Mentor of the Month - Jeni Graham
Jeni Graham CA is Director of Corporate Resources and Organisational Development at Relate, the Relationship charity. She talks to Stef Scott about why she became a mentor and the great range of experience she can offer young CAs.
Can you tell me about your career journey so far?
After studying Law in Edinburgh, I trained with Arthur Young McClelland Moores & Co (now EY) in Dundee. When I qualified, I moved to Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) to take up a role in Rabaul, a township in Papua New Guinea. Since then I’ve had a really interesting and varied career, working in senior roles across the charity sector as well as the private and public sectors.
My experience covers not just finance, but also change management, programme management and operations across all facets of running a business. All my career moves have helped me improve, and make the best possible use of my skills and experience to move my career forward. For example, I’ve held senior roles at Bournemouth University, Gemini Consulting (Cap Gemini), Cable and Wireless, and Compassion in World Farming before joining Relate in 2013.
What have been some of your career highlights?
During my time in Papua New Guinea, I was able to work in different roles all around the country. I was involved in all aspects of accounting and tax, including personal tax returns, and at one point I even acted as the interim financial controller for one of C&Ls’ clients in another city. I was also involved in mentoring students who were studying for the Papua New Guinea Professional Accountancy qualification. All this was very different from the experience I would have got had I stayed in the UK.
I was the first ever female manager, and the second youngest, so this was treading new ground.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced was when I was promoted in my thirties to General Manager, Bermuda with Cable and Wireless after just five years at the firm. I was the first ever female manager, and the second youngest, so this was treading new ground.
Shortly after I took up the post, the Bermuda Government removed Cable and Wireless’s exclusive operating licence and opened up the telecoms market to other providers. I then had a great deal of work to do to move the business forward and help it become more competitive. I had to do public speaking, TV and radio interviews which took me outside of my comfort zone. That was a really rewarding, but highly challenging time.
Why did you decide to move to Relate in 2013?
At that point in my career I’d had experience of one charity, working for Compassion in World Farming, and I was keen to work for one with a different operating model and different income streams. At Relate the majority of the delivery of client services is organised through a federation of independent local centres in England and Wales and the role of Director of Corporate Resources and Organisational Development is very broad.
In 2013, the organisation was also going through a major transformation. That appealed to me as I like to continuously improve ways of working as well as continuing to learn and develop. I also felt that my experience and skills gained in different sectors would help with the transformation and enable me to add value. Furthermore I like people – I want to help them be the best they can be, because I endeavour to be the best that I can be. Relate was attractive as it is all about people and relationships.
How has being a CA helped you in your career?
My CA training has been invaluable. The qualification is so well respected, and it demonstrates a certain quality and level of skill and experience. I do think that the ICAS training makes you well-rounded as a professional.
My CA training has been invaluable. The qualification is so well respected, and it demonstrates a certain quality and level of skill and experience.
If you are willing to take advantage of all the different experiences that come your way during your ICAS CA training, then that helps to build your confidence and help you grow. For me, my CA training not only gave me a good basic grounding, but also gave me confidence in myself. This has helped me develop my career more broadly outside the world of finance.
Why did you decide to become a mentor?
I’ve been a mentor in several of the organisations I’ve worked in, including at Cable & Wireless and also at Bournemouth University. When the opportunity came up to join the ICAS mentoring programme I felt that the breadth of my experience across different sectors might add a unique dimension.
I am passionate about learning and development, and felt that I would not only be able to give something back, but that I personally would get a lot out of it by listening, helping someone look at things differently and offering a different perspective. I also wanted to get involved because of the advantages that my CA training and qualification have given me.
What do you think you could offer newly qualified CAs as a mentor?
It’s clear from my background that I’ve got experience across different sectors and cultures. I can offer more than just a straight or traditional financial background. I’ve worked in a number of quite broad roles, so although finance has always been a key part of my roles, it’s not always the only thing.
I’ve worked in different countries, industries, sectors and cultures. My experience is truly international. It’s such an important thing for anyone looking to work globally to understand different cultures and different ways of working. Aside from sharing my experience I think I have the ability to help people really open up options they might not otherwise have considered.
I’m interested in helping someone see the bigger picture. I like to see how a business fits together to deliver services to the client/customer most effectively and efficiently and where and how I can add value, and I want to help my mentees do the same, whether that’s in the private sector, the third sector or local government.
Mentoring is about helping someone articulate their career hopes and dreams and understanding how to turn these into reality in terms of career development.
What skills do you think good mentors have?
Good mentors have three key skills:
- The most important skill is to be able to listen and act as a sounding board. As a mentor, your role is not to make the decisions, but to listen and provide challenge in a supportive way.
- Another essential skill is the ability to ask questions and know when the time is right to prompt your mentee with questions like: “Have you thought about this..?” or “What do you want to get out of..?”
- The third area is about putting in place a structure for the mentoring process itself. This is about making sure you understand what your mentee wants to get out of each meeting, and what your overall goals for the mentoring relationship are.
What do you think are the main benefits of having a mentor?
The main thing is the fact that mentees have an impartial, experienced person really listening and acting as a sounding board in a non-judgemental fashion. It’s also about helping someone articulate their career hopes and dreams and understanding how to turn these into reality in terms of career development.
Sometimes all that’s required is to really genuinely listen and play back what you’re hearing. Quite often people do know what to do and sometimes they don’t. They may have thought of something but maybe discounted it, or sometimes they just haven’t thought about other options at all. It’s really up to me just to let them speak and then try and play it back. I’m a firm believer that as a mentor, you need to allow people to remain in charge of their decision making. After all, it’s their life.
Jeni is a qualified Chartered Accountant whose experience spans the charity sector, higher education, local government and the private sector.
She has been in senior management positions for over 20 years and has held many complex leadership roles within start-ups, fast growing companies and organisations going through change both in the UK and globally.
ICAS career mentoring through CA Connect
The ICAS career-mentoring process is entirely member-initiated, with interested CAs required to proactively reach out to potential mentors or mentees through CA Connect, our member-exclusive online community platform.
Other mentoring opportunities from ICAS