Michael Izza, Chief Executive of ICAEW since 2006, will retire from the role at the end of March. He tells us what his inspirational and diverse career has taught him about the foundations for success.
After training with Coopers and Lybrand in Manchester and spending several years in practice, Michael Izza moved to London to work for Canadian brewing business John Labatt before becoming Finance Director of Labatt’s business Birra Moretti in Italy following its acquisition. Izza also worked by FTSE 350 training company Spring Group before joining ICAEW in 2001 as Executive Director of Finance and Operations.
How did ICAEW membership open doors for you professionally?
At the age of 30 I became finance director of Birra Moretti, and I got the job because I was a chartered accountant. It was a baptism of fire. I was being asked to do something that was pushing me to the limits of my skills. I found out very quickly, though, that what was far more important than financial reporting, management accounting and tax was the people management, the communication skills, the problem solving, the ability to think strategically. All of those things were required almost from day one.
What advice would you offer fellow chartered accountant on embracing boldness and taking calculated risks with their career?
My advice is that when opportunities present themselves, consider them positively. You should only take on roles that you have the skills and competence (or can acquire them) to do, but if you worry yourself out of taking an opportunity, you may never get one again. With the role in Italy, it was challenging for a few months and after one quarter end it was considerably easier and after a year I was promoted to my next role.
How is sustainability an opportunity for the accountancy profession?
We have been talking about sustainability and the transition to net zero for 17 or 18 years now. It was obvious to some of us long ago that businesses were going to have to change how they operate and transition to a lower- or zero-carbon model – and to do that the accountancy profession was going to have a really important role to play. I think we were ahead of our time in that respect. And I think we helped change the conversation not just in this country, but to some degree internationally.
Earlier this year the government launched a Transition Plan Taskforce to make the UK the world’s first net zero-aligned financial centre. The reason I am sitting around that table with the CEOs of NatWest, Aviva and the London Stock Exchange is because we’ve been talking about this for a long time, and they recognise our commitment and the value we can add.
This is potentially the new tax or the new audit: it is potentially the next big service line for the accountancy profession. It’s no accident that our vision says that ‘ICAEW Chartered Accountants enable a world of sustainable economies’. It doesn’t say we’re good at financial reporting, it doesn’t say we’re great at tax. The vision is so much more important now.
You are a trustee of several charities, including Moorfields Eye Charity. What do you get out of the experience?
It gives you a perspective outside ICAEW where you’re not in an executive role. In the charity sector, there is a governance and an approach that I think is useful for people who come from the corporate sector to experience.
The thing that interested me about Moorfields Eye Charity is that it supports the research at Moorfields Eye Hospital, which is the UK’s – if not the world’s – leading centre for eye care. The charity supports much of the research that makes Moorfields what it is. There’s a saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person. I would say give it to a busy person who’s interested in it.
What are the biggest opportunities facing the accountants of tomorrow?
The ACA opens doors whether you are in practice, business or want to do something completely different. If there’s one thing chartered accountants are, it’s problem-solvers, and there isn’t an activity, career or occupation where problem-solving isn’t an advantage. We’re like the universal blood group – you can send us everywhere because we’ve got something to add.
Are there specific projects that you are particularly excited about pursuing as your chapter at ICAEW comes to an end?
I have been appointed professor in practice at Durham Business School which will have at its heart building links between the academic world and firms, that definitely excites me. Otherwise, I want to take some time to recharge my batteries, the post pandemic period has been very demanding.
If you could only give one piece of careers advice, what would it be?
Take the opportunities when they present themselves, because they might not present themselves again. There will probably always be good reasons why you shouldn’t take them, but don’t turn too many of them down.
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