35 under 35 2022: Third wave of winners revealed!

35 under 35 2022: Third wave of winners revealed!

Showcasing the industry's rising talent, the third instalment of our 35 under 35 rankings highlights ten young UK professionals who are making great contributions to both their firms and fields

35 under 35 2022: Third wave of winners revealed!

The Accountancy Age 35 under 35 seeks to highlight the rising stars of the accountancy profession, featuring those who have made great professional contributions to the field and their individual firms.

Each day this week, we will release a batch of winners who made the final cut. Today, we present the third wave of noteworthy professionals who made the Accountancy Age 35 under 35.

The full Accountancy Age 35 under 35 will be unveiled on Friday, September 30, 2022.

Yuan Chen, senior manager, PwC

Yuan Chen joined PwC Assurance in 2014 as a graduate and qualified as an ICAEW chartered accountant, specialising in insurance external audits with an extensive portfolio of experience. Going beyond just delivering her own audits, she has maximised the global network of talent by creating opportunities and upskilling offshore PwC teams to support across Solvency II regulatory audits, a team model successfully operating into its fifth year.

In addition, since taking on the lead role for implementing the PwC Distributed Delivery Model in the insurance practice, she has demonstrated exceptional success in driving the client quality agenda through greater standardisation of good practices and automation.

Using her insurance technical expertise, Chen developed new technology tools that automate Solvency II regulatory audit processes, which reduced tasks from taking several days to manually complete into mere minutes for any client. The success of her innovations have been shared across PwC network firms looking to replicate these new ways of working.

Chen has continued to take action to build an inclusive workplace. In her role as a PwC Colourbrave Champion she advocated on issues impacting people of colour and helped organise open conversations about race and mental health across offices during the Covid-19 lockdowns. She continues to champion staff well-being as a career coach and a people representative in the Insurance audit practice. In 2022, Chen was shortlisted in the WeAreTheCity Rising Stars in insurance in recognition of her contributions within the industry.

Ben Chernoff, director, Davis Grant

In just over a decade, Ben Chernoff has risen from a trainee to the director of one of the South East’s most innovative independent accountancy firms, Davis Grant. Promoted from his position as a senior manager to director two years ago, Chernoff has a fast-growing client portfolio, made up predominantly of SME businesses, particularly those within the property and recruitment sectors.

Aged just 28, his rapidly growing client base is thanks to his approach to assisting clients. He prides himself on building close relationships with the individuals and businesses he supports, to the point that they feel they have an active financial director as part of their team. Chernoff also works within Davis Grant’s technology and start-up team, which advises clients on research and development (R&D), the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), Enterprise Management Incentives (EMI), business plans, cash flow forecasting and cash management.

His interest in technology extends to his passion for automation and the cloud. He was heavily involved in further digitising Davis Grant’s accounting systems, including moving to cloud-based working papers and testing new software and apps. This played an essential role in migrating clients to the systems needed to comply with the Making Tax Digital regime.

Outside of his work with clients, Chernoff works tirelessly to support the firm’s recruitment and staff development process to ensure that Davis Grant has the staff numbers to grow, while still providing exceptional services to clients.

Lorenzo Coletta, associate director, Ascendis

With an eye on the future, Lorenzo Coletta is leading the development of several innovative services at one of the Northwest’s fastest-growing firms, Ascendis, and its unique Cryptoasset offering. Coletta has worked incredibly hard to grow this new specialism in a short time and recently assisted in the sale of leading NFT platform, KnownOrigin, to eBay in a multi-million-pound deal.

He helped Ascendis grow from its three founders to a team of 25 in under 18 months by developing and implementing systems that kept up with its exponential growth. He also acted as the company’s de-facto finance director, preparing budgets and financial models, as well as creating an accounting system to accommodate the company’s receipts and payments in both crypto and fiat currencies – all of which played an important role in securing the sale of this business. Throughout this deal, Coletta punched above his weight to help this small start-up’s acquisition by a multi-national giant.

Outside of this transactional work, Coletta has also helped to foster a better culture within his practice. This has included implementing new systems that enable the practice to be more efficient and assisting with the implementation of a new workflow and practice management tool. He is working hard to help grow the business to be one of the largest in the Northwest and cement Ascendis’ reputation as the “go-to” firm for technology start-ups and crypto accounting. Due to his skills and expertise, pro-activity, work ethic, professionalism, and popularity amongst staff and clients, together with his ambitions, the directors of Ascendis have given him the opportunity to acquire an equity stake in the wider Ascendis group.

Craig Ewins-Jones, manager, Rickard Luckin

From the moment Craig Ewins-Jones joined Rickard Luckin in 2011 as a trainee, it was clear that he had a distinct, personable style that enabled him to build strong relationships quickly across the firm, according to his colleagues. Whilst being a self-motivated and driven individual, he continued to balance the needs of others whilst successfully training to become an ACA. It was no surprise when he joined the firm’s social committee, and ever since he has continued to drive and inject energy into bringing people together across the firm.

