The Leadership legacy at Wellers

At the start of 2019, my colleague Christina Nawrocki took over from Kathleen Parker as Wellers’ new Managing Partner. She has become just the second woman to occupy the role in our firm’s 75 year history. This represents a further, progressive development in our culture and values.

On top of this announcement we’re also very proud to welcome 3 new leaders to the partnership with the promotions of Ross Andrews, Joe Lennon, and Chris Thompson. Their selflessness, willingness to help our staff, and how they contribute to driving various aspects of the business means they’re well placed to help the firm develop and grow.

In this article we discuss the importance of leadership, why we’re bucking the trends in the marketplace and how business is about far more than just short term results and numbers

Why leadership is about legacy

Having been in existence for three quarters of a century, leadership for us is about the individual’s role in terms of their contribution to our history. What we mean by this is successful leadership, in particular every partner, is ultimately judged on their legacy.

It’s about expanding the business by driving our purpose (why we exist) and maintaining the values (what we believe in) that have allowed Wellers to thrive over the years. We’re living in a time of unprecedented technological change. The accounting profession is no exception, many of the traditional methods applied to client work have altered beyond recognition in the last decade.

The point being greater adoption of technology and the impact this can have on human tasks, highlights that business today is actually about people more than ever. As roles change, or disappear, the continued promotion of our values is witnessed in the importance our staff place on relationships with clients, suppliers, and their colleagues and this remains a core component of our strategic direction.

This is reflected in the actions, behaviours, accomplishments, and leadership progression of our employees. If in another 75 years from now, the firm’s vision results in similar inspiration, support and care being applied to help our clients and our people to achieve their true potential, then that is a sign of true progress and success.

As an example of legacy, Kathleen Parker’s rise to become the firm’s first female managing partner was a watershed moment in our history in 2013. Christina being the second is evidence of our values developing and thriving.

Whilst quarterly results and targets are of course very important, taken alone they can lead to short termism and a finite viewpoint. As our history demonstrates, business is about the long game, a case of persistence and continuous improvement of our people to deliver an exceptional client service that endures beyond our professional lives. We have a leadership programme in place for our teams at various levels that recognises this at an early stage.

The lack of female leaders in the profession

Christina previously headed up our HR function for many years. In this role she was involved extensively in multiple projects across the firm, in particular culture driven initiatives to develop our staff and drive the quality of our client work. This meant her rise to managing partner was a natural progression and in many ways an extension of much of the work she’d performed in the past.

Alas her career progress appears to be a statistical deviation from the industry norm. The numbers make for stark reading. Just 19% of senior positions in the top 1,000 accountancy firms were held by women in 2016 according to research by Visible Women. That’s despite female accounting students now outnumbering their male equivalents.

Looking to the wider UK workplace, a survey conducted by the Guardian found of 399 corporates, just 22% had women on their boards in 2017 and 16% had no female members whatsoever!.

The future leaders and our first non-accounting partner

Looking at our latest promotions, at 31 and 33 respectively, Ross Andrews and Joe Lennon have risen to the status of partner quickly. Typically it takes around 15 years from qualification as an accountant to move up the ranks to become a partner.

Ross is unusual in that he left school, forewent University and went straight into practice with another firm. Usually then the route is to study the technician level AAT qualification however, Ross fast tracked straight to the ACA exams and became a chartered accountant.

Whilst we’re proud that most of our partners joined our firm as trainees, we’ve never been averse to hiring people externally at a more senior level if they share our beliefs and behaviours.

Joe and Ross are evidence of this as is Chris Thompson, who has developed our marketing function and becomes our first non-accounting partner. Given the financial background of their people, the leadership of most accounting firms consists of the equivalent of several Finance Directors running different division and operations. This can sometimes limit perspective.

In promoting Chris we’re recognising the vision those from different backgrounds can bring in terms of thinking differently and strategic perspective. While we pride ourselves on retaining long term members of staff we realise that transformation requires outside influences and skills.

Strategy and leadership are based on a shared vision of where everyone wants to go, which is why the leadership team is key. Whatever form that takes in your organisation, be it a group of trustees, a committee, a partnership group or a board you need to ensure it can evolve and develop. It needs to offer opportunities to all and allow everyone to develop at their own pace in an honest and nurturing environment.

Give yourself time to reflect and enjoy your achievements and don’t be afraid to revisit the plans when the strategy needs updating. Getting to the destination is almost as important as how much you enjoy the journey!

Leaders are made, not born

This all highlights our belief that environment, specifically culture, shapes behaviour. Hence why, with the right training, development, and attitude, anyone has the potential to lead. For us it’s not just about how much an individual wants it but rather how much they’re willing to commit to helping others.

Being a leader at Wellers starts as soon as you join and it’s about taking ultimate responsibility for the lives, careers, and success of those in your charge.

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