From eBay to EY For Former Pupil Sarah

Old Wheatleyans Careers

Our regular ‘Bablake Pupils Everywhere’ feature turns its focus towards Sarah Brown (formerly Thompson), a 1995 leaver and our most loyal Sixth Form Mock Interview Morning participant.

Mr Mark Woodward, Head of Careers, files the following report from his recent visit to meet Sarah at EY (until 2013 known as Ernst and Young) in Leeds:

“The last time I visited Sarah in her workplace in the early Noughties, the trip was not only memorable for the fact she was working at a fledgling digital e-commerce company called eBay, but also because I spent the night huddled for a few hours in the doorway of a flat belonging to a friend who had forgotten I was visiting them. This was the pre-mobile age and while the night was blissfully warm and rain-free, the solace of Radio 2 via my Sony Walkman was soon lost as the battery power ended. Not one to waste thinking time though, the next few hours spent walking around Chiswick before chancing upon an early morning café offered me the chance to map out my early forays into the digital advantages presented for Careers advice and guidance! However, I digress…

Driving on from two excellent days at the 2016 Decisions at 18 CRAC conference in Sheffield, the welcome luxury of an Ibis hotel in Leeds 15 years later, rather than the streets and doorwells of Chiswick, afforded me a very good night’s sleep and every chance to fully appreciate my visit to EY, where Sarah is a Senior Manager.

Sarah’s career since leaving Bablake and the University of Nottingham as an English graduate, shows no signs of moving in the direction she originally hankered after. Keen on the arts and literature from the classical world through to the modern age, Sarah’s dream job was going to be as a librarian, but after joining Nat West in the late 90s as a Fraud Officer, she has not left that corporate world since, except for three periods of maternity leave.

Having worked in Trust and Safety for eBay, Sarah has focused on Compliance, Content Strategy and Control Management for the Financial Ombudsman, the former HBOS and Lloyds before latterly moving to EY.

I was eager to ask Sarah more about her role at EY and, in between fielding all three of her phones – her own, EY’s and her current client’s - she explained: ‘My first year at EY has been as a Senior Manager within the Northern Financial Services Assurance team. I specialise in Digital Banking and Conduct Risk, and have utilised my considerable complaint handling experience.

I either help a financial services firm with a new project, or give them assurance about one they are already doing by checking it. For someone who appreciates extreme minutiae, it is the perfect job! There is immense variety, I love the constant challenge involved and very much appreciate any opportunity for travel.’

During my visit, Sarah very kindly arranged a meeting with two impressive graduate trainees, who had both recently been working with the Coventry Building Society, an EY client. Rachael, now an ICAS Chartered Accountant, came to EY after an Accounting and Finance degree at the University of Leeds, and after almost five years with the company has established herself as an Assistant Manager. She had particularly enjoyed a three month placement in Melbourne, Australia.

By contrast, Siobhan, though also soon to be a fully qualified chartered accountant, had first completed seven years at the University of Birmingham studying a Biomedical degree and postgraduate course in Medical Research, before being drawn to EY. Worlds seemingly far apart until you consider the parallel research skills, data assessment and necessity for self-motivation. For Siobhan further work in academia would have had limited opportunities for promotion and less team focus.

Keen advocates of the firm's graduate programme, both Rachael and Siobhan spoke very warmly of the team spirit at EY evident in daily tasks and socially – especially valuing the camaraderie and social benefits gleaned from being part of the Leeds office netball team. Working for an employer keen to support local and national charities and events, like Sarah, each also had fond memories of EY’s support with the recent rugby World Cup and sponsorship of local galleries.

Life in a regional office for all three clearly offered as many highlights as working in London. With over 80 people joining EY every week, training opportunities draw the national workforce together and, of course, within your own area of expertise, the full network within and outside EY is bizarrely quite small with familiar names and faces cropping up. It would be errant to believe that key jobs only exist in London.

Sarah, Rachael and Siobhan, while clearly worked hard by their employer, all spoke highly of the working atmosphere within EY and particularly the application process, one successfully undertaken by recent Bablake graduates, Jennifer Bufton, Laura Dean and Alex Popplewell. I was keen to learn what impressed most at the interview process and the common answer was that the company wants charismatic, genuine young people with drive, initiative, self-motivation and strong social and team skills.

Yorkshireman Michael Cooke, an experienced EY Business Development Director, originally a Chemistry undergraduate who had enjoyed a placement in France, had returned to Leeds, settling with EY after a distinguished career at Coopers and Lybrand/ PWC. His particular worldwide expertise in the Oil industry had led to work on early Client Relationship Management Systems, and time with UBS before EY. He too confirmed that the successful candidate was more likely to be well-rounded, with a variety of co-curricular, team and leadership experience. This applicant would seem far more preferable than the candidate only able to speak profusely about tax, finance and compliance!

EY has been in the news this year for declaring it was not going to limit its recruitment to a particular degree class or A level profile. The company correctly wants the best possible employees whether pre degree, post degree or later. I was also pleased to hear all those I met talk about a workforce that reflected every age, background, gender and ethnicity. In fact Sarah summed it up, saying: ‘It is refreshing that EY worries less about gender and background than how you are doing your actual job!’

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief observation of Sarah’s hot-desking day but this was just the first part of my visit and next week I will feature her work as a White Ribbon Campaign volunteer and board member, with a report on our visit, on behalf of Bablake’s Feminist Society, to the charity’s HQ in Mytholmroyd."

For more information about careers with EY, please click here.

Photograph shows Michael Cooke and Sarah Brown at EY, Leeds.

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