Talent e-symposium: careers advice

Much has been made of the growing skills gap in the profession and the
shortage of newly qualified accountants entering the market. But while the jobs
may be there for those starting out in accountancy, the newly-employed will
still need to up their game if they want to hit the heights during their

At the Accountancy Age talent e-symposium last week, two young high fliers
with very different backgrounds and roles singled out enthusiasm and willingness
to take on new tasks as being key to standing out from your contemporaries.

In a session entitled ‘Accountancy as a launch pad to a dynamic career’,
Paolo Pieri, the 34 year-old finance director of online travel agent and
retailer, and Kathy Johnson, 28, music group manager at Tenon
Media, both admitted that success can not be achieved by waving a magic wand,
but rather through hard work, making yourself visible and, on occasion, blowing
your own trumpet.

Pieri landed the job after several roles within parts of the
Virgin empire, having gained an ICAS qualification at PricewaterhouseCoopers
following his degree at Glasgow University.

By contrast, Johnson opted to shun higher education and go straight into the
workforce. She landed a position at Godfrey Allan, which later became Tenon
Media, and has risen through the ranks.

Pieri described his role to the 1,700 registered delegates as being ‘more
about strategy and performance; using the numbers to achieve business goals’. He
also believes an FD should have the skills to be able to step in for the
managing director.

Johnson’s position may not be as senior, but she has one of the most
glamorous and exciting roles in the profession, working for some of the top
musicians in the country.

Her big break came when she signed up pop/rock three piece Busted who shot to
stardom, but has also worked with Blur, Ash, Gomez and Gorillaz. But her role
can often extend far beyond that of a typical accountant, as bands starting out
often need a great deal of help on all things financial.

‘I sometimes feel like more of a manager than an accountant,’ said Johnson.
‘Needy clients can make your work a lot harder, but you have a real sense of
pride when you see them playing live. You know you are a big part of what went
on to get them there.’

When quizzed by one delegate over whether she felt she had suffered in her
career because of a lack of university education, Johnson claimed otherwise, but
suggested that the current environment for new trainees favours graduates.

Having agreed with this, Pieri suggested that having a degree is often a
defining factor in successful applicants’ CVs at But he did say
that experience overrides qualifications in the long term.

Pieri is a keen advocate of developing emotional intelligence. It is one of
the so-called softer skills, but could be crucial for those looking to make
strides in their career.

‘If you have the opportunity to learn about emotional intelligence, do so. It
helps you to understand yourself and others. It enables you to find the optimum
way to interact with all types of people to get the best results. It is
something you can develop on the job, but I was lucky at Virgin in that we were
offered courses,’ he said.
‘It’s a key skill to identify as it’s a real differentiator. Other more
technical skills are great to have, but are often taken as given.’

For Johnson, networking is a crucial skill. In order to bring more clients on
board, she said she often has to spend evenings in ‘some really bad venues’
listening to bands for work before putting in a full day at the office the next
morning. ‘If you have a passion for what you do then it’s all the easier,’ she

The talent e-symposium also featured a round table debate on whether today’s
accountants are up for the job and a session on managing the finance team.

Rise to the top

For more tips and advice on reaching to the top, read Young Professional,
Accountancy Age‘s digital magazine for the next generation of
accountancy’s leaders. Visit

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