that as women we ‘can do whatever you want to do’ and emphasised how lucky we were to have been born in a time when women have more opportunities.

My sister and I often reflect on the influence that her frequent sermons had on us – we are both head strong and career driven and we believe we have her to thank.

Where does your motivation come from?

My father worked for many years in the corporate world and in the last 15 years he and my two brothers have worked in the family business.

This has meant that business has always been at the forefront of family discussions – especially around the dinner table. And so I have grown up listening to the challenges, issues, operations etc. of businesses in the EB sector first hand.

The reason I love working in the EB sector and more specifically on Optimize is that we are making a tangible difference to privately owned businesses and the families who work in them.

Over the course of your career, who have been the people that have mentored you?

I will always be thankful to Jon Seaman and Neale Bussey in the London Audit department. Both had seen the advertisement for the PMO role back in February 2015 and encouraged me to apply. Both thought that it would play to my strengths and interests, which at the time were client relations, project management and BD – either that or they were trying to get rid of me in the Audit department!

Dave Smithson selected me for the PMO role and subsequently felt that I would benefit from doing a stint abroad – it was thanks to his encouragement that I ended up working with Joe Carr in Dublin.

Joe is a fantastic person to work with and he has an amazing mind – it has been an absolute privilege to have access to his thinking for the last two years.

And finally Gareth Jones who has been my UK ‘boss’ for the last 1.5 years. I think we make a good team and he has been really supportive along the way – especially with my move back to Dublin. I would argue whether he is my boss though!

What has been the most defining point in your career to date?

Moving to Dublin to work with the global team. What I have learned in the space of two years eclipses everything I have ever learned before.

I will always be thankful for the opportunity to work on such an exciting and innovative project and to work with such a great team of people from across so many of the Mazars countries. And Dublin is such an amazing city.

How would others describe you at work?

According to some of the people I asked, they said they’d describe me as:

  • Logical
  • Driven
  • Ambitious
  • Open
  • Fair
  • Straightforward
  • Friendly

What advice would you give to other women for growing and progressing at Mazars?

I firmly believe that we are all in control of our own careers and if you want something then you have to make it happen.  I have never been held back by my gender and I have been incredibly lucky at Mazars that I have got most things that I have pushed for (within reason!)

The only area where I think we need to improve is I frequently sit in meetings where people refer to partners as ‘he’ and clients as ‘he’. I am on the warpath when it comes to this and immediately shout out ‘or she’ to correct people. I can see its starting to work which is good.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self? 

I’d spend less time being upset when I didn’t get my A Level grades.

Finally, as its International Women’s Day and 100 years of women’s suffrage, what are your thoughts as to how everyone (society more broadly) can do to #PressforProgress to achieve gender parity?

We have to be vocal, empowering and supportive – women of all ages need to be reminded that they can do whatever they want to do.

I have started this with my two baby nieces so fingers crossed it works.

 

A very strategic engagement: stakeholders and long-term value

Companies have always had a responsibility to their shareholders, and now that responsibility is widening to include all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers and regulators – as well as the impact their actions have on wider society – the environment, the local and national economy, tax policy, the local community.

Attending to the needs of all stakeholders will make an enterprise more successful in the long-term, but it’s up to boards to engage with them in a fair and open way.

Ultimately, businesses create value, but that value has to be shared across a range of stakeholders. Companies need to make a strategic allocation of that value across this range of stakeholders, and if they allocate it properly, then tomorrow they will have more value to distribute.

The board should place a strong emphasis on engaging with its stakeholders and treating them fairly, including in financial terms. The board needs to set out, in a clear statement, the nature of the relationship it will seek to develop with each of the principal stakeholders in the business.

For instance, on employee matters, the board should develop clear policies and targets with regard to diversity and inclusion, including gender and ethnic diversity in senior roles, monitor them and report on progress being made towards meeting its goals. If the values are to be seen by members of staff, in particular, as being at the heart of the business, it is essential that they are visibly ‘lived’ by board members and those in senior management positions.

The culture of the business is the glue that holds it together. There is increasing interdependency in the way we behave, and it can tip one way or another very quickly. There will either be a virtuous cycle or a vicious circle. If you get it wrong, it will destroy the business. Our values at Mazars have been engrained as part of our Board Charter below:

Mazars' Board Charter 5

This blog is an excerpt of an article, “A very strategic engagement: stakeholders and long-term value” which appears in the Winter 2018 edition of Board Agenda. The full article can be found here.

