Q&A: Sarah Breslin CA, Arthur J Gallagher
The CA magazine speaks to Sarah Breslin CA, Finance Director – Corporate Services at Arthur J Gallagher.
When did you qualify as a CA and who did you train with?
I qualified in 2003 and trained with PwC in audit and assurance in London. After qualification, I spent four years with Deutsche Bank as an MI analyst, before moving within the City to Barings Asset Management in 2007. There I became head of MI and income until I took the next step in 2012 by joining Arthur J Gallagher and assuming my position as finance director.
What does your job involve?
Gallagher is one of the world’s largest insurance broking and risk management services firms, so managing the cost base is crucial. For me, in the international division, that means forecasting and controlling costs and communicating expenditure decisions right across the corporate services spectrum – IT, real estate, marketing, finance, legal, HR – while understanding the real drivers of those costs and suggesting ways in which we could boost efficiency. I manage a team of business partners, aligned to the different disciplines, who are tasked with the same core objectives.
Who do you report to?
The CFO and the COO of Gallagher’s UK-based International division.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Variety. One hour I’ll be with real estate, deciding which office locations we need to be in, the next you’ll find me with marketing working on rebrand. It’s my job to clearly articulate the financial cost and benefits of any project and ensure decisions are assessed against the long-term strategic plan.
…And the worst?
Saying no to people – but cost control is obviously fundamental to commercial success. It helps that common goals are well communicated and understood.
As a CA you learn to hold yourself to a higher standard which manifests itself though incredibly hard work, acting with integrity and not always accepting the status quo.
What’s your next challenge?
As the UK-based international division of our US parent, we’ve grown rapidly through acquisition over the last five years. Effective integration is our number one priority – it demands a long-term programme of transformational change and won’t be achieved overnight, but it’s great to be part of the team set on securing it.
Where do you think your present role might lead?
Into a broader operational and strategic role – once I’ve achieved all I can in my current position.
What’s special about the culture at Arthur J Gallagher?
Gallagher has a strong culture based on shared values, which permeates the way we do business and is encapsulated in the 25 tenets of “The Gallagher Way”. This was penned back in 1984 by former chairman and CEO Bob Gallagher but every one still holds true, and reflects the fact that while Gallagher is now a global company, it remains firmly based on family values. My favourite is “Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself”.
How has your training as a CA helped prepare you for this role?
It provides you with a fantastic grounding for any work environment, finance or otherwise. Aside from the technical skills, which I use every day, as a CA you learn to hold yourself to a higher standard which manifests itself though incredibly hard work, acting with integrity and not always accepting the status quo.
What single piece of advice would you give a CA looking to pursue this career route?
Don’t be deterred or disheartened by any knock-backs or rejections; instead use them to become more resilient and determined to secure the positions and progression you want.
This article appears in the June 2016 edition of CA magazine.