We are delighted to feature Liz Collins, Director of Real Estate & Construction Audit at Grant Thornton in our Women in Leadership series in London.
After beginning her career with FW Stephens, Liz Collins was then offered a position within Grant Thornton in 2002, progressing from Audit Senior to achieving directorship status in 2015.
Tell us about yourself and your career to date
I didn’t always want to be an accountant. Having studied food science at Leeds University I imagined I would be wearing a white hat and lab coat working within product development but I soon realised that wasn’t for me, I was more interested in how businesses ran than I was in anything else.
I decided to study for a chartered accountancy qualification, much against my father’s wishes as he was an ACA and tried his best to put me off. I started training with FW Stephens which was a fantastic training ground as I had hands-on exposure to tax, accounting and audit and qualified with first time passes. My options were then to stay in practice, go into industry or go travelling. I chose the latter and went travelling across Asia and Australia for six months.
Within just one week of returning to the UK in 2002 I was surprised to find myself with an offer at Grant Thornton, Farnham. I progressed quickly from Audit Senior to Manager but I knew there was something missing, it was the opportunity to work with listed clients and the buzz of London. My internal network offered me a position in London working with AIM-listed clients and despite the recession starting in 2007 my drive to succeed resulted in a further promotion to Senior Manager.
I went on my first maternity leave in 2010 and returned to the same role after nine months. I felt lucky as I really enjoyed my clients, they were active with acquisitions and projects and were challenging. I felt content but it wasn’t until I returned from my second maternity leave in January 2014 that I felt a real compromise. My second daughter was a poorly baby and I felt continually challenged about the balance between work and family. Was this what I really wanted?
Due to the intervention of a very supportive partner in Grant Thornton he put me forward for a formal programme of coaching which allowed me to reassess. I realised I did want to progress, I am good at what I do, I can make this work with my family and so set my sights on becoming a Director.
I realised I did want to progress, I am good at what I do, I can make this work with my family and so set my sights on becoming a Director.Within a year of being on the Instinct for Leadership programme I achieved my directorship having successfully balanced working four days a week with a full portfolio and a happy family life.
What is your definition of success?
For me it’s simple; enjoy what you do during the day and make the time to have a happy family life. It’s all about having a balance.
What three key words to describe yourself?
Approachable, positive, hardworking.
As a leader, Who is your role model and why?
My Dad – despite his own successful city career he has never handed anything to me on a plate professionally. He taught me early on that I’ve got to work for it myself. He has been such a strong sounding board and he’s never tried to influence what I do - except not to become an accountant that is!
What is your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?
Becoming a Director and getting recognition for all the hard work, proving that if you want something enough, if you commit and you work hard, you can achieve.
In your opinion, what are the key challenges for a female leader and how could these be overcome?
Getting the right recognition i.e. not because I’m a woman, not because of board quotas but because I’m good at my job irrespective of my gender. Also it can be hard getting the emotional balance right between having a family and driving a career but you have to use all your available support network around you and not be afraid to do so.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Does it sound cheesy to say I wouldn’t change anything? Everything that has happened, good or bad, has taught me lessons and I really live with no regrets.
Everything that has happened, good or bad, has taught me lessons and I really live with no regrets. Life isn’t always a smooth ride but that’s how you learn the value of it. And I would also say make sure you keep a bag packed for travelling as that’s been amazing!
Does your current organisation have initiatives to support women in leadership roles?
As a firm we have coaching and mentoring initiatives and there are many great female role models, though no formal corporate-led initiatives.
What has been your biggest personal achievement outside of work?
My two girls, they always amaze me.
Do you have any final pieces of advice for women looking to progress in their career?
I often get asked this at work and my answer is always the same, there’s no secret formula to the work-life balance, it’s different for everyone. Remember what you want to get out of it, don’t align yourself to others, it just has to suit you. I still manage to take the dog for a walk, read on the train, take the girls dancing, go swimming, go to pilates, have weekends away skiing and in the camper van with my family and friends and have even been told we host the best ‘music intro’ dinner parties. Well, that’s just what works for us.
What else would you like to achieve in your career?
I don't like to sit still as you might have guessed from the last question. Where next who knows except to say I will always be wanting to move forward.
Connect with Liz Collins on LinkedIn.