Inspired by her father, Elona Mortimer-Zhika forged her career in accountancy leading to the top job at a major UK software company. Words by Penelope Rance
What inspired you to go into accountancy?
I grew up in Albania, where my dad was a mathematician and economist, and my favourite times spent with him were doing puzzles and maths questions. I knew I wanted to do something related to business and maths, so after coming to the UK on a scholarship when I was 16, I went on to study accountancy and economics at Reading University.
Following my degree, I was lucky enough to get on the Arthur Andersen ACA graduate training scheme, and after that, Deloitte, following the post-Enron merger.
What has the ACA meant to your career?
The ACA was an amazing foundation. I learned competencies and skillsets that helped me become the leