A leader among CAs: Colin McLellan CA

Colin McLellan CA and Ken McHattie CA
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

16 September 2016

Winner of the ICAS 35 CAs under 35 leadership category, Colin McLellan CA, talks to Eleanor O'Neill about moving abroad and becoming a leader.

The leadership category sought out the young CAs who inspire others and drive the profession forward. The ambition and ability to spearhead a team was essential.

Colin impressed the judges with his enthusiasm for engaging with both his work and his team. He has proven himself to be highly adaptable to challenging circumstances and has enjoyed great success in such a situation.

He relocated to Tokyo earlier this year to fill the role of interim CEO of a joint venture between Skyscanner and Yahoo! Japan. Colin developed a team there for the improvement of product and drive growth and, during that time period, more than doubled monthly visitors and revenue.

How did you enjoy the 35 CAs under 35 competition?

The process was clearly very professionally run and well organised. The judging sessions themselves were very relaxed and enjoyable - I learned from my interviewers about their experiences as well as getting the chance to tell them more about my own.

The One Young CA Awards were really good fun. I got to meet lots of extremely talented and inspirational peers and felt very honoured to be part of it, let alone to win the leadership category.

What made you take the opportunity to relocate abroad?

I’ve always sought out challenges in my career to do new things that would take me out of my comfort zone.  This was a big one: to lead a high profile joint venture in a culture I’d never experienced before and to lay the foundations for the future success of Skyscanner.jp.

I knew I would be working with the very best people from Skyscanner and Yahoo! Japan and that it would be an opportunity for me to learn from the best and really get to understand the operational challenges of our business. 

Genchi genbutsu’ they call it in Japan, which means ‘go and see for yourself’.

Also, I think life’s more interesting when you say ‘yes’ to things that initially scare you – you find out more about yourself as well as the subject matter.

Who inspires you?

I can’t say I have any specific role models, not any really famous ones anyway.  I respect people who aren’t afraid to risk being wrong in the pursuit of making things better. 

At Skyscanner we have a culture of ‘fail forward’ which encourages everyone to experiment with new things and if the test fails, learn from it to make the next experiment better.

I like the Thomas Edison quote in relation to the lightbulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. That sort of tenacity is behind most great inventions and businesses and that inspires me.

I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from some incredible people at Skyscanner – there are some real geniuses here and seeing what they can do, and how they think about opportunities, is very exciting.

How has the CA qualification helped you in your career?

In lots of ways, but three come to mind as being fundamental. Firstly, the ability to mentally process lots of technically complex data and separate the priorities from the noise.

Second, don’t cut corners. When the business around you feels like it’s going at a 100 mph it could be tempting to try to increase personal productivity by taking shortcuts.

I think the ICAS training instills a level of professionalism that makes you realise that’s never a good idea and encourages you to hold colleagues to the same standards which is good for the governance hygiene of the business.

And lastly, there’s no doubt that the ICAS qualification is very highly regarded overseas as much as it is in the UK.

What is your advice to other CAs looking to advance their careers?

Don’t be frightened to explore, both geographically and with your career.  If you’re willing to be flexible in relation to which country you work in, you’ll find that a whole world of opportunities open up to you.  

So long as you’re being proactive to make sure you’re learning new skills (that is really important) and you’re happy, then opportunities will present themselves.


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