 

A radical approach to training business leaders

The below letter appeared in Letters to the Editor, Financial Times, 10 January 2018. Find the original piece here.

Dear Sir,

Your leader entitled “A better deal between business and society” (January 2) is very timely. You primarily focus on the role businesses — and in practice their boards — need to play in strengthening the social contract. Their role is crucial.

If, however, there is to be a permanent shift towards the mainstream approach becoming focused on creating sustainable success for the benefit of all the main stakeholders in a business, and for wider society, all the players in theecosystem (including investors, corporate advisers, workers’ representatives, professions, business schools, regulators and politicians) need to step up to the plate and make their contribution.

It is hard for individual businesses to go against the grain and adopt a long-term approach if the prevailing culture is short-term, as challenges in the early part of the journey run the risk of halting them in their tracks.

If one accepts there is at least some truth in the maxim “what gets measured gets managed” then those of us involved in the accountancy profession have much to do as regards how performance is measured, the areas on which assurance is provided and more generally on the contribution those with a financial background make to boards given we are strongly represented on them in many countries.

We need, for example, to make much more progress as a matter of priority on how we capture the value of people to a business as well as other intangibles and, in particular, the extra value in businesses with highly talented and motivated workforces recruited from diverse backgrounds.

This is a challenge for standard-setters but also for the profession: we need a radical look at how we are training the business leaders of the next generation.

Anthony Carey

Head of Board Practice, Mazars LLP, London E1, UK

The importance of culture and values in times of uncertainty

Corporate culture has been high on the boardroom agenda in the UK in the past year at least partly due to the FRC’s well-received report on ‘Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards’.

????????????????????

Healthy culture essential for sustainable success
Providing a concise definition of corporate culture, however, seems elusive, not surprising given its all-pervasive nature. For practical purposes, it can be said to address how people behave when no one is looking and ‘this is the way we do things around here’. The expression that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ which rightly highlights its importance is often attributed to Peter Drucker though this is disputed. Which one trumps the other is anyway in some respects irrelevant: for sustainable success the strategy needs to be aligned with the culture and with the people capabilities in the business which in turn will be inextricably linked to the culture. Interestingly, a top-of-the-range and a budget hotel may both be focused on meeting the needs of their customers outstandingly but the way they will do it is likely to be quite different, one with very bespoke services the other through meeting agreed standards, with correspondingly different skills needed in their people. (more…)

Digital collaboration – the importance of cultural alignment

Buying a technology start-up could be a fast-track to digital success for a large traditional business, or a way to avoid becoming obsolete. But culture clashes mean that digital acquisitions by non-digital companies are prone to failure even when standard due diligence practices are followed.

In our experience, compatibility of corporate cultures is often the weakest link. The standard due diligence process covers legal, financial and commercial issues but the cultural match of the acquirer and acquiree is rarely, if ever, considered.

Mazars is working with U Change, an organisation that helps large companies build links with start-ups, to develop approaches to gauge the compatibility between a large corporate and a start-up in an acquisition process. U Change has built an algorithm that evaluates complementarity and compatibility based on a mix of evaluation questionnaires and Artificial Intelligence (AI) whilst Mazars has developed a methodology to audit the drivers of culture in corporations and the behavioural responses resulting from these drivers.

We’ve pinpointed eight cultural elements that need to be considered early on in digital acquisitions. (more…)

Thriving, not just surviving, in turbulent times

We should always be cautious in saying we are living through periods of unprecedented change. At this time of year one is very conscious that in the 20th century there were two world wars but there can be little doubt that historians will look back on 2016 as a year of major political change in the Western World that was not generally foreseen and the full political and economic outcomes of which will not be known for some time yet.

So, what are the implications for boards of listed companies and other significant businesses? (more…)

Board Culture: When Soft is Hard

In the blog, “Culture is King”, I introduced the concept of an “Engaged Board” where a healthy board culture contributes to high level of both challenge and support in the boardroom.

Achieving an appropriate blend of formal structures and processes that will contribute to a healthy board culture is perhaps the area most frequently discussed in governance codes. They help ensure the right issues are on the agenda at the right time with the right information available for discussion and decision-making.

(more…)

Culture is King

When corporates fail, it’s not generally because they have no governance structure, procedures or internal controls. What’s often lacking is the right culture – a culture of challenge, accountability, independence and openness.

Culture is King. It always has been but the recent global downturn and the string of high profile corporate blunders mean that organisational culture has never needed to be in sharper focus. And it’s board culture that should set the tone from the top and drive the culture in the rest of the organisation. (more…)