Meet the mentor: Sacha Romanovitch CEO Grant Thornton

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Unsure of his next steps, student Craig Blakemore seeks advice from one of accountancy’s most inspiring leaders, Sacha Romanovitch.

Craig Blakemore has wanted to be an accountant since he was 16 but never had the confidence to go for it; he lost his hearing at a young age, leaving him feeling very unsure of himself.

The turning point was when Craig became a father for the first time. His wife persuaded him to start wearing hearing aids. With his confidence boosted, he decided to make the move into accountancy. He’s currently working on his AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting and considering his next move.

Sacha Romanovitch wanted to be a forensic scientist when she was at university, before considering moving into the fashion industry. But her career path changed when she discovered she wanted to learn how to run a business. Now she’s the first female CEO of a major UK accounting firm.

How do you make the leap into your first accounting role?

Craig: I’m aware that, once I make the leap, I’ll have to start at the entry level and probably lose £10,000 from my salary, but I don’t want to limit my boys’ enjoyment so I’m using the opportunity now to do some overtime.

Sacha: We’ve been doing work on financial inclusion at the moment, and one thing we’ve discovered is that it makes a massive difference to people’s resilience if they manage to save even two months’ salary. With your goal of saving as much as you can, having that buffer will mean that, if your salary comes down, it won’t knock your life off track. Have you looked into getting an apprenticeship?

Craig: I saw apprenticeships as being more for school-leavers; I wasn’t aware they were for anybody.

Sacha: We have people of all ages doing the apprenticeship scheme. What’s great is what you’re discovering now: that at any age you can say the time is right to pursue what you want to do. Last year, we had someone who was a policeman retraining with us as an accountant. A lot of firms have worked on how to provide paths that don’t pigeonhole people and that give them opportunities to step into a new career at any stage.

How would I go about gaining experience?

Craig: I’ve been emailing a few bookkeeping companies to see if I can get some voluntary work but I haven’t been successful so far. Do I just keep emailing or do I go to their front door and ask to have a chat with someone?

Sacha: There are brilliant networks through AAT where you get to meet people and learn from them. Find a network of people who have taken the same route as you or who are in businesses that are actively reaching out to get to students. That can be more powerful than people realise, because often you stand out when you make that human connection. And it can be quite demoralising sending lots and lots of emails and not getting responses.

Craig: I started AAT Level 2 about two years ago and it concerns me that, because I’m not working in the industry, that knowledge is going to slowly filter out before I get my accounting job.

Sacha: Some of it is a bit like riding a bicycle. But I think you’ve got a stronger proposition than you realise. For businesses, there’s nothing better than someone who wants to grow and develop themselves and who is interested in finding ways to do that.

What challenges have you faced?

Craig: My job hasn’t really changed in 15 years. What challenges did you face with your career change and how did you overcome them?

Sacha: When I was coming up to thinking about partnership in the firm, I had a few changes in my personal life that really made me think: “What do I want to do with my life?” At that point, I did what a lot of people probably thought was crazy. I took a sabbatical, sold my flat, got rid of pretty much everything and went travelling for a year. And that is what has instilled me with a real sense of purpose. After having gone on the conveyor belt and done all the things I was expected to do, I was suddenly stepping off and coming back because it was what I was choosing to do.

That’s sort of the step you’re going through. You’ve got everything working perfectly well but there’s something in you that says: “I think there’s something more that I want to be part of.” I can see your eyes light up when you’re talking about accountancy, and I can only encourage you to follow that.

This article first appeared in our Autumn 2018 issue of 20 magazine.

Loulla Smith is a contributor for AAT's members magazine, AT.

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