The Executive Magazine met with Equiom Scotland's Managing Director Sarah Weir to discuss her career and her plans for the business.
Moving to the Highlands after a career with some of the UK’s biggest companies, Sarah Weir admits that she expected her career to take a quieter turn.
Yet she once again finds herself playing a key role in a global company after Eagle Consulting, the family owned accountancy and business support firm she joined in Inverness, was taken over by Isle of Man headquartered Equiom.
Sarah was quickly appointed to head the Inverness operation for a company whose global span includes offices from the USA to the Far East, although the Inverness office is Equiom’s first foothold on the UK mainland.
Moving from a local independent company to a larger operation which thinks globally might be expected to require a little adjustment for Eagle’s existing staff, but for Sarah, it almost feels like going home.
'I have had the pleasure of working with some really big companies elsewhere, so it came a little more naturally to me than some others in the business. For me it was almost a comfort because I was going back to what I knew. The shift for me was working for an independent,' she said.
'What people see as corporate restraints, I see as corporate support and that was taken away when I moved here.'
Yet with Equiom she feels she has the best of both worlds. Equiom may have offices around the world, but retains a family feel, thanks in a large part to the management style of Global CEO Sheila Dean.
'Sheila prides herself on knowing everyone within the business and what they do,' Sarah said.
'She makes the time to come and meet all the staff. That was very important to us as well. When you are moving from a business owned by one person or one family it was good to then feel part of a bigger family and Equiom were very embracing.'
Originally from Edinburgh, Sarah graduated in accountancy from the University of Northumbria, then headed down to London 'to seek my fame and fortune.'
She worked for major employers such as international management consultants McKinsey & Co and the Tesco head office, before spending eight years with logistics specialists Wincanton where she eventually became Business Unit Controller overseeing a Business Unit with an annual turnover of £124 million within the then 27,000 employee business.
She returned to Scotland and eventually made the move to Inverness to start a family and fully expected that her career would take a much quieter turn. She then took on a role as Financial Controller at Eagle Consulting, then owned by Harry Hornby, and put her experience to good use for Eagle’s existing clients.
'I think I bring a lot of skills my previous experience within industry that adds value for our clients,' Sarah said.
'Our clients might not be asking for it yet, but I know from experience what management information they need to help decision making processes.'
Although Eagle serviced clients across Britain, working at the firm also introduced Sarah to the Highland business community, one that she describes as close-knit, but very diverse, with everything from small single operator businesses to multinationals and across a wide range of sectors.
'That’s what makes it so exciting being based here and growing the business here,' she said.
Eagle joined the Equiom family in March, but the buzz of excitement at the move – which Sarah has likened to a football club moving up a league – has not diminished among the Inverness team.
'There is a lot of energy around at the moment. The staff are feeling this is a bigger business, a different business. It’s not the business it was,' she said.
'We are having to go out and reintroduce ourselves to our clients because we are no longer Eagle, we are now Equiom, and what does that mean to them? Well, it means we have all these added benefits on top of our existing knowledge and experience, and it’s also allowing us to go out to our clients and have these conversations about what added benefit we can now bring to them.'
At the same time, the Inverness team is introducing itself to the wider Equiom Group.
'We had a board meeting where senior members of Equiom’s European board took the opportunity to come to Inverness and learn more about what we do as we are so different from Equiom’s core services and they want to understand how they can bring more of what we do into the wider Equiom community. There is a big focus on what Inverness can provide because we have a very different skill set to the rest of the business. So if there is something out of the ordinary, there’s usually a phone call to Inverness asking: ‘Can you guys help in any way?’ We are sending people to a number of Equiom office locations to gain different experiences.'
One area that is attracting particular attention is the Inverness team’s training programme.
Although the move to Equiom means the office is now attracting candidates of a higher calibre than historically, as the workforce expands, the office will continue its tradition of nurturing new talent, something Sarah is only too happy to do.
'We are keeping people in a beautiful part of the world and giving them opportunities, and I want to give them the opportunity here that I had in the south-east. I had fantastic opportunities, but you shouldn’t have to travel to London to get that,' she said.
Almost a third of staff at the Inverness office are trainees and Equiom is looking at Inverness to provide a best practice template for the company as a whole. We already have one young accountant on the Isle of Man training remotely alongside fellow trainees in Inverness.
Unusually within the sector, the company has its own training manager, Karen Page-Best who is also there to help more senior members of staff, whether they are accountants or IT workers.
'We have a very defined path for our students. And it is tailored for each individual trainee, It is not a one size fits all. Karen’s an enormous support. It is a struggle to come in and do your work and then go home and study, but to have someone who is dedicated to that part of your life and knows your struggles is a tremendous help.'
That bespoke approach to training is a reflection of the office’s approach to its clients.
'We are hugely flexible with our clients. We say one size doesn’t fit all with our trainees, well it doesn’t with our clients either. If you come to us with your problem, we will listen and we will find a solution and make it work for you. That’s very different from some of the bigger companies because they do what they do and they do it phenomenally well, but you have to fit in with them. We meet the client and prepare a solution specifically for the client’s needs. That’s why we are investing so heavily in our people, to be able to provide that bespoke service. We want people who think about things and give that quality back to a client.'
It is also one reason why Sarah is intent on giving her staff as wide an understanding of all Equiom’s work as possible.
'I think of it as more of an enlightened place to work. I don’t sit my team in a box, where they do what they do and don’t have any interaction with the person next to them, but there are a lot businesses in the sector who do that,' she said.
On a personal level, the changes in her business life have left Sarah feeling 'almost like I have it all.'
She still lives in a beautiful part of the world with time for the family things like dropping her daughter off at school, but now she can once again combine that with a satisfying career.
'To be brutally honest, I moved up here not expecting my career to flourish, and I had been very fortunate to have had a very good career in the south. Being Financial Controller at Eagle Consulting was a good job. Once I was in the job, I could see we could do so much for our clients. Equiom has just unlocked that for me. They have given me the drive to say we can be the best we can and actually push ourselves to be the best hospitality accounting provider or the best payroll provider. It’s aspirational, but everyone has to have aspirational goals and Equiom has awakened that in me.'