AAT Winner’s stories: Gemma Close MAAT

Although AAT Rising Star of the Year Gemma Close MAAT, stumbled upon accountancy, she has thrown herself into making it a success.

Eight years ago, Gemma Close was at a crossroads. After studying a media degree at the University of Bedfordshire, she looked for relevant opportunities in West Yorkshire, but couldn’t find anything that fit the bill. She had been working in hospitality to support herself during her studies, however, which opened up an opportunity that she’d never considered before. 

Close studied AAT and looked for a job that would help her develop her career. That led her to Leeds-based CHN Financial Consultancy, which is where she’d make such an impression that she was named AAT’s Rising Star of the Year for 2019. 

A great mentor

Close actually started on reception at CHN while she studied AAT – the firm was very supportive of her ambitions. She moved into finance within a year. Close’s manager was a great mentor to her, as she had also studied AAT previously and kept pushing her to do more. “She understood every step of the way what I’d learned and what I could handle over and above my role.” 

Thanks to that attentive mentoring and her own dedication, Close was promoted three times in four years. Her career has grown along with CHN, which kept Close on her toes.   

“When I joined, there were about ten members of staff, and now we’ve got between 50 and 60. So I seem to have joined at just the right time to grow with the company, move up the ladder, and develop.” Importantly, she notes, “CHN has still got a family-friendly feel – we’ve not grown to the point where we’ve become over-corporate.”

Starting out as a finance assistant

Close started in the team as a finance assistant, and in 21 months was promoted to finance officer. At the end of 2018, she became finance manager, one of the most senior roles in the company’s business support teams, reporting directly to the company’s partners.

“The variety of tasks I undertake keeps the role interesting. I enjoy the analysis of costs and being able to implement new processes or products to help create efficiency. I also enjoy the responsibility of the role, having worked so hard to reach this position.” 

Rising star of the year award

Close received her Rising Star of the Year award last summer during the AAT Annual Conference, held in Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s fair to say she was unprepared. “It was a shock,” she says.

“It took a while for it to sink in. I was still sat on my seat after my name was called out, and my partner kept nudging me, saying, ‘that’s you – go on, go up!’ And I thought, ‘oh, right, yeah!’ But everyone was so friendly, and just being able to talk to the other winners felt really good.” 

Progressing to financial controller

When it comes to her next steps, Close would like to keep progressing, preferably to financial controller. “I’m not sure whether that would be something I’d be able to do at CHN – it would be a case of deciding whether I’d want to move on, or whether I’d be happy to stay on here,” she explains.  

In the meantime, she wants to do as much as she can to help CHN grow and develop its finance and accounts function. “We’ve taken quite big strides to become so big so fast – we’ve had to develop lots of processes in the background quite quickly, so it’ll be great to enhance them and drill them down a bit more, and get a bit slicker.”

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