Emma Baylis - Managing Director, Interpath Advisory

Leaders with Ambition - Emma Baylis

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Emma Baylis - Managing Director of Interpath Advisory

Our guest on this episode of Leaders With Ambition podcast series, Emma Baylis, reached the ranks of Senior leadership at the Big Four accounting firm of KPMG and more recently was named Managing Director at Interpath.

She shares with Host Nicky Acuna Ocana a decidedly unconventional career journey, recalling the mentors who helped her learn to manage important clients, navigate challenging circumstances and ultimately find her voice over 20+ years in a traditionally male-dominated profession.

You’ll hear about Emma’s career highlights (rooted in trials and lessons learned) as well as what it looks like to change lanes as a senior member of Interpath’s, entrepreneurial culture.

Emma has never let her gender, education (she doesn't have a University degree) or family background stop her from becoming a highly successful tax professional as well as a role model.

To the contrary, she has used her experience to advocate for those who are struggling, as she once did, to feel like valued contributors. “The more senior you become, inevitably the more you find your own voice and the more you (can) use your platform to do more advocacy and support other people,” says Emma, who has done exactly that and built a powerful network along the way!

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

Key takeaways

Starting out

Coming from a hard-working but working-class upbringing, university education wasn’t the path Emma took. But once she found her way into (and innate talent for) a low-level tax preparation job, a robust career path opened up to her.

Structured training

About the youthful passion that enabled Emma to pursue tax exams and certifications in her spare time while working a full-time job in the field.

Making a move

How Emma decided to seek out a Big Four tax firm and why KPMG was specially appealing because of the (rare) female Partner who interviewed her.

Slowed by insecurity

Why Emma turned down the first role offered her at KPMG and what it means to her when looking back.

How narratives in Emma’s head about her non-traditional educational path and background influenced her sense of belonging – and career path – early on.

Breaking the mould

How Emma was helped by her pairing with a talented senior KPMG team member who also did not quite fit the conventional profile and environment.

Role models

What it means for junior members of professional services teams to work closely with, be mentored by and learn social norms from more experienced colleagues.

Career progress

Moving into a larger role at a larger KPMG office in Birmingham, where Emma headed up the M&A practice during boomtimes in the mid-2000s.

Climbing the ladder

How Emma defines ambition less as career strategy and more as a reflection of interest, passion and a desire to move ahead while learning.

Navigating change

The managerial skills and empathy that grew out of being a Partner responsible for redundancies in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis.

Leaning into leadership

What it means to “do the right thing” as an executive in professional services – and how that means different things to different people.

Navigating diversity

The difference between a good leader and good manager lies in how well they negotiate a balanced path through complex interpersonal dynamics.

Changing the narrative

Advocating for inclusivity, inspired by early feelings of marginalisation that held Emma back from pursuing certain projects and activities.

How her gender, lack of degree and social standing gave Emma pause but did not deter her from all-important networking – or wearing colourful clothes!

Why social mobility, helping to uplift junior team members and advance their careers is key to Emma’s career and personal fulfilment.

The communication skills and intentionality Emma believes leaders must demonstrate in bringing along teams from diverse culture and languages.

Career break

How Emma took a pause, departing KPMG after 21 years just prior to the advent of Covid19, and her subsequent opportunity to reset by joining Interpath.

The view from Interpath Advisory

  • A younger, more entrepreneurial energy.

  • An opportunity to shape a newer organisation and its brand.

  • A nimble, dynamic environment.

  • A window into cultural change, hybrid workplaces and expectations post-Covid.

AI's impact on Tax

The human touch that is still necessary to complex transactions, even if machine learning will undoubtedly impact the landscape in future.

Challenges ahead for 2024

  • The general election’s implications.

  • A relentless learning curve as taxes constantly change and evolve.

Critical guidance

How mentors with a range of expertise have been sounding boards and key to Emma’s career trajectory. An active sponsor can be equally impactful!

Advice for aspiring Tax professionals

  • Seek out local and international networks, especially among people who share backgrounds and interests similar to your own.

  • Consider joining Toastmasters to polish public speaking and presentation skills.

Words of wisdom

  • 'Endeavor to stay calm under pressure.'

  • 'Remember that you never make good decisions amidst panic and stress.'

  • 'Try not to worry about things that you can’t control.'

  • 'Take care of your physical and emotional health.'

Key quotes

  • “Something that shaped the next phase of my career … was working with someone who also didn’t quite fit the mould. It helped me to progress in a way that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

  •  “I never thought of myself as particularly ambitious. I just liked doing things that were interesting and challenging.”

  •  “Because doing the right thing means different things to different people … I really learned the importance of listening to different voices and diverse perspectives.”

  •  “The more senior you become, inevitably the more you find your own voice and the more you (can) use your platform to do more advocacy and support other people.”

  •  “You deserve to be in the room. You’ve just got to have your own content and your own point of view and your own reason for being there – then find a way to get that heard.”

  •  “The importance of networking hasn’t changed. The way to network has changed.”

  •  “We train people to want to help clients solve problems and, if you trust them to do the right thing by the client, then they’ll work in whatever way they need to work.”

  •  “In tax planning what clients want is certainty (when) they’re trying to get a transaction done … therefore the prospect of general elections and the uncertainty that gives is generally speaking not that helpful.”

  •  “Challenges are the things that really do test us. You learn and evolve each time you get a new challenge. You do some things right and some things wrong – and that’s how you learn.” (Nicky)

  •  “When you’ve taken yourself out of your comfort zone, that’s the only way you can grow. It doesn’t always feel great in the moment but … they’re the things that I look back on with the most pride.”

About Emma Baylis

Emma Baylis is a Managing Director at Interpath Advisory and experienced tax leader. She has counselled large businesses and most recently provided expertise to HM Treasury whilst at the Office of Tax Simplification. During a career in tax spanning over 25 years Emma has advised across a broad spectrum of tax issues including M&A Tax, Employment Taxes, Global Mobility and Private Client.

As a Big Four Partner, she advised clients in both the UK and internationally across a range of sizes and sectors including private equity backed, large corporates and financial services. Emma also held a number of leadership roles at KPMG’s Tax & Legal practice including Head of Tax Managed Services, Head of People Services and Head of Global Mobility Services before retiring from the partnership in September 2020.

About Nicky Acuna Ocana

Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 25 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. Nicky is a passionate advocate of ED&I and champions ED&I both internally at Ambition and externally with professional services clients. She also regularly write articles on inclusive hiring, and various topics relating to ED&I in recruitment.

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