Leaders with Ambition - Kristian Gavan

Leaders with Ambition - Kristian Gavan

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Kristian Gavan - Partner at ABG Corporate Finance LLP

From the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) to Brexit to Covid19, Kristian Gavan has ridden out a remarkable series of unpredictable economic events. Most remarkable of all? He has somehow managed to remain grounded and connected throughout, using his accounting expertise and people skills to navigate a wild ride.

On this episode of Leaders With Ambition, host Nicky Acuna Ocana invites her guest to take a comprehensive look at the fulfilling opportunities accountancy has afforded him, both professionally and personally.

Kristian walks us through his career journey, which includes lots of highlights as well as challenges, and takes a look at developments influencing business today. Find out whether having (or not having) a university degree may impact your corporate goals and how the decision to take a career sabbatical provided Kristian a critical reset and focus on family.

He also shares thoughts about the importance of a strong work ethic, healthy workplace cultures and a robust network when it comes to cultivating a resilient career in professional services.

You’ll learn about the influence of new technologies such as AI, what it all might mean for both younger and older generations – and what tools (including the important so-called “soft skills”) Kristian believes are perennially the most indispensable if you want to become, well, indispensable!

Want to learn more about the team at Ambition? Click here to find out what we’re up to!

If you enjoyed this discussion, please visit this link to find previous episodes of Leaders with Ambition.

Key takeaways

Starting out, Kristian’s path from self-starting a series of odd jobs in his youth to his brief experience as a university student to ultimately finding his niche in accountancy.

He explains why starting early and cultivating a network – and developing interpersonal skills from the earliest possible stage – is foundational to long-term career growth and resiliency.

Kristian shares his experience as the first in a hard-working family to attend university and explains how this shaped, challenged and altered his career plan.

He had a lucky turn with what BDO’s formative training experience provided and the focused growth it required. The immediate goal, becoming as indispensable as possible! Kristian learnt early in his career how to interact both within a healthy internal workplace culture and out in the field, where interpersonal relationships proved key to getting complex audits done right.

Kristian believes digital communications and virtual work have limited the ability of younger generations to build and develop client relationships.

Changing courses

What it was like working in the not-for-profit space and why Kristian found the charitable orientation generated “infectious” enthusiasm and dedication.

Cutting losses

How Kristian navigated an audit manager position at a firm that turned out not to be the best fit. (It’s okay to change course!)

Corporate Finance

How this specialty suits Kristian’s passion for working strategically, marshalling the details and “getting under the skin of people’s psyche and what motivates them.” A room with a thousand doors!

Sink or swim

As Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) boomed in the early 2000s, Kristian grew his network at KPMG Corporate Finance and embraced training opportunities.

Does University matter?

The trade-offs, luck, upsides, downsides and workplace realities that play out when you do – or don’t – graduate with a degree.

Setting Expectations

How the current professional landscape and goals often don’t easily align between younger and older generations – and how communication can help!

Pervasive impact

Why it’s impossible to predict how technology will reshape careers of the future and what jobs will emerge that have not yet even been imagined or conceived.

Absolute hell, how the GFC rocked world markets as well as Kristian’s personal life and the route he took through the uncertainty and unknowns.

Taking a break

How Kristian followed the period of intense GFC turmoil with an invaluable sabbatical in 2014 during which he very deliberately reconnected with his family at a critical time in his young children’s lives.

Building a healthy workplace culture

How two simple premises have guided ABG’s development, team-oriented ethos and client-centric approach.

Leading by example! ABG’s executive team models in terms of core values and workplace environment.

Brexit & Covid-19

How Kristian and the team negotiated fallout from the tectonic shifts (and huge unknowns) that accompanied the advent of Brexit and pandemic. (Hint: It helps to have solid financial reserves and a client- and employee-centric approach.)

Two core beliefs to which Kristian fully subscribes

(1) Success is defined by the relationships we nurture, not the things we possess.

(2) The happiest, most successful people are the ones who are brave enough to do what it takes to foster and protect strong, thriving relationships.

Assessing today’s Corporate Finance challenges

  • Market unpredictability.

  • Increased cost of capital.

  • Political uncertainty in the year ahead.

  • Impacts of new technologies, especially AI.

  • Attracting and retaining top talent.

Words of wisdom

  • 'Remember to invest in yourself.'

  • 'Acquire tools to promote and protect mental, physical and emotional well-being.'

  • 'Understand that so-called “soft skills” can sometimes be the most difficult – and among the most important – skills to develop.'

  • 'Keep evolving your technical capabilities.'

  • 'Tap colleagues as learning resources and keep building your network.'

  • 'View mentoring as a two-way street: Younger employees have something to teach their elders, and vice versa.'

  • 'Don’t let financial stress paralyse you. Think, then act!'

Key Quotes

  • “I always had it in the back of my mind that (accountancy) wasn’t a bad career and in fact had a lot of transferrable skills.”

  • “Without a formal training contract, I was vulnerable. And I figured out that the best defence was to make myself – if not indispensable – at least incredibly useful. So I just worked really, really hard.”

  • “We can all see across the modern economy and professional services that (because of) the primacy of email communication and data and software communication … you don't have that relationship building opportunity.”

  • “You sometimes have to acknowledge that you’re in a situation that isn’t right for you and is not right for the employer you’re working for, then you both need to cut your losses and move on.”

  • “I describe myself as having gone the long way around the curve on a number of occasions as a result of not having a degree … It has given me a strong appreciation for how hard some people have to work when their career doesn’t take a turn that they expected – and that certainly reflects my journey.”

  • “The things which employers need are not always the things which the educational establishment are expert at providing. Often the career advice, despite being well-meaning, is functionally quite out of date.”

  • “The panic response (to financial stress) is not a really helpful one. What you have to do is don’t just do something. Stand there and think what the right course of action is.”

  • “Networking is fundamental to success in professional services. I don’t think simply being clever has ever been enough in and of itself in order to have a fully rounded successful career in professional services.”

  • “I under-exploited the opportunity to find mentors in the early years of my career … There are an awful lot of people around all of us who have a lot to share and we should try to benefit from that where we can.”

About Kristian

Kristian joined ABG Corporate Finance in 2014, having spent over 10 years in mid-market corporate finance with KPMG and Livingstone Partners (now Arrowpoint Advisory). He has advised on transactions in a wide range of sectors throughout his career, with particular experience and expertise in the Business Services, Technology and Healthcare sectors.

He has completed deals worth over £1.5bn to date including extensive work with leading UK private equity investors and cross-border trade sales. Kristian is passionate about working closely with entrepreneurs and helping them at key points in their journey to develop world-class businesses.  Kristian is a fellow of the ICAEW!

About Nicky

Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and Asia, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. 

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