If you’re someone for whom the traditional university path hasn’t been the right fit, then this episode of Leaders with Ambition will speak directly to you.
Nicky’s guest, Caroline Allen-Monaghan, shares the unique route she took to managing a global team as Director of International Accounting at a premier law firm. It’s a success story that Caroline could not have anticipated when she dropped out of University with no career plan or preparation in place.
You’ll enjoy sharing the inspiring journey that this mother of four has navigated on her way to Arnold & Porter. Caroline built her credibility incrementally, one step at a time, from one firm to the next. At every juncture, however, two things remained consistent: An abiding belief in herself and willingness to knock down barriers.
Caroline shares some brilliant words of wisdom about the power of bolstering ourselves in those moments of self-doubt and, she says, make no mistake, we all experience wobbly confidence from time to time.
Today, one of the things Caroline enjoys most is paying forward the kind of mentoring she received early – support without which she might never have stuck with her dreams and completed the 14 exams necessary to secure her coveted ACCA qualification. It was a moment in which – after all the tireless work – Caroline felt the gratifying power of having achieved something that no one could ever take away.
In addition to talking us through her career highlights, Caroline also shares thoughts about work-life balance and lessons learned during pandemic. She offers practical advice about defining one’s roadmap to success, even if it’s not based on a traditional trajectory, and committing to doing the hard work, even when it requires sacrifice.
Caroline's story offers us permission to break from narrow, traditional paths in order to claim our best and most authentic selves. Or, to quote Caroline: “Don’t face barriers. Run through them!”
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Caroline talks about her early experiences, including being raised by a single mum who modelled hard work, focus and determination. She decided early on to become a Barrister and initially went to university to pursue a law degree, before later deciding to drop out and enter the workforce.
Thanks to a recruitment agency, Caroline found work with a dot.com company that was willing to offer her a role in accounting, which proved a good fit and opened up new opportunities.
Caroline started her first accounting job at a law firm in 2005 at Hogan Lovells (which she took to immediately), pursuing her ACCA credential at night. She thrived!
A mentor early on offered key perspectives, including about the importance of setting realistic goals that are within reach. Caroline today is paying that help forward.
Time to move on
In her mid-20s, Caroline felt ready for a change. She landed at Norton Rose, where she loved the atmosphere of deadlines and urgency, and then moved on to Clifford Chance, where she remained happily with a great team for the next five+ years.
The experience of a change in management at Clifford Chance and learning about how to adapt was formative and foundational to Caroline’s understanding of how businesses are shaped and run.
Securing her ACCA credential was a pivotal moment that no one could ever take from her. Caroline was a qualified accountant! After finally completing her 14 exams and securing a pay rise to go with her new qualification, Caroline felt the time was right to start a family with her new husband. In no time she was a mother of four! But maternity leave was never a natural fit.
Feeling that she had reached a point of stagnation, Caroline was on the move again. This time taking on what would ultimately be a series of key accounting roles at Kirkland & Ellis. Her work building teams and stretching into new roles was a great fit!
Caroline’s management values
These include listening closely, fighting for her teams and encouraging social outings to build bonds.
That elusive work-life balance was an ongoing project during those hectic early childhood years, with Caroline taking on as much as she could in the care of her children but also embracing the fact that she loved her work.
Caroline’s supportive husband and network of child care enabled Caroline to spread her wings, including taking on an international project management role that required travel.
A LinkedIn lead introduced Caroline to Arnold & Porter
Caroline interviewed and immediately felt a compelling sense of home. She is today the Director of International Accounting responsible for the day-to-day finance operations in London, Brussels, Frankfurt, Shanghai and at the firm’s newly opened office in South Korea.
The pandemic was a test for Caroline
Caroline missed her team and the face-to-face energy that her office provides. The firm’s current hybrid remote schedule strikes a nice balance.
Caroline shares her thoughts on lessons learned as a result of Covid. Primarily, she recovered a work-life balance that enabled her to suspend travel, log off at 5:30pm and immediately be present to cook a meal, play a game, just be there with her children.
Mentoring at this point in her career has become a huge source of satisfaction and joy for Caroline, who is a champion very much invested in her staff’s development.
Caroline’s career highlights
Achieving her accounting qualification
Inspiring confidence in others and helping them stretch.
The growth she has nurtured throughout all her career moves, especially the more recent roles that she selected very intentionally.
Arriving daily at every firm for which she’s ever worked with an authentic smile on her face.
Caroline’s career challenges
Fighting to convince people to believe 100% in her ability.
Being a new manager navigating resistance among her team.
Remembering in moments of self-doubt that, yes indeed, she’s the real deal.
Front and centre
Caroline tries constantly to remember that she has the hard-earned tools, life and work experience necessary to prevail in any situation – so long as she banishes residual self-doubt!
Words of wisdom
You don’t need a degree to go into finance. But if you don’t go to university, commit to an alternative path.
Define a way forward that includes some credentialing.
Be prepared to work hard and sacrifice.
Look in the mirror and recognise that the person staring back is the only person who can get you where you want to go. So believe in yourself and that you can do it.
Don’t be deterred by any barrier that’s put in front of you!
“I grew up being quite insecure about myself and my life and upbringing. I couldn’t believe that (Clifford Chance) would want me. I remember the feeling of getting this great job in this great firm. I was ecstatic!”
“(Receiving my ACCA qualification) was a pivotal moment because I had something that no one could take away from me. I had this: I was to be a qualified accountant for the rest of my life.”
“I needed a new challenge, something that needed me to step up and get my act together ... I was so determined, and invested. I was going to be that manager that people were happy to work for.”
“I couldn’t have worked for any better people (than at Arnold & Porter). They’re so great, so supportive. I’ve got a great sounding board and can call the CFO with any issues.”
“If Covid taught us anything, it’s to have a better work-life balance. It’s not all about work. It’s allowed me to see my family quite a lot more.”
“I feel lucky if I’m helping people better themselves and get opportunities that maybe they would not otherwise get. I get as much satisfaction out of that as I do anything else.”
“I’ve given people self-belief that they can do it; that they can achieve the unbelievable. Everybody can do it. Just always reach for the sky.”
“You have to be happy in what you’re doing. You have to come to work with a smile on your face. I love what I do. I love the people I work with. I love the firm I work for!”
“The challenge for me is to believe that I can do it. Even though I know that I can do it and have proved that I can do it and my CV says that I can do it, I still have moments of self-doubt.”
“Don’t be deterred by any barrier that’s put in front of you, because if you just keep chipping away you’ll get there!”
Caroline is an experienced Director of International Accounting with a demonstrated history of working in the law practice industry. Her skill sets includes International Finance, Skilled in Accounts Payable, Corporate Law, Budgeting, Management, and Corporate Finance. Caroline brings a strong program and project management professional graduated from The Coopers Company and Coborn School.
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.
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