Last month TBE visited Baker Tilly’s Swindon office to interview office managing partner, Sharon Omer-Kaye. Sharon who lives in Royal Wootton Bassett with her husband and two children has been in her current role since 2010 and manages a 40 strong team working out of the town.
Sharon is a taxation specialist with over 20 years experience in the industry starting at HM Revenues and Customs in London in 1989 and moving into private practice in 1991.
From the moment you meet Sharon you can’t help but notice her air of calm and control. You can sense that she would be the go-to woman in a crisis and the kind of team-player you could rely on in a work environment. Sharon has no airs or graces, she’s down to earth, easy to get along with and it’s clear to see why she is trusted by so many clients and has maintained business relationships that have endured over 20 years.
We sat with Sharon over coffee to find out more about her climb up the career ladder, her tips for women in business and the future plans for Baker Tilly.
How did you start out in business?
I graduated with a degree in sociology and history from the University of Surrey with plan to work in either social work or HR. I decided social work wasn’t for me as I didn’t think I would be able to leave the issues at the office. I think with maturity I could do this now, but not then. However, that natural instinct has been an asset to me and given me strength in leadership and management.
How did you progress in accountancy and as a tax specialist?
My first job was working with the Inland Revenue in central London. I was fascinated with tax and enjoyed the technical aspects immensely, but the progression I wanted was not so easy to attain in the public sector. When I left London in 1991 I came to Swindon to work for Milne Ross in the same building that Baker Tilly is based in today. I completed my training at Milne Ross with the Association of Taxation Technicians qualification.
Milne Ross merged with Baker Tilly in 1994 and shortly afterwards the Swindon office merged with Bentley Jennison. At this time I moved to Swindon firm Morris Owen and whilst there I completed my Chartered Institute of Taxation qualification. In 2002 I became a partner of the firm and still remain the only female partner they’ve ever had.
It was in 2006, I received a call from Bentley Jennison to rejoin the firm to take on a retiring partner’s client portfolio and to lead the tax team. Since then the tax team has gone from strength to strength growing from 8 staff to 20. Bentley Jennison merged with RSM Tenon in 2009 and after the merger I became office managing partner in Swindon and later was asked to lead the private client division RSM Tenon nationally. Last year RSM Tenon merged with Baker Tilly and I retained the role as office managing partner. Quite a journey in a few years! I love this role as it gives me the balance between strategic leadership, management and helping my clients which is a fantastic mix. Amongst all of the responsibilities my clients are my sanity, helping them is my passion.
What sectors does the Swindon office of Baker Tilly specialise in?
We work predominately with owner managed businesses and private clients; we have a significant strength helping international corporate and private clients as well as an expatriate tax specialism. We also have key strengths in rural services from agriculture, to blood stock and equestrian. Other skill sets in the team include recruitment, technology and property.
One of the team’s key partners is Swindon born and bred Richard Smith who has 25 years experience in Risk Advisory, leading that division nationally for the firm. He works closely with local and central government and international public sector organisations. Our risk advisory division is a leading provider of services in education and health care with Baker Tilly being the largest internal audit provider to the NHS.
Although Richard’s work makes an impact on the whole of the UK as well as to firms and public bodies overseas Richard is passionate about Swindon. Cementing this is his recent appointment on to the board of Forward Swindon, the organisation established to deliver and facilitate economic growth and regeneration in Swindon.
What has been the highlight of your career?
It’s an accolade to be given the privilege of leading at a local and national level. Setting strategic direction, leading teams and building client relationships is a tough, but rewarding role. Some of my clients I’ve helped for over 20 years and it’s great to have their loyalty and to be seen as a trusted advisor- I’m very proud of this but never take it for granted.
I also feel lucky to have a fantastic team as you are only as good as the people around you. Developing their skills and making a team the best they can be, helping everyone realise their potential is highly rewarding. Key to this is never losing sight of our main objective which is client service. I pride myself on my collaborative management style, listening to the team at all levels and bringing them with me on our journey.
Getting ahead in tax and accountancy in such a male dominated sector must have been tough. How did you achieve this?
I always walked into the work environment with a high degree of personal confidence and really put myself forward. It’s about walking tall in all that you do. This is what I did to shake off the grey-haired male perception that I couldn’t add anything to the proceedings.
In days gone by I can remember occasional clients not wanting to work with me as I was female, but I accepted this as their personal choice. There’s no point getting upset about such things – it certainly hasn’t happened in recent years but I always prepare for the unexpected!
Early on I had a vision of where I was going, what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there. It’s then about gaining the trust of your colleagues to follow you on that journey. My success has generated the respect internally and externally.
The industry has changed a little since I started out in accountancy. The current gender split is roughly equal male / female on entry level now, but at senior level it is still difficult to get to the top. Particularly for those taking career breaks – firms do need to work harder to retain and nurture their talent through those years.
What advice would you give women in business?
-Always trust your instincts. It is the most valuable asset and very easy to underestimate.
-Do everything with confidence (without being cocky), if you don’t believe in yourself no one else will follow or trust you.
-Be assertive without being aggressive and be heard without being emotional.
– Listen to what is being communicated and hear the messages – active listening is essential and so often missed.
What’s can we look out for next from Baker Tilly?
Continuing our commitment to the locality which has been a focus for the firm over the last 30 years. We are the only national firm that has remained committed to Swindon and we intend to stay there. The business may have changed name on numerous occasions, but the key message is the team hasn’t changed, just the name above the door!
We’re delighted to have grown the business significantly with the merger and we’re here for the duration to support Wiltshire with our Swindon office. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity in the county and the buzz around Swindon with the recent regeneration plans is highly exciting.
Next spring we will officially launch our 30th anniversary celebrations focusing on the fact that we are open for business in Swindon with a phenomenal brand and great customer service. I truly believe that with the breadth and depth of Baker Tilly’s skill set, there isn’t much we can’t do. Our 30th year will mark the beginning of a next phase in the journey of the business and an incredibly exciting one.