Giles Murphy, Smith & Williamson National Head of Assurance and Business Services How I Made It
Giles Murphy started off at accountancy and investment management firm Smith & Williamson back in 1991 as a trainee. Since then he’s performed a number of different roles at the firm and has worked his way up to National Head of Assurance and Business Services. He told us about his route to success at the firm…
What’s your educational background?
I attended King’s College School Wimbledon and then studied Economics and Accounting at Bristol University.
What first interested you about a career in accountancy? Were you considering any other career paths as a student?
To be honest, I wasn’t that interested specifically in a career in accountancy at the time. After having studied Economics and Accounting at university, I wanted to move into a finance role, working for an investment business in the City, but in the early 1990s there were limited opportunities given the onset of a recession.
Did you do any work experience in accountancy or in the wider finance field before you got your trainee accountancy position?
I had previously taken a year out and had worked in a role at Ernst & Whinney (now EY) assisting in the administration of the tax affairs of overseas names at Lloyds of London.
When did you first hear of Smith & Williamson? Why did you apply for a position with them?
With my degree and experience of Ernst & Whinney, an accountancy firm seemed a sensible alternative to a more general finance role. Smith & Williamson was particularly attractive as the firm combined an accountancy practice with an investment management business, and therefore gave me the opportunity to experience both.
Which department did you start out in with Smith & Williamson? Where were you located?
I joined the audit department of the London office, which was based in the West End just north of Oxford Circus tube station.
How do you remember your years as a trainee? What was the biggest learning curve?
It was nothing like the theoretical aspect of my degree! It was full of variety, working with different clients, in different sectors with different people from Smith & Williamson on practice issues. Combining all of this with the challenge of passing the professional exams was the biggest learning curve, but it is still the variety that I enjoy most today.
Were you studying for a professional qualification as a trainee?
Yes – the ACA qualification.
How did you progress to the position you hold now? Did you make a conscious decision to aim to become a partner in the firm?
When I started in the firm, all new graduates stated that they wanted to make partner, but I don’t think any of us knew what being a partner would entail – it was just the pinnacle of the firm we had joined. My goal was to progress, but crucially to enjoy what I did, and it was through this route that I managed to achieve several promotions and ultimately end up in my current role.
What kinds of attributes does it take to be a partner in a financial services firm?
As a partner you are a sales director, an operations director, a finance director and quite possibly several other roles all in one and therefore your ability to organise yourself and others is key. You obviously need to be a leader, but to gain the necessary respect it is crucial that you listen to both clients and your team and act accordingly.
Why do you choose to specialise in Assurance and Business Services?
I can’t say I consciously chose Assurance and Business Services. However, I enjoy the position it places you with the client. If I am doing my job well, I am the trusted adviser to the client and the first port of call with business issues that they can’t resolve internally. This requires a good problem solving brain and one that can effectively communicate ideas and solutions to clients.
What’s kept you at Smith & Williamson? What do you enjoy most about work at the firm?
I have been at Smith & Williamson for over 20 years, and during that time I feel that I have taken on many different roles within the firm. It is this variety, along with a supportive environment, that encourages you to develop and it is meritocratic for those that perform well.
Could you describe an exciting project that’s been a highlight of a career so far?
The one that stands out for me was being involved over an 18-month period acting for the law firm Russell Jones & Walker on the disposal of their business to the Australian listed company, Slater & Gordon. This was a ground breaking transaction for the UK legal sector and one that involved some very detailed accounting and tax analysis. However, what I found most interesting was educating them on the challenges moving from being partners in a UK partnership to essentially employees of an overseas listed business and all of the change that would entail.
How do you think your time as a trainee at the firm compares to the graduates who are just starting out at the firm now?
The training and development programmes available to graduates today are far more extensive than I ever experienced, but we have retained the variety of client work and opportunities that graduates enjoy.
How does work differ as a partner in assurance and business services compared to your trainee and associate experiences?
It involves similar work and projects, but as the head of the team, it is your responsibility to motivate and lead those working for you and, at times, make the crucial decisions and judgments. Ultimately the buck stops with the partner, but I believe that brings the best out of me.
What kind of advice would you give to students who aspire to taking a similar career path to yourself?
Whatever your ultimate career destination, an accountancy role not only provides you with an additional professional qualification, but a vast array of experience in problem solving and dealing with a whole range of people and clients. It therefore provides a fantastic platform from which to continue your career, either with the firm you trained at or with a myriad of other opportunities that exist across the business world.
Feeling inspired? You can find out more about graduate vacancies at Smith & Williamson here!
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