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Volunteer story: Simon Gray

Author: ICAEW

Published: 03 Feb 2023

For more than 20 years, Simon Gray has volunteered in a wide variety of roles at ICAEW, gaining invaluable skills and experiences along the way. He explains why volunteering is so important.
Photo of Simon Gray FCA

Simon Gray first began volunteering at ICAEW when he was working towards his ACA qualification with KPMG in Nottingham. "I was very active on the committee of the Nottingham Chartered Accountants' Student Society (NCASS), going to events, liaising with external bodies about securing sponsorship for events and engaging students," he says.

"There were two things at that time that were my priorities," he adds. "My primary focus was passing my exams with KPMG. Also, I was attached to the Nottingham office and I was working incredibly hard and travelling all over the place, so I wanted to socialise with the people that I didn’t see all week because I was on an away-job. NCASS was a vehicle to do that. It was a really good socialising opportunity."

Since then, Simon has worked in recruitment, founded his own business, had a portfolio career, been chief executive of Nottingham Means Business – a membership organisation helping to attract investment to the city – had career breaks and held non-executive directorships.

Jobs have come and gone but I have always been a volunteer.

Get outside your comfort zone

On qualifying, Simon began attending Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln Society of Chartered Accountants (NDLSCA) events on behalf of his boss. He soon volunteered as a business rep and then became president. "It worked well because I was in recruitment and a lot of my clients and candidates were chartered accountants. What they told me – about what was happening in their businesses, how they interact with ICAEW – I could pass that on."

He also joined ICAEW's Regional Strategy Board, and later the Business Committee, getting the chance to network with partners from Big Four accountancy firms, finance directors of businesses of all sizes, and senior professionals from ICAEW. This led to speaking opportunities at ICAEW conferences and the chance to pass on his expertise, advice and knowledge of both chartered accountancy and the recruitment sector.

Imposter syndrome has been a challenge at times but volunteering has helped. "I stuck with it and got more and more comfortable," he says.

Because I kept saying yes to opportunities, I was always stepping up in terms of seniority.

"It tested me and got me out of my comfort zone, in a good way," he says. "Being the most junior person in the room can be scary but it's the best way to learn."

Simon later became chair of ICAEW’s Business Committee which allowed him to recruit other committee members. "I took this as an opportunity to make sure that we represented international and regional members. I made sure we had representation from key industry sectors and SMEs and larger organisations."

Pride in your institute

As chair of the Business Committee, Simon was also invited to join ICAEW’s Members and Commercial Board, and ICAEW Council. "Volunteering gives you a real insight into what it means to be a member of ICAEW," he says. "You meet fantastic people through the committees you sit on. You feel like you have an opportunity to make a difference."

There have been three phases to Simon’s volunteering. "As a student, I wanted to shape some of the exciting events I went to," he says. "The next phase was business development – it helped me to do my job because I networked with chartered accountants as clients and candidates."

"Pretty quickly, volunteering became much more personal – I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed understanding more about my qualification, the history of ICAEW, and those that have gone before me."

You feel incredibly proud to be a chartered accountant and you want to be as closely connected as possible.

Volunteering has also given Simon the opportunity to meet and network with people he would never have met otherwise, and a much wider perspective on business and the economy. "When I was in recruitment, I had a recruiter's perspective. That was of great value to the committee I was on because I understood the employment market," he says. "In return, I got the perspectives of people from different business sectors. I gained a really broad understanding of business issues and opportunities."

Start locally

Getting involved with student societies and local ICAEW networks are good places to start volunteering, Simon says. Using ICAEW member preferences to join ICAEW communities for specific sectors or life stages is also a great way to connect and discover more about volunteering opportunities and events.

"Start on a localised basis and think about the things you are interested in. If you're passionate about something and you have specific knowledge about something, then there is potentially an opportunity to contribute," he explains. "You learn from the people you meet when you're volunteering – people more junior than you, people more senior than you."

They’ve all got different perspectives and you can develop a network of people.

Simon adds, "Whether you're in a technical or non-technical role, you have this broad view and understanding that gives you an ability to contribute to discussions. Your message or your advice is taken seriously, because you have the pedigree of the ACA qualification behind you."

In one of his volunteering roles, Simon was invited to the House of Commons to join a meeting hosted by the chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. "We were talking about the digital transformation of the economy. I had the opportunity to join discussions with government and leading industry figures, and to influence in a small way," he concludes.

Simon has made volunteering fit in with his career; and his full-time jobs and volunteering roles have had a symbiotic relationship. Volunteering is flexible and can work around personal and professional commitments. ICAEW has 165,000 members and 33,900 students from a hugely diverse set of backgrounds and provides a wide range of volunteering opportunities internationally. You can keep up to date with opportunities by visiting ICAEW's Volunteering Hub.