In Her Shoes | Karen Finlayson, Partner, PwC

karen finlayson pwc partnerI left school after staying in 6th form for a year to do business studies as the idea of running my own business always appealed to me. I then went on a Business Administration Apprenticeship programme working for small manufacturing company, then went onto work for DFS in Accounts and then Santander, again in Accounts. It was then I realised that I liked accounting and I decided I wanted to work in professional services. At that point I also realised that I needed to enhance my existing qualifications so I went back to College and then University part-time to study Business and Finance. I joined PwC in 2007 and never looked back – I love my job and feel very privileged to do something I still enjoy after all these years. My current roles at PwC include leading the Internal Audit Practice in the North and also I am the Health Industry leader for the North. These are both areas I love and have a genuine passion for, so again I feel very fortunate to be in this position.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

Typically my day starts at 5.30am. I am a morning person, thankfully so is my partner, and like having time to plan my day, catch up on emails and the news. I have a son who is 12 so once he is up and ready for school I start my daily commute to where ever that may be. My role covers the North and I also have clients in London so I travel most days. I don’t think I can describe a typical work day as it is very varied and at times unpredictable but I like to spend as much time as I can with my clients, building new relationship and networks. I tend leave the office at a reasonable time so I can spend some time with my son, then I will typically spend a couple of hours at the end of the evening working.   Where possible I like to fit in some exercise at least 2 – 3 times per week. Maintaining my health and wellbeing is also important.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Initially I wanted to run my own business but then later discovered professional services but I didn’t have a plan as such, it just kind of happened. Even when I joined PwC I had only intended to stay for 3 years but 18 years on I am still here, loving it and learning new things every day.

What do you love about working for PwC?

There are a number of things. I have a very ‘can do’ attitude so I love the variety and range of challenges I have to face. I am always learn something new thing and developing myself which is great. I love working with clients and engaging with people. Over the years I have met some of the most amazing talent people both inside and outside of the PwC and been presented with some equally amazing opportunities as a result. I’ve had a lot of fun too.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

I can remember when I was looking to join the professional services and going to a recruitment agency and being told that it was unlikely that I would get a job with one of the big accountancy firms because I was not a typical recruit given the academic route I had followed and I should consider something else. Thankfully I didn’t listen to them and applied directly rather than going through an agency and got the job. I’ve face many challenges throughout my career and to overcome them it’s important to stay positive and be resilient. Things may not always go your way but you should always use it as an opportunity to learn and be a stronger person because of it.

How have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

Yes definitely! The best mentors are the ones who are genuinely interested in you and are willing to personally invest time in you; and will not only will they give you helpful guidance, support and advice they will also provide constructive honest feedback too, whether it’s good or bad. Sponsorship is an interesting area that is vastly under rated. I’ve observed people who have had strong sponsorship and it really helps having a strong advocates who values you as a person and what you do. Sponsor will provide or guide you with opportunities and they inspire confidence as the person feels supported.

Do you believe in the power of networking? If so, where do you network?

Never undervalue the importance of your networks. I have developed some great networks and relationships over the years which has led to me making some interesting connections with new people and presented opportunities. It is important to find time to nurture your networks and keep in regular contact with them. I am always developing my networks through new and existing connections, attending industry relevant networks and events. I also use social media and I’m also involved with Women on Boards and more recently Women in Business.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles either inside or outside their own organisations?

Self-awareness is important as you need to conscious of the impact your presence has on others and ‘what do you want to be known for’. Make sure you demonstrate your talents wherever possible so it’s clear that you have something more to give. Also seek out opportunities that will help you to develop your knowledge and talents. I know that some people find self-promotion uncomfortable but don’t be afraid to speak to senior people and let them know who you are and what unique talents and skills you bring to your role and the organisation.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in professional services?

It’s a great career choice. The profession has changed a lot since I started 18 years ago. The services and expectations from our clients, industries and society continually increases and we need to keep pace with change and those expectations. Its career where you will continue to learn and develop and the opportunities are vast.

What does the future hold for you?

Professionally. Firstly, I want to continue to have a successful career at PwC and also support and sponsor individuals to help them achieve their career ambitions. Secondly, I really enjoy non-executive roles. I was previously on the board and the Chair of Audit Committee at an educational institution and now I am a Lay Board Member at a hospital trust. Both roles have been hugely valuable in terms of my self-development. Finally, I think the greatest gift you can give someone is confidence, especially young people, so when I have more time I would like to be involved in a charity or programme that helps young people to become more confident and have the self-belief that with resilience and hard work they can achieve their full potential.

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