Kelly Adams CA explains the value of not-for-profits
Kelly Adams CA trained with HLB Kidsons. Twenty-three years on, following the firm’s merger and rebranding as RSM UK, she’s still there, now as an Audit Partner. She tells Julie Burniston about retention, diversity and the value of not-for-profits
Born in Whitburn, a small mining town in West Lothian, Kelly Adams CA attended the local state school where she discovered a passion for debits and credits. Convinced this was to be her vocation, she took a master’s in accountancy and finance at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
“In my third year, we had the ‘milk round’, where accountancy firms came along to sell themselves to us,” she recalls. “It’s an important process where you learn what’s out there and consider jobs. I soon realised the giant firms weren’t for me – I’m a people person and I thought I might get lost. HLB Kidsons, as RSM was then, were the first to offer, and I accepted.”
Graduating in 2000 with her trainee position secured, Kelly settled into her role and began studying. “The ICAS CA is a prestigious qualification recognised around the world. I knew once I got it, I could probably do anything within reason,” she says. “The company put me through the exams, which I found challenging as I’m not a natural academic, but I qualified in 2003 and have found the CA to be a huge help ever since, especially the ethical considerations of always doing the right thing as an auditor, which is drummed into you very early on.”
Kelly initially worked on a mix of not-for-profit and corporate, as all trainees do, but soon realised her heart lay with the former. The sector was, and still is, a key one for RSM, comprising one in five audits and a tenth of its annual billings. “In 2005, I went on secondment to New York for three months, and by the time I made manager in 2007, I was doing not-for-profit the majority of the time. I have a great passion for the sector and really enjoy working with the people in it, particularly in charities and housing.”
In 2008, Kelly became proud mum to twins and had almost a year off work. “The firm was brilliant with me, both as a female and as a mum with ambitions,” she says. “They were very supportive and flexible, enabling me to become a Senior Manager in 2010, Audit Director in 2014 and Partner in 2017. It speaks volumes that I’ve been with them for so long because if I’d wanted to, I could have found a role elsewhere, but I’ve never felt the need, because as the firm grew in size it retained that caring culture.”
HLB Kidsons became Baker Tilly in 2002, then merged with RSM Tenon in 2013, rebranding as RSM UK in 2015. There have been smaller acquisitions along the way, including a small Edinburgh firm acquired in 2007, five of whose people are still on the team. “At RSM, we prioritise developing and retaining talented individuals as part of our ‘grow our own’ ethos,” says Kelly. “In Edinburgh alone, there are seven partners, four of whom joined as trainees.”
RSM UK is signed up to the Valuable 500 and Access Accountancy, both of which campaign for diversity, inclusion and making the profession accessible to all. “We offer school leaver and graduate programmes to train and develop individuals who don’t have the traditional qualifications to enter university. And we practise what we preach,” says Kelly. “We believe that by welcoming people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, we’re able to gather the best ideas and insights, which will in turn build a stronger business.”
The firm has many forums and steering groups – including Embrace for black and ethnic minorities and Prism for LGBTQ+ individuals – providing a network for people to connect and share experiences.
There is also a not-for-profit strategy group for partners and managers to share their expertise. “RSM’s reputation remains second to none when it comes to not-for-profit. It’s a valuable and important sector, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” says Kelly. “I feel that we are making a real difference in the lives of people who need it most.”
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