One Young CA: The future is now
Ethics and outreach are cornerstones of what it means to be crowned One Young CA. We catch up with the six past winners to learn how their interest in social issues has fuelled their professional drive.
Youth,” as the two-time Prime Minister and full-time bon viveur Benjamin Disraeli once put it, “is the trustee of prosperity.” Which is part of the reason why, for the past six years, ICAS has crowned the One Young CA: the one member, aged under 35, who has shown a particular ability and zeal when it comes to driving the accountancy profession forwards.
As well as skill and professionalism, the six winners to date – each of whom, at least until the Covid-interrupted 2020 iteration, went on to represent ICAS at the One Young World conference – were chosen for their ethical credentials and outward-looking approach to their vocation, crucial factors in making them champions of the accountancy profession and worthy guardians of its future.
A 2018 McKinsey study of 1,000 companies across 12 countries found that diverse organisations are substantially more likely to be profitable. So it’s no surprise that the winners’ achievements in the field of equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) are such a core theme of their careers to date. We speak to all six about their own personal experiences with ED&I, and how winning One Young CA has influenced their career trajectory and professional outlook.
Hamisha Mehta CA (One Young CA 2019)
CFO, Know You More
“As CFO, my role is all-encompassing,” says Hamisha Mehta CA of her position at digital coaching provider Know You More. “It’s a start-up, so I’m involved in everything from cashflow to business plans to discussions with investors.”
Mehta has never been one for sticking to a strict remit. During her time at Pladis Global, which followed her seven-year stint at EY, she was a mentor for the Migrant Leaders charity, which “supports the next generation of leaders from migrant backgrounds who may not have access to mentors”. She has also been on the ICAS ED&I Committee (and its Guthrie Group predecessor) for more than a year.
“It’s evolved considerably in the last few months, especially since the new Chair, Tracey Perera CA, came in,” she says. “When I started my career, my peers – and I can only talk about visible diversity here – seemed to be a diverse bunch. ICAS is doing a lot more outreach to try to get people from backgrounds who wouldn’t before have considered accountancy.
“But as I progressed through my career that diversity seemed to diminish each time I got more senior. Which makes me wonder, where are people going and why? That’s why being involved in the ICAS ED&I Committee is so important to me. It’s not just about the support we can offer to help to build a diverse graduate intake, but also what we are doing to support our members throughout their careers, so that they can change that diversity balance at the senior levels in their respective organisations.”
Mehta found the summit she attended as the 2019 One Young CA a huge boost to her motivation for all things ED&I. “I’ve always had a passion for diversity, equality, inclusion, people development,” she says, “and One Young World really brought home the fact that every individual has the power to make a difference.”
Jonny Jacobs CA (One Young CA 2017)
Finance Director EMEA, Starbucks
A life-long interest in food and drink saw Jonny Jacobs CA attracted to roles in big-hitting companies such as Heineken and M&S, following his training with KPMG. But it was in his time at snacking brand Pladis, in 2017, that he first became involved with neurodiversity.
“I was appointed Strategy Director for UK&I, and we had just signed a pledge to promote mental health in the workplace,” he says.
“Due to my own experiences with my friends and family I naturally gravitated towards that. I was humbled to become executive sponsor of the programme. We had an amazing team of wellbeing ambassadors, which ultimately led to the most incredible programme designed to support people in tough times and also to promote positive mental wellbeing. That led to a partnership between McVitie’s and mental health charity Mind, seen by millions across the UK.”
Jacobs is steering the same agenda at Starbucks, where he is sponsor of mental health and wellbeing across EMEA, while also a trustee of the Mental Health Foundation and an NED of Mental Health at Work.
Jacobs – who has also been a trustee for the UK spinal cord injury charity Aspire – is very interested in social mobility. “I’ve seen people like me from working-class families struggle to get an internship,” he says. “I got rejected time and time again. I became quite fearful of having nothing. Through sheer luck, I got an opportunity and feel incredibly grateful for that today. Accountancy was a little nepotistic, but programmes like the ICAS Foundation are breaking that down. We have to push ourselves more with initiatives such as blind CVs: but then a CV might have no name on it, but what about the applicant’s education?”
Like other former winners, Jacobs says One Young World put a wind in his sails. “It was in Colombia,” he recalls, “and I was sitting there in front of these incredible speakers, pinching myself as to why I should be there, listening to President Santos telling us to make the impossible possible, with big names talking about their experiences of mental ill health. That turned my childhood fear of having nothing into a sense of purpose.” It’s a purpose for which being a CA is the perfect platform: “Financial professionals play across all levels – so it’s a leadership role that comes with huge responsibility.”
Amjad Hassan CA (One Young CA 2020)
Restructuring Manager, EY-Parthenon
As a specialist in restructuring and insolvency, Amjad Hassan CA is doing plenty for people’s mental wellbeing in his core professional activities, with the rescue of an international manufacturer in Scunthorpe being among his key achievements.
Alongside such duties, Hassan, who joined EY in 2018 after four and a half years at Grant Thornton, has also been actively involved in championing mental health, as well as diversity and inclusiveness initiatives.
“The best way to make a team more diverse and inclusive is through education,” he says. “Naturally, we’re all raised with different backgrounds and cultures, so to share my experiences and learn about other cultures, I’ve reverse-mentored senior members of the team. I’ve also delivered training to my team, both locally and nationally, on the differences in their culture and working practices.”
A great believer in a broad approach to ED&I – “It’s great to see ICAS also focusing its efforts on the under-representation of EDP [ethnically diverse people] and disabled people, and other minority groups,” he says – Hassan knew beforehand what he intended to do if he won the One Young CA.
“It was always to use it as a platform to further my advocacy of wellbeing and diversity in the workplace,” he says. “One particular outcome I’m proud of is the wellbeing ‘rule of six’, which involved a set of guiding principles being created, after numerous national feedback sessions, encouraging behaviours that put wellbeing at the heart of the agenda. It’s now a great resource to hold each other to account.”
Rimla Akhtar CA (One Young CA 2016)
Founder, RimJhim Consulting; Councillor, The FA
Mo Salah’s anti-drugs endeavours, Marcus Rashford’s school meals campaign and Serena Williams’ work on gender equality with Procter & Gamble are all examples, says Rimla Akhtar CA, of how powerful a platform for change sport can be. Hence her decision in 2005, while carving out a successful accounting career at PwC, to get involved with the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation, of which she was Chair until stepping down in 2018.
Her work with the organisation brought her to the attention of the FA and, in 2014, she became the first Muslim or Asian woman on the FA Council. “For me what’s really important is providing a platform that promotes equality, and enables people to really give their all and have that sense that we operate within genuine meritocracies,” she says.
Akhtar is in a prime position to understand prejudice. “There’s a lot of research out there about the triple penalty that Muslim women face – being a woman, being of an ethnic background, and being a Muslim,” she says. “And the hijab adds a fourth level.” She insists, though, that tackling prejudice is a universal obligation. “We all have biases – it’s part of being human – and we all have to be aware of them and work with them, especially if you want to be a leader, not just in sport but in any industry. I have my own and I have to do that on a day-to-day basis.”
Akhtar, whose own company RimJhim Consulting also works tirelessly on developing good governance, culture and leaders (“inclusion is part of good governance,” she points out), says winning One Young CA has enhanced the effectiveness of her efforts in this area. “I’ve reconnected with ICAS, with thousands of people in the UK and internationally who, like me, are focused on doing their bit and leaving their legacy in the world,” she says. That legacy is already considerable: her accolades include being ranked 14th in the 2018 Forbes global list of the Most Powerful Women in International Sports and, in 2015, being awarded an MBE.
Indy Hothi CA (One Young CA 2015)
Director and Head Of Projects, Upside
The inaugural One Young CA winner’s journey with diversity issues really began, Indy Hothi CA says, during his formative years: “My appearance – top-knot and brown skin – meant I was always getting pulled out for photographs when local newspapers were visiting my school to cover some kind of initiative that I often knew nothing about.”
Following his CA qualification, Hothi took on roles at HSBC and EY, where he led the EY Sikh Network and informed EY’s global D&I strategy. During this time he ran “a number of graduate insight days clearly targeting EDP and minority-related societies at universities”. Immediately after the Brexit referendum result, he also spent a year with the Department for International Trade as an adviser “supporting large businesses such as Lego, eBay and Amazon in terms of their UK investment and strategy”.
After a 12-month sabbatical Hothi and some former colleagues founded the consultancy Upside, which helps businesses adapt to digital trends and emerging technologies. As a CA, he believes he’s in a stronger position than anyone to address all matters ED&I related. “CAs are in the engine room of a business,” he says. “They can clearly articulate the business case for ED&I because the evidence is overwhelming – in academic research and business case studies – that effecting change in that area is clearly good for fostering innovation, retention of employees, commercial performance and attracting talent.”
Does he feel accountancy is in a good place in terms of diversity? “Yes and no,” he says. “I can see a concerted effort from stakeholders to really address these issues, but there’s still a long way to go with accountability. Now, though, there’s at least recognition that there’s a long way to go – which is a crucial step. Diversity can be relegated to something HR manages, but actually every single person has to take collective responsibility. It can’t be about one-off initiatives – every leader needs to buy into the values of belonging and inclusiveness at a commercial level, an intellectual level and an emotional level.”
Michael Scott CA (One Young CA 2018)
Group Financial Controller, DPS Group
“My role now sees me communicating with all members of staff at all levels, FDs from our global customer base, suppliers, lawyers, bankers and of course other accountants,” says Michael Scott CA of his current duties at engineering firm DPS Group.
It’s a role he would have found impossible to envisage during his formative years. “The ultimate hurdle I had to overcome was socioeconomic,” he explains. “I was raised in a single-parent council house in Glenrothes, Fife. A career as an accountant was alien to me. I recall looking at career options in the school library, subconsciously ruling out a lot of professions as being simply unattainable.”
With his mother – who juggled the upbringing of four children with completing an English degree and a post-grad in education – as his role model, he qualified in 2016, while working at EQ Accountants. Perhaps not surprisingly, Scott has always made addressing social equality one of his major motivational drivers.
“I’m determined to use my qualification to ensure I do everything I can to create a more level playing field,” he says. “I do this by supporting the ICAS Foundation – which removes those invisible barriers by awarding mentoring opportunities and offering financial support to students – as well as volunteering as the treasurer for [disadvantaged families charity] Fife Gingerbread.”
Scott is also a strong advocate of both neurodiversity – “Since 2006, I’ve volunteered with a charity that sees adults take local children with various additional support needs on a week’s holiday each year” – and gender equality. He recalls one young woman joining an accountancy firm, and being subject to “toxic sexism”. He explains: “She was denied the opportunity to visit clients and work on management accounts… criticised in minute detail compared to her male counterparts.” She was even compared to one partner’s toddler.
Scott has made huge strides in overcoming any obstacles imposed by an underprivileged upbringing, his One Young CA victory in June 2018 having had a galvanising effect on his self-development. “That brought me well out of my comfort zone and instilled in me a greater level of confidence and self-belief,” he says.
And what of that female former colleague, who is now a friend? He says: “She has a flourishing career with one of the Big Four, with a portfolio of clients from all over the world.”