Ewins-Jones progressed in his career and joined the management team in 2019, immediately taking over the line management of a team in hugely challenging circumstances. A team who had experienced the tragic and premature loss with the sudden passing of a hugely valued colleague and friend to many across the firm. His supporting and nurturing style was the “rock” the team needed, and his interpersonal skills were worthy of someone with many more years of life experience. Three years on and his natural helping and supporting style combined with his passion for learning and development and people-first approach has become part of the fabric of his management style. He brings out the best in his team, from his pro-active support with our trainee skills framework to tailored personal development guidance and informal coaching on wider soft skills.

He is an advocate of the ACA and a champion of the career opportunities generally within the profession; from taking on the chair role of the ICAEW Student & Young Professionals South Essex Group to an example in the last few months of encouraging people in his network to make a career change to train at the firm. Becoming a chartered accountant is a huge career success for anyone, but everyone at Rickard Luckin is hugely proud of him in taking this to another level in his management role and supporting and inspiring others to follow in the journey with him.

Dan Firmager, audit senior, Kreston Reeves

Dan Firmager’s personal purpose is to “educate others to grow an environmental conscience and embrace diversity so we can make the world a more considerate place” and through his involvement with internal initiatives at Kreston Reeves he could not be doing any more to further this goal.

He joined the firm in 2017 as a school leaver and in the five years since has qualified, become a trustee of a national charity and led our internal sustainability initiative to achieve carbon neutral status. He took on the project himself, taking a proposal to our management board and then he coordinated a team of people at Kreston Reeves to achieve our carbon neutral status.

Besides the leadership skills needed to achieve such a thing, he has since represented the firm at internal and external events to display what we have achieved and educate others to do the same. This encouraged a new level of engagement with our people and clients who have come to us to collaborate with and get involved.

Firmager has also led the firm’s drive to engage with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to encourage us to be a more socially responsible organisation. After working with a team to decide on four UN SDGs to focus on, in line with the ICAEW suggestion, he took it upon himself to develop a way of communicating our achievements and our goals with our stakeholders and developed a first ever Corporate Social Responsibility Impact Report. This was a first for the firm and his work has encouraged us all to think more about how we must behave in the modern world, including our clients, whilst maintaining a commercial mindset.

He has more recently had an instrumental role in driving the firm’s ESG strategy as we looked to restructure our internal teams to allow for more inclusion and opportunity for all our people. As part of this he is now officially the co-lead for the firm’s sustainability agenda and sits on our newly formed ESG management team. He achieved all of this while balancing the demands of his chargeable work and providing outstanding client service. At an early stage in his career, he showed he was able to manage a portfolio of clients. In recognition of all of his achievements to various initiatives and with his client’s, Dan was awarded the firm’s Student of the Year award in 2020.

James Gilliland, partner, Lubbock Fine

James Gilliland qualified as a chartered accountant in 2015 with a small Glasgow-based firm and joined Lubbock Fine in late 2016 as a senior within the business services team to manage several complex outsourcing assignments. He was quickly recognised for the new ideas he brought to the team and was given additional responsibilities due to his work ethic, pragmatic approach in problem solving and ability to present solutions to clients simply.

Gilliland has risen through the ranks very quickly at Lubbock Fine and in just five years was appointed partner in December 2021. He works with a wide range of clients across sectors including technology, investment funds and property investment and development. He often manages the reporting for UK subsidiaries of larger group companies, reporting to the parent accounting function in Europe or the US and often becomes a vital part of the client’s finance team.

Throughout his time at the firm, he has played a pivotal role in growing the services offered by the business services team, with the team doubling in size in the last five years. He currently leads much of the day-to-day management of the team and drives recruitment, staff development, process and system improvements.

Gilliland offers fantastic support to his team and is known as the go-to person when a problem arises. He provides mentoring to the team, from new trainees through to managers, and encourages the team to develop in regular progression reviews to achieve their own personal goals. He was awarded the title of the most valuable player (MVP) at Lubbock Fine’s most recent annual away day, as a testament to the service he offers clients and the contribution he brings to both the team and wider firm.

Franki Hackett, head of audit and ethics, Engine B

Franki Hackett makes a massive contribution to the accountancy field as a thought leader both in and out of Engine B. She has become a major voice in the digitisation of audit and contributed to industry voices like Accountancy Age, Accountancy Today, ICAEW Insights, Business Insider and the Fintech Times.

Following a career in the third sector Hackett changed lanes and trained as an auditor at the NAO, where she went on to lead the data and analytics team, marrying both technical audit and technological skills in a unique role. She joined Engine B in August 2020 as the head of audit and ethics and has become one of the key leaders of the business.

Outside of her day job she sits on ICAEW advisory groups on ethics and technology, has a growing academic career following Research Fellowships at the European University Institute and King’s College London, and is a school governor. An expert in accounting technology, Hackett leads Engine B’s product development by translating the needs of accountants and their firms into technological solutions.

She is unparalleled in her ability to support the tech team in turning complex solutions into simple interfaces for the auditor to use. It’s fair to say that customers love her, this is not only because she speaks their language and that she is always able to answer queries and suggest solutions, but also because she is thoughtful, empathetic, and enthusiastic.

Becky Hartley, associate director, BDO

Becky Hartley has worked for BDO for 10 years after joining the firm’s graduate programme. In this short space of time, she has been fast-tracked to associate director and now works closely with partners on an international level.

Harley is in the tax dispute resolution team under the private client services group in London where she helps clients resolve complex tax disputes. She has demonstrated in her work to date that she is able to deal with a large variety of highly technical tax disputes and often presents on technical tax topics to the wider firm. Her areas of specialism include transparency and “offshore” disclosures as well as tax avoidance issues.

She is a CTA member and STEP Affiliate working towards becoming a full member. She is well-established in the industry for her work in the tax disputes world. She also represents the wider BDO Global network regularly. She spent three years working with BDO in Singapore and has built up a vast international network in the private client and tax arena and is well-known for providing UK tax advice in the Asia market, in particular in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Since returning to the UK last year, she has launched the Asia Advisory Services Group for BDO UK, which focuses on providing bespoke UK tax advice to high-net-worth individuals based in Asia. She also works closely with BDO’s international member firms to co-ordinate complex large scale tax advisory projects. Harley also represents BDO at international events such as STEP Global and STEP Asia. She regularly travels to Asia and Guernsey to represent BDO and present and discuss UK tax hot topics with intermediaries.

Chris Hession, audit partner, BK Plus

Chris Hession joined the EY audit department in 2014, following a successful internship and having graduated from the University of Birmingham with a first class honours degree. It was during his four years at EY that he discovered his passion for the SME market; ensuring that all clients are provided with the highest audit quality and the support to grow their business. As part of this, he transitioned over to regional accountancy firm Baldwins, now known as Azets. It was here that he aided the national transition to paperless working in all aspects of audit, educating staff as to both the environmental and economic benefits of this approach. As his reputation within the firm grew, he was quickly progressed through the ranks and into a senior manager role, responsible for overseeing one of the largest regional office portfolios.

In 2021, Hession was headhunted to become a partner at new start-up BK Plus, responsible for leading their audit department nationally. Contributing to the operational direction of the business, they have rapidly become a £10m turnover business with six offices across the country and c. 150 employees. Audit specific, he has overseen the growth of the entire division from nothing to c. £1m of recurring fees, with clients ranging in size from £1m to £100m+ in turnover.

Hession manages a team of ten audit staff nationally, responsible for their personal and professional development. He takes immense pride in his grass roots approach to recruitment ensuring that the firm gives opportunities to local school leavers and graduates and allowing all staff the opportunity to further their careers within a supportive environment.

He is a member of the ICAS charities panel, actively contributing to the guidance issued to both members and not-for-profit entities; ensuring that all parties feel supported in their adherence to the reporting standards. Away from work, he is a keen supporter and advocate of a number of charities; in one instance, travelling to Africa to support them with their financial planning to accelerate their future growth.

Alex Hird, director of technical and innovation, Azets

In 2016, as an audit supervisor at Garbutt & Elliott, Alex Hird identified that clients needed support with the more unusual areas of accounting, and also that data was to play a greater role in the future. As a result, he began to create an entirely new service line which would become the Technical and Innovation team. Despite the firm having no expertise, Hird was keen to use his double award-winning status from ICAEW final exams to deliver value for clients, which began with IFRS reporting and advisory, IPO support, share option valuations, and purchase price allocations, all of which were then audited by top firms with positive outcomes.

The team was instrumental in moving Garbutt & Elliott up the value chain, and instead of smaller audit clients Hird helped to win AIM Plc’s for annual reporting, a variety of household name clients, and both win and deliver support with several IPO’s taking the team’s client base nationally despite physical presence only in Yorkshire.

Since Garbutt & Elliot were acquired by Azets, Hird continues to be instrumental in the growth of the Technical Accounting service line as it is rolled out nationally. It’s gone from nothing to expected revenues of £1m in the year to September 2022, with similar contributions to other service lines. The team recently won ‘Team of the Year’ at the Yorkshire Accountancy Awards, and a manager selected and developed by Hird was the runner up in ‘Young Accountant of the Year’ at the awards.

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