What it's like to work in accountancy: practice focus
Diana Frangou, a partner at RSM UK, tells us about her major career steps so far, from a placement in food manufacturing to becoming a partner in restructuring advisory.
My role is highly client facing and I am constantly interacting with new people both within the firm and in the marketplace.
Diana left college at 18, having completed her BTEC National Diploma in business and finance. We asked her to tell us about the career steps she took before becoming a partner at RSM.
What was your first full-time job?
I started my career in restructuring and advisory in a support function role with Arthur Andersen (then, one of the largest of the Top 5 accountancy firms globally), responding to an ad in a local paper. I rotated between various support functions, including cashiering, creditor support and employee claims, during my first three years. I also studied for my Association of Accounting Technicians (ATT) qualification on a ‘day release’ basis at a local college.
What do you think made you stand out from the other candidates?
I didn’t go to university but studying for a BTEC diploma provided me with practical knowledge and a greater business acumen which I would expect would have assisted in my CV screening and my employment interview. I think these aspects probably helped as well:
- My strong academic record.
- My ability to build rapport and engage with the interviewer, particularly as the role was heavily client facing.
- My work experience at a major clearing bank – a lot of the accountancy firm’s clients were banks. At school and college I undertook three work experience placements in food manufacturing, retail and banking. Each of these provided me with an excellent opportunity to develop my interpersonal skills and come out of my student comfort zone.
What have your major career steps so far been?
After passing my AAT exams I went on to be the youngest female to pass the notoriously difficult Joint Insolvency Examination Board exams and subsequently my ACCA qualification. After our restructuring division merged with EY in 2002 I undertook a highly successful 12-month secondment to the specialised lending services division of a major clearing bank, working in Birmingham, Manchester and London. This became part of my business case for promotion to director and becoming a licensed insolvency practitioner.
When did you join RSM?
I joined RSM (then Baker Tilly) in 2013, at the time the division was revisiting its strategy and market focus. For me it was about having a blank canvas on which to grow and develop our restructuring offering and broaden our market share. I was promoted to partner in 2015. Since then I have grown our Birmingham corporate restructuring practice and taken on wider roles within the firm.
What are your main responsibilities on a day-to-day basis?
- Leading teams and managing projects.
- Growing our business and working with others to assist them to grow their businesses too.
- Building an environment for others to flourish.
- Collaborating with management and their lenders in finding solutions to the increasing challenges facing them in their business.
- To ensure that each and every one is felt value and respected for the role they do.
What particular skills do you possess that make you good at your job?
I’m level headed and calm under pressure. I’m a team player and can interact well with a diverse range of people at all levels both internally and externally. I’ve also got enthusiasm, drive and tenacity.
How do you balance your work and home/social life?
I have to be very disciplined with myself, to keep focused on the task in hand in order to free up my time when necessary and be strict with myself when I need to leave! It is also equally as important to ensure that others in my team can have their own good work/life balance.
What makes your job exciting?
All our projects are different, as we have such a diverse range of clients. As you would expect of a partner, my role is highly client facing and I am constantly interacting with new people both within the firm and in the marketplace. In restructuring there is a lot uncertainty and unpredictability due to the nature of the clients we look after as the companies are generally in some form of financial difficulty. You could start the day with a to-do list and end up doing (and being somewhere) completely different!
What aspect of your job do you find the most challenging?
I have a broad range of responsibilities and a big to-do list! Given the distressed nature of the companies I deal with, this requires me to be hugely responsive to their needs and it can be very time pressured. I have to be flexible to accommodate each situation and rely on others to be equally as flexible when priorities change.
Tell us about a career highlight.
As a junior manager I worked on a project at Credit Suisse in Zurich for 9 months (initially a six- week project!). This gave me an opportunity not only to work overseas but to interact with a variety of senior people in our member firms around Europe. The role utilised my strong project management skills and enabled me to grow in confidence, standing me in a much greater stead on return to my local office.
And a career crisis!
When Enron collapsed in 2002, the future of Andersen was uncertain and therefore so was my career. The UK entity of Andersen merged into two other accountancy firms, one being EY. My career crisis was averted as I stayed with that firm for 11 years before moving to RSM.
Has anything surprised you about work in accountancy?
That it has the sitcom perception about being bland and boring (as well as the people). I could not disagree more – we have a diverse range of clients, partners and staff, and over 40 different service offerings to choose from!
What exciting sector developments have you witnessed?
The breadth of funding available to distressed businesses over recent years has provided a greater opportunity for businesses to restructure and turnaround rather than fail and enter an insolvency process.
What changes do you think we’ll see in the profession in the future?
Greater regulation and a widening consultancy offering as technology continues to evolve.
Top three skills for a successful career in accountancy?
Interpersonal skills, project management and commerciality.
What words of career advice would you offer young people entering the profession?
You should drive yourself, and if you do that – and you’re a self-starter and self-motivated – that’s when you’ll achieve the most.