In the first of a regular series, we chat to AdvanceTrack team member about their work, what makes them tick, and what lies ahead for accountants and AdvanceTrack.

Our inaugural interviewee is AdvanceTrack CTO Ian Gregory.

Current role and responsibilities

As CTO I have a wide range of IT-focused areas to look after. These include: AdvanceTrack’s client portal; any customer-related IT; our support desk; training; and I have a dotted line into our India operation, overseeing their IT. I don’t really have a spare moment!

It’s quite a general role – there’s responsibility too, for business continuity and security. It really is the whole IT spectrum for India and the UK.

How long have you served with AdvanceTrack, and what is your background?

I’ve spent six years at AdvanceTrack. My career began in engineering and academia, before moving into industry and then management consultancy. I served as a freelance IT consultant in various industries including private healthcare where I cut my security teeth. I’d known Vipul for more than 15 years before having the conversation about joining AdvanceTrack.

Why is AdvanceTrack an exciting place to work? How you see its direction of travel?

In the six years that I’ve worked here we’ve gone from a ‘fast-growing business’ to a ‘large and fast growing business’! We’re now at a scale where we have a much larger team, and that brings its own challenges.

The external assurance we receive from the ISO and BSI is also making us think very hard about how we work. It’s much more than just signing up for a certificate – the standards help us think through exactly how we do things and ensure that any gaps are closed; it’s a good discipline and keeps us on our toes. 

AdvanceTrack is moving into new markets, such as North America, Australia and New Zealand. Following the pandemic, we’ve developed new product lines and services, such as dedicated seats and audit – which is very much a new space for the outsourcing sector. This means there is a continual stream of new processes and systems for me to put in place.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to become an electronics engineer. In my teens, I would build electronic circuits (eg. amplifiers, radios, power supplies etc) using mainly the surplus components that my Dad brought back from work.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I did Physics and Maths to A Level (and Economics) and I was working throughout my A Level studies part-time in an electronics factory.  It brought me into contact with a wide variety of professions and professionals beyond electronic engineers. My undergraduate and post graduate studies, however, were in the Business/Management/Economics/ Accountancy fields. I also qualified as a CIMA accountant, and I have now reached the level of Professor at Lancaster University.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I was offered a (rare these days) sponsored undergraduate programme in the broad field of business and, almost by accident, I became attracted increasingly to the accountancy work as I followed the programme. Accountancy took me into many areas of the wider business, and I was encouraged to ‘get involved’.

It was hard work in those early days with only very limited mainframe IT, although I remember with amusement and fondness the arrival of the first IBM PC which was sited on its own ‘altar’ and I could use it only if I booked time on it.

As a graduate, I was awarded certain exemptions from CIMA and because I had amassed significant on the job experience and was fully committed to following an accountancy career, I studied for my CIMA examinations on a full-time basis at Sheffield Hallam University which was a fast track accelerated approach.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Truthfully, I broadened my career roles well beyond accountancy as soon as I could, and I found that my first (and subsequent) CFO roles drew more from my MBA than from my accountancy pedigree, but I would never have been appointed into those roles without having the accountancy qualification, experience and credibility.

As a person, I behave instinctively as an accountant. For example, I look for evidence, strong and meaningful analysis, logic, ethical standards etc. and this applies to many situations both professionally and personally.

My early efforts and commitment to become an accountant have rewarded me with great opportunities in the private sector, and I have contributed first-hand to the successes of a number of businesses. I moved eventually into a portfolio career which spanned public sector, health, education and charity organisations including non-executive roles. None of this would have been possible without my accountancy pedigree, of which I am very proud.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

The dream was to become a pilot.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

Being red/green colourblind, my commercial pilot career was a non-starter; however, I was able to get my private pilot’s licence so I did get some of the way.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

After various roles in retail and sales during university, I started my training contract at 21 with BDO. It was my dad’s suggestion and the best bit of advice he gave me when he told me that once qualified you would always be able to earn a living. I gave the same advice to my son who is now in the middle of his training contract.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

The training that you receive as an accountant is one of the broadest available. You develop technical and interpersonal skills in equal measures and what makes a successful business. What other profession allows you to add such value to both people and their businesses? With almost 30 years of experience, I don’t think that there is anything that could surprise me, and I know how to help clients with any issues or at least know where to look.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a dancer. In fact, I trained all the way through until I was 18 but didn’t make it. My biggest claim to fame was being a backing dancer for Boyzone when I was 16 – that’s as far as my dance career went.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I’d got a place to study drama in Exeter at 18, but something felt off and I didn’t fancy going into debt for a career I wasn’t sure I wanted. So, I deferred my place a year and worked while I considered my options.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I’d been working as a runner on films and TV shows for a year and absolutely hated it! Therefore a career based on a drama degree was out. I went to my local careers office and asked for their advice. A bored-looking woman suggested accountancy and it seemed reasonable – so I walked across the road to a hotel and asked if they had any jobs in accounts (I was 19 and very sassy!).

The FD happened to be there and said their purchase ledger clerk had just left; they asked if I could do purchase ledger. I said “probably, and I’m a fast learner” – and that was how I started my career in accountancy! In truth, I had no idea what a purchase ledger was, but I was confident I could figure it out before my first day.

I studied in the evenings and weekends and discovered that I loved how the accounts told the story of the business. I’ve never looked back.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Although I don’t do any of the day-to-day accounting work for our clients, it’s obviously vital for me as a business owner. I have to present our financials at board meetings every month, as well as make strategic decisions about the business which heavily involve understanding finance.

Through my unconventional route into accountancy, I discovered that my true passion is business, and helping other businesses to thrive. My background in accountancy lets me do that in a very direct way, and it’s really given me purpose.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Fantasy job: Formula 1 driver. Who doesn’t want to travel the world driving fast cars! Real job: graphic designer, as I’m very creative.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I was too slow at both driving and drawing! I was an A* art/design student at school but it would take me ages to finish everything and I lost my passion for it. I still do the odd doodle.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I was always very quick with maths and loved business studies at college, so took an accounting degree. That was so boring – the last thing I wanted to be was an accountant after it! I went into retail management for a few years before heading to the profession after realising retail was much harder work.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

It’s truly been life-changing. My dad went through some seriously bad financial times years ago that could’ve been avoided with a good accountant. It could’ve saved our house and help us all sleep at night… it’s that big a deal.

The stereotypical accountant is thought of as grey and doesn’t talk to anyone, when nothing could be further from the truth! Accounting is critical in my role, but it’s the way I remove the jargon to give real life accounting advice to those not in finance that’s the key skill. That’s meant improving my listening, communication and general social skills ten-fold since I started.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I really wanted to be a teacher. I have always had a passion for sharing my knowledge and helping others to learn. I often played school with my three siblings pretending to be a schoolteacher, giving lessons, organising tests, and grading their performance.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

Being from a poor background, Teachers College in Jamaica was very expensive for me. There wasn’t any flexible option to work and learn at the same time. I couldn’t see how I was going to support myself through four years of Teachers’ College without working.  So unfortunately, that plan was placed on the back burner.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I was first introduced to accountancy at the age of 16 in high school. I was fascinated by the subject ‘principles of accounting’ as I had a flair for numbers. I immediately became obsessed with the subject and took a chance at completing my national exam in year ten. I got one of the highest marks in my high school. I thought, right, this is it, I’m either going to be a teacher of this subject or become a chartered accountant. That summer I went to a careers fair where I was introduced to the ACCA; I was hooked, and the rest was history.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Not everyone speaks the language of accounting and, as a practitioner, an important part of my job is not only to complete the financial statements but to articulate those numbers in such a way that the client can easily understand. From start-up to the developing and growth stages, I love helping and supporting business owners and their company at every phase to drive positive business performance.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to finish the animated version of The Lord of the Rings! Did you know there was an animated film of the first half? I used to draw comic strips at home, so I went to art college after sixth form to become a graphic designer (the only reason my dad let me go to art college). But there was no graphic design tutor when I was there so that plan fizzled out.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do after art college, so my dad sent me to secretarial college. I hated every minute of it! But then I went travelling for a couple of years with a friend. I only came home to save enough to go away again.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

When I was home, a temporary position came up to cover a secretary’s maternity leave at a local accountancy firm, and I grabbed my chance. I even included in my cover letter that I’d only be around for the six months’ cover to save up to go away again! I was about 21. Seven years later I was still there and offered partnership. I still managed to go away on my travels during that time, but shorter trips. Then we moved to Bath and I took a role in a larger firm.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Accounting was always seen to be dull when I was studying, and a conversation stopper (not in a good way) when I said what I did. I think my art college start has really helped me in my role now, as I love the visual aspect of a lot of the software we use, and my creative and curious brain is always looking for quicker and better ways to do things.

I was brought up in a hospitality business (we literally lived above the pub up to age ten) and helped out serving bread rolls in the restaurant from about six years old. So, it is in my nature to want to help people, and make things easier for them, and I really understand what it’s like to be a business owner.

Being trained in a small firm, then moving to a larger one also inspired my need to help people. The larger firm in Bath were just focused on high wealth clients and pretty much ignored the small businesses, so I felt the need to support small businesses.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A footballer – then I realised I was too slow and too bad at football, so my career choice was between a hairdresser and a football manager.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I actually left school before my GCSEs to become a youth training scheme (YTS) hairdresser, which lasted all of six weeks! You could say I wasn’t cut out for it…

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

Later that year I realised I had to get a ‘real job’ as I was living in a bedsit with my partner, and with no income. Honestly, accountancy wasn’t a conscious choice – I just applied for the jobs in my local newspaper, and it just so happened that I got offered two trainee roles.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Finance is the language of business. If you can’t understand where you are and how you’re doing, you’re driving with your headlights off – and I think that’s true for all businesses. So, not only did it give me a fantastic career, but it was also the platform for me to start helping other businesses.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had no idea what I wanted to be, and if you’d have told me when I was at school what I’m doing now, I wouldn’t believe you. I was very shy but heavily influenced by my father, who was a business and systems analyst, and my first ‘boss’ who was a very charismatic accountancy recruitment entrepreneur.

Where had the got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I learnt on the job, leaving school after A-Levels and going straight into the workplace. Since then, I’ve been very keen to learn continuously, I read avidly and have mentors both inside and outside the accountancy profession.

When did you move into accountancy; why and how?

I started in an accountancy recruitment company at the age of 19, being given responsibility (directorship) very early running a finance team for a fast-growing company, and learning first-hand how hard it is to get a company from start-up to £6m and then being part of an MBO. After a career in London, I then had a family and joined my husband in building an accountancy firm of our own.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Accounting has been the core of everything for me for most of my working life either directly in my role or now it is the industry our company is centred around. Working in another industry and in general practice, has given me incredible insight into what a business owner needs to know to build a successful business.

Business strategy, risk management, credit/cash management, pricing, people management, economic factors, geo-politics, business analytics, technology integration, requirements for R&D/innovation grant funding, change management, marketing strategy, networking skills, presentation skills, public speaking… the list is almost endless of what I’ve learnt along the way!

The driver for me is working with micro and small and medium owner-managed and family businesses that don’t get the attention they deserve.  Technology has changed that, and I’m excited about the possibilities it gives us to serve our marketplace better in the future.  I think we’ve just scratched the surface.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had no burning ambition, I was far too sensible! My mum said all I wanted to do was to learn – whether it was numbers, words, animals, cars – I just soaked it up like a sponge.

When did you move into accountancy: why, and how?

I completed my studies, including university, and was out in the wide world…so what next? A real crossroads for me as I lost my Dad at that time. He had mentioned accountancy – at first I thought “it’s just numbers’… before I knew it I had five offers on the table and things took off.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

In those early days it was all about the technical skills and the numbers. But the last ten years has seen such technological advance that we have the opportunity to connect with people – building relationships and interpreting the numbers. Helping them understand and get to the next level.

When I worked at a Big Four firm, there were people who were technically excellent but couldn’t really connect with people – that may well come with experience for some, but you have to realise that the information needs to be translated into a language your clients can understand.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here