Sophie Randles, Head of Practice at Rutherford Cross, interviews the new Audit Partner for Mazars Glasgow, Craig Maxwell.

Mazars is a truly integrated international firm, ranked as the 8th largest UK partnership by audit fee income and considered a major player in the Scottish accountancy market, employing over 120 staff in their offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

In November 2016, Craig Maxwell, became the newly appointed Audit Partner for Mazars Glasgow office, joining the senior leadership team in Scotland. Spending the last 13 years working in Australia for a leading global accountancy firm, Craig returns to his roots in Glasgow bringing with him an excellent track record and a wealth of experience which, will aid in the development and evolution of Mazars Scotland.

In the below Q&A, Craig shares his thoughts with Sophie Randles from Rutherford Cross on why he strived for partnership and what changes in the sector will mean for the future leaders of practice firms.

Sophie: Firstly, congratulations on your recent appointment as Audit Partner for Mazars Glasgow. What factors do you think made your case to be successful in this recruitment process?

Craig: Looking back I think it was all about the right fit, from both sides. Throughout the process I went with the mind-set of just being honest and being myself, and that was reciprocated. Each stage of the interview process felt very comfortable and the Mazars team were open and down to earth. Rather than it feeling like a formal interview, it was more like a relaxed friendly discussion. I believe that way you find out more about each other and the culture of the team that you are joining, which is key.

Sophie: “Partnership vs Finance Director”, could you provide further insight into why you chose to remain in practice as opposed to a myriad of other options I’m sure were open to you?

Craig: There are a few reasons, but for me the primary reason is the people you get to work with and the relationships you develop, at various levels. From the fellow partners that you work alongside to run your business and the close relationship you build with your team, to the experience of partnering and working closely with a range of clients.

There is also the variety of people and businesses that you are exposed to – each day is different. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with small privately owned companies to large public multinationals across a variety of industries. This exposure and experience has been invaluable and you get a lot of satisfaction when you go on a journey with a client and can help them at various stages.

Sophie: Succession planning appears to be a challenge for regional accounting firms, what are your thoughts around encouraging professionals to remain in practice or return to the profession

Craig: I feel that the perception around practice is that the role of partner is one that is, more often than not, unachievable, and there is an air of uncertainty to what it really takes to progress within these senior roles and what the benefits really are.

I have worked within audit and assurance my whole career, but as my career has progressed I have been exposed to various roles and responsibilities, allowing me to develop a set of skills more aligned with a business owner rather than a technical auditor. From the role of Manager to Partner you are part of a senior team that are running a business, responsible for all areas including business growth and strategy, financial performance, staff management and development, culture, marketing, IT, etc.

In order to deal with the issue of succession planning we need to be more open and honest with our staff, talking to them more regularly and understanding what their longer term life and career goals are. At the same time, we need to be more transparent around what the medium term can look like for each individual and the benefits and rewards available to them.

When I have worked with my teams in the past I don’t expect everyone wants to be a Partner, but as long as they achieve all they want to from their careers and when they make their career decisions they make it well informed and at the right time for them.

Sophie: There appears to be less appetite in the market to reach Partner level, and one of the main issues we hear is a gap between the employees’ perceptions and Partner’s expectations. Do you agree with this statement?

Craig: I don’t agree with this comment entirely, but can appreciate where the perception comes from and I believe this has been created by the ‘practices of old’.

From my experience over the last 2-3 years it’s clear that some medium to large practices are closely looking at how they operate internally, the interaction between partners and staff and the office environment. They are looking to create a modern open plan workspace, investing in current technology, embracing flexible working and rewriting their internal policies and procedures. I believe this is a big step in the right direction to ensure that the way we work appeals to the next generation of young professionals and develops a high performing team supported by a culture of honesty, opportunity and reward.

I also believe we need to be communicating more effectively at the student levels, ensuring they appreciate what working in practice can offer and at the same time understanding what their needs are now and for the future. As I said at the start, appreciate that the gap is still there but I’m embracing the changes we are making to close it.

Sophie: Embracing change in the accountancy profession is a hot topic of conversation, in your opinion what impact will the advancement of technology have on accountancy firms with regards to a change in skill set required, and consequently a change in the future skills of a partner?

Craig: Our profession has come a long way from the days of paper audits and multi coloured pens, I know I’ve not used my abacus in a long time!! But seriously, I believe we do well to keep up with the advancement of technology, we have to as we are external facing and employ a lot of young professionals who have certain expectations around technology. Our clients’ own internal systems are evolving too, so how we service and correspond with them has to change. We need to be more tech savvy so that the way we present and communicate with clients and targets is effective and current.

The biggest change is around how people now operate day to day, they are more mobile now than they ever have been and how they work has changed forever. Our systems need to support our staff so that they can easily work from anywhere, but still be in contact and have access to everything they need to work and service our clients effectively.

This is a change in mind-set and a way of working and one that the future partner will need to embrace, the next generation expects it. This is heavily linked with the environment and culture we wish to generate for our staff, which is one focused on empowerment, trust and performance. And also how we interact, communicate and service our clients, technology can help us be at the forefront of our clients minds and service them more effectively.

Saying that, I am still a great believer that people work with people, so that human element will never go away, thankfully!!

Sophie: Finally, what advice would you give to aspirant partners in the Scottish market?

Craig: I’m very positive about the Scottish market and the opportunities it can provide aspiring professionals, especially given the calibre of professional and commercial organisations based in Scotland.

So don’t be shy, sitting back waiting for it to come to you won’t work, you need to be on the front foot and demonstrate a hunger to progress and contribute to the future of the organisation. Make it known what you want to achieve and what help you need from your firm to achieve it!

Each firm I have worked with I have always looked for 3 things before joining;

  • Does the culture fit and will I enjoy who I work with;
  • Will it provide me with the opportunity to grow and develop as a professional; and
  • What do I bring to the table, can I make a positive contribution?

I believe if you can tick these 3 boxes you’ve found a home where you will be able to develop and achieve.

Sophie Randles leads the Audit & Advisory business for Rutherford Cross, bringing with her a strong track record of delivering retained assignments at Director/Partner level in the accountancy profession in Scotland. To arrange a confidential discussion with Sophie, please email [email protected]