Moray Barber - Office Managing Partner & Tax Partner

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Talk us through your career journey so far?

I started out as a junior tax adviser with a firm called Rutherford Manson Dowds (RMD). They were a great firm, very entrepreneurial with some amazing people. At the time what RMD was doing felt completely different to the other accounting firms – and indeed the law firms, which I could have joined – and the job they were offering in Edinburgh felt new and exciting. They loved the fact that I had a legal training; I loved the fact they were based in Edinburgh’s West End and had most of the Scottish football clubs as clients! On a personal level, I have always loved Edinburgh so the move to work there was made even more exciting – I had a great time living and working there in my early 20s.

Not long after I started with RMD, the firm was sold to Deloitte and my training contract was transferred to a more traditional Big 4 training experience. It was the best of both worlds. The entrepreneurial spirit of RMD remained and it was a brilliantly structured training experience with like-minded folk. A few years later, I was asked to transfer to the Aberdeen office and I never looked back. The clients, work and transactional activity was as good, if not better, than my colleagues in London were experiencing – international tax advice, loads of transaction experience and working alongside a relatively small but experienced professional services community which was delivering multi-million-pound deals on regular basis. I won’t pretend that the tax aspects were driving the transactions, but it was great (and still is) to be part of the transaction team when a deal completes.

I worked with Deloitte until 2015, progressing to Director role, until I was asked to join KPMG as a partner. I had 4 years of interesting times and work with them but, truth be told, the market (post 2016 oil & gas price challenges) as well as having a broader Scotland role (which involved nights away from the family every week) was really tough. My kids, who were still under 10 at the time, found that hard. I then got a call out of the blue from EY, and was asked to meet Derek Leith, who was at the time the EY Global Oil and Gas Tax leader and Aberdeen Office managing partner – about becoming his successor at EY. I had always admired EY’s reputation and market-leading role in Energy and so the offer to join the team as the Head of Tax in Aberdeen was something that I couldn’t turn down.

I am now the Aberdeen office managing partner for EY as well as leading the tax team – we have over 20 in our corporate tax team and more than 30 across all of tax and we have some amazing clients across the entire Energy sector, new energies and more traditional. The office has over 150 professionals and a headcount of close to 170 making us one of the biggest professional services firms in the region. As we work through the energy transition, I am excited about how we continue to serve our existing clients as well as growing our business in a complex and volatile macro and sectoral environment.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

When I started out, I liked the methodical and computational nature of tax work. However, as you get more experienced you work on advisory and transactional projects – that work really played to my strengths.

What I love about my job now as a partner in a firm like EY is our ability to convene and the many broad, commercial conversations I will have on a weekly basis. We can bring sector insight, and our clients and networks want to hear that. One day I can be talking to a client about their sustainability and TCFD disclosures, the next we will be working on a diligence or tax structuring project alongside the CFO and shareholders ensuring we are securing as much value for the owners, management teams and staff as possible. I’ve never been attracted to an in-house tax role – I think the diversity of every single day in practice is what keeps my going and motivated each and every Monday morning.

For example, I have been Scotland partner-sponsor for EYs Entrepreneur of the Year (‘EOY’) programme which has been a great experience. It’s been rewarding to see businesses from the North-east such as Whisky Hammer and (my client) Motive Offshore truly shine in the competition as well as working alongside esteemed judges such as Chris Van Der Kuyl. I get to work with business support organisations such as Elevator, NZTC and ONE, as well as the universities, as they support the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses. It’s a privilege to be part of these inspiring companies’ journeys.

Also, I laugh every day with the people I work with – proper belly-laugh moments. Every day. Accountancy attracts the best and the brightest of people from all backgrounds and walks of life. We are smart and resilient and, let’s face it, when the numbers aren’t great, you have to find the light in the dark – humour always does that.

Did you always want to be an accountant? If not, what did you want to be?

No, the idea of being an accountant didn’t enter my mind until I had finished university. One of my best school friends had a clear plan to go do accounting at university then join one of the Big4. I envied his clarity of career purpose at the time. I studied Law so, for most of my time at university, I had assumed I would be end up practicing law until, when it came to it (from memory, during a 4-hour conveyancing tutorial), I realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer.

When I was at school, I wanted to be a PE teacher (like my mum – my dad was also a teacher, maths then finished his career as a headmaster). I loved sports – particularly swimming, athletics, and football – so I had assumed I would gravitate towards teaching. I think I would have enjoyed teaching sport.

I ended up working in tax! Towards the end of my law degree, we did some accountancy, finance and tax courses. They seemed a great addition to the written and analytical skills I had learned in my legal courses. My friend Lisa was a recruiter and wisely suggested to me a role with RMD and the rest is history. Being honest, if the partners I spoke to hadn’t been so dynamic then I might not have gone down this route – but they definitely showed me the importance of finance and accounting to the business world. Never forget the importance of passion when you have that first interview with the grad or school leaver – show them the influence they could have on the wider world because of what we do.

Do you see the job of an accountant changing over the next decade, and if so, what do you see?

Without a doubt. We recently hosted an Accounting and Finance update and the reams of new regulations and rules that an accountant and/or finance team needs to navigate continue to increase. We need to know and understand the changes to, for example, financial reporting, tax, corporate governance, sustainability, and bribery and corruption and we also now try to navigate how AI will impact our functions. Technology will of course continue to change everything, but the role of the Finance Director will increasingly be associated with creating and preserving value and be less about managing the numbers.

Has the COVID pandemic changed the way you view work?

It has changed the way I work but I don’t think it has changed how I view work. I was on gardening leave when COVID hit. I started with EY six months after the first lockdown. The role of partner involves staying in touch with clients, past and present and meeting people face to face, making connection. During COVID it was extremely difficult to engage with new clients, or my network, even my new team via (ironically) Teams – it happened but it just wasn’t the same. I mentioned the importance of ‘convening’ before and what COVID showed me is that we need the face-to-face interactions to truly make a difference.

I do work from home more than I did – however, I am more effective in the office, being energised by the team and other colleagues and those moments when you are at an event, and you meet an old contact or make a new one. There is no substitute for that connection.

What advice would you give to an accountant who might be considering changing jobs?

Be careful about believing “the grass is greener” – it rarely is. You need to be sure you are moving for something that is going to challenge you and help you develop. I have only changed jobs twice in my professional career – when looking at a move, there is a lot of talk about the Pull and the Push. My advice would be to focus on the Push – there will always be a pull and an attractive job offer around the corner. There might be a better salary or working hours or different role on offer, whatever.

Write a list, write down what’s great about the place you currently work, what’s not, what you can change and what you cannot. And then lastly, ask yourself “do I think the job I am being offered will give me that change I seek and challenge me so that I will be learning new skills and developing as a professional?”.

Finally, if you do decide to change jobs, make sure that there is a mentor, someone who is invested in your success in the new role. This is particularly important the more senior you are - make sure you have that person who is invested in your success.

If you could, what advice would you give your 18 year old self?

From a personal perspective, I think I would tell myself to keep up the running and swimming – I let things slip during my 20's and 30's which meant getting fit again in my 40's was MUCH harder.

From a career and work perspective, I would tell myself to “say YES” more (and I have a LinkedIn article on this very topic - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse... ). Say yes to as many opportunities as you can when you are in the early stages of your career. Far too often we think that we won’t have time, or we doubt ourselves about our ability to do ‘that thing’. Usually, its’ our monkey brain telling us that we will fail. Tell that monkey to ‘haud their wheesht” and say yes. You won’t regret it.

What do you still want to achieve?

Career-wise, I suppose I might ask “what do I still want to learn?” rather than “achieve”. I want to become a better partner, more thoughtful about my tax team, the wider office and the wider EY team and how I can better serve our people. In particular, I really want to help someone in my team get through to partner.

As the Aberdeen office Managing Partner I want to ensure the office continues to flourish and retain its excellent reputation, both within the national and global EY network as well as out in the market. We certainly have the people to do that so my job is to ensure they are enabled to represent EY to the best of their ability. When I took on the role I was clear in my own head that my mantra is to say “yes”, when others might have said “that’s too difficult”.

Being an accountant can be a demanding job with often long hours. How do you like to relax and what do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Family-time is extremely important to me, and my wife Michelle and I are very deliberate about the time we spend together with the kids. That said, staying fit and healthy is also a priority and I will run, swim or road-bike a few times a week (weather-dependent). Running is essential for my physical and mental health. If a doctor were to turn around tomorrow and tell me I could no longer run because, say, my knees were giving up, I’d be devastated. It’s also a healthy outlet for my more competitive nature!

I also love to act, sing and play piano – if I had the hours at my disposal, I could lose many of those whilst at the piano, singing and riffing on tunes that are locked away in my head from over the years. I rarely perform to an audience nowadays – but when an audience is required then being part of the local comedy group The Flying Pigs is the perfect combination of friendship (I’ve known my fellow Pigs since university), laughter and creativity. I am truly blessed to be part of the group. We sell out HMT every 2 years, we have had our own BBC radio show and filmed a (wildly acclaimed but widely ignored) TV pilot. The ‘Pigs’ are a massive outlet for my creative side - and it amuses me that several of my clients would rather talk about their favourite Flying Pig sketch than their tax affairs. I can live with that.

Lastly, tell us something interesting that most people don’t know about you?

When I was 14, I came second on a TV programme called Young Krypton, a kid’s version of The Krypton Factor. It was a programme which tested different abilities such as mental agility, observation, problem solving and physical skills. I lost by 1 point in the final to a chap called Simon Horner from Yorkshire who buzzed in for the Hercule Poirot question a second before I did. That loss has made me the man I am today. Someone who hates losing and who is deeply antagonistic towards anyone called Simon from Bridlington.