“Recognition, encouragement and communication are so important.” CEO Q+A: Gerard Kiernan, Icon Accounting

Business, CEO Q&A | Wed 20 Mar | Author – Business & Finance
Gerard Kiernan, CEO and Claire Fagan, Operations Director

In our next CEO Q+A, Gerard Kiernan, CEO of Icon Accounting, speaks to us about providing meaningful careers and work environments and supporting the Independent Professional.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As a Professional Service company, we need great people. My priority is to continually invest and build our team with people who share our energy and enthusiasm for creating and delivering exceptional service. With just over a decade of successful growth, we’re one of the most respected and reputable Umbrella and Limited Company providers in the Irish market. We’ve crafted a valuable brand that resonates nationally and locally in the Professional Contracting and Recruitment Industry, specifically in the areas of IT, Engineering, Life Science and Pharma. My priority is building on this; partnerships, inclusiveness and creating the future of the business in tandem with our senior management in order to support our planned growth. Driving innovation is another priority. The world of technology is changing, and I believe the accounting profession will change in next 5 to 10 years to become more ‘on-demand’. I believe the ‘Grab and go concept’ isn’t limited to a product – The same principle applies to the delivery of a service. IT has transformed the way we work and our ability to deliver services more efficiently. We’ve invested heavily in technology and systems; but my priority is to ensure that we strike the delicate balance between IT systems and human interaction! For our clients, having an account manager; A helpful person at the end of the phone/email has been paramount to the success of the business. We work diligently to support Contractors to maximise their income and minimise stress! My goal is to help and support staff to provide the most efficient contractor support through a professional and friendly service.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

As an SME we are competing against larger firms in order to attract talent which can be challenging at times. However, we were recently recognised as a Best Workplace in Ireland, following on from our certification as Great Place to Work, last summer. This is Icon Accounting’s first year to be named as a top Irish workplace, which is assessed through Great Place to Work’s robust ‘Trust Index©’ employee survey and a thorough ‘Culture Audit©’ assessment of policies and practices.

I believe these days, more than ever it’s vital to provide meaningful careers and work environments. This belief is fundamental to our business. Having said that, it doesn’t come without its challenges – job satisfaction can vary in so many ways, and what works for one may not for the next.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We have created a really positive working environment for our staff. We have nice offices and perks. We’ve rolled out employee benefits including health plan initiatives, sick pay cover, Graduate Programmes, a leadership programme and team task building exercises but most importantly our staff know they have the full support of senior management.

We work very closely as a team, delivering exceptional service to meet the needs of Professional Contractors. But as everyone knows, it’s not all about work!

We’ve always celebrated the small wins, however small, as ultimately this leads to the bigger success. Recognition, encouragement and communication are so important. We have an open-door policy, where all staff know they can rely on management to be always available, regardless of the circumstance. My philosophy is that the staff provide excellent service to our clients and the Directors are here to serve our staff and enable them to do their job.

I think we’ve mastered this model very efficiently, having an extremely low rate of staff turnover.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Icon Accounting provides services to the Independent Professional Contractor Sector. Every day we see the changing nature of work and the evolution of technology. We are campaigning for the recognition of the Independent Professional as homogeneous group of workers. They are not traditional businesses nor are they employees, we would like recognition for the sector to ensure peace of mind for both the individuals and the client companies that they work for. Whilst they are only a small group they play a very important role in building Ireland’s flexible workforce reputation. They are highly skilled, experienced professionals.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

There was a time, when permanent was the more popular choice; but the benefits of taking a contract are becoming more visible. As the economy approaches full employment, there’s a lot more confidence. The last recession taught us a lot, and I believe people are smart in future proofing themselves with necessary skills and experience, with the added bonus of attractive rates of pay to save for that rainy day!

From speaking with contractors, more often than not, they’ll say contracting can accelerate career advancement and offer greater flexibility and greater experience. We are seeing more professional women in the tech sector working as professional contractors. This gives greater flexibility as to how and when they provide their services, perhaps helping to create a better work life balance, particularly for professional women with young families.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I would strongly welcome an update to Code for Determining Self Employment, to take into account the Independent Professional worker, and associated Travel & Subsistence expense guidelines. The nature of work is changing, and greater recognition is needed from Government bodies to support the value of the Independent Professionals to the flexible workforce. However, in the past two years there has been some recognition and some positive steps, namely increased income earned tax credits and the introduction of job seekers benefits for the self-employed.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

Good accountants are hard to find for practice. The rates paid by Multinationals and Financial Services companies tend to exceed Practice for newly qualified Accountants. We rely on our training programmes to bring them into the business and then train them up using our systems and practice, once we are able to attract the staff we tend to keep them and bring them on through the business

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

On a macro level, obviously we will feel the effects like most businesses, however since Brexit has been announced we have seen a marked increase in UK Professional Contractors coming to Ireland and setting up base here. The number of inquiries we have received have quadrupled on a monthly basis and we are seeing a steady stream of UK Contractors coming over. Should there be a no-deal Brexit, I would expect a bigger increase in the rate of new UK clients signing up with us.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

As an owner, I think there are various stages of success within the business life cycle. The first stage I would say is survival and the ability to pay the bills and salaries. This is followed by a healthy profitable company and once that is achieved, how to drive and grow the business to a new level is the next goal. At the moment what drives me is the people that I work with and the satisfaction I have in being able to go on a journey with the amazing staff who work for our company. Having the opportunity to work with these people makes me proud to come to work every day.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Based on my own experience, you have to work extremely hard and provide an excellent service. As a start up the best advice I received was to re-invest every cent you make in People, Technology & Sales & Marketing. Look at the long-term goal. You will need to prioritise depending on where you are in the life cycle of your business

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

We have been recognised as a top Irish workplace, which is assessed through Great Place to Work’s robust ‘Trust Index©’ employee survey and a thorough ‘Culture Audit©’ assessment of policies and practices. We were thrilled with this recognition as it has validated a lot of the work we have put into to making Icon Accounting a great workplace.

Q. What’s next for your company?

Continued growth in the contracting sector, we have some new product offerings coming out later in the year that we are piloting at moment that will bring us into some new sectors. We are also in process of setting up an office in the southwest this year

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Increased brand recognition and the premier choice for Independent Professionals in Ireland who require Accounting, tax and administration support and compliance services.

We’ve always celebrated the small wins, however small, as ultimately this leads to the bigger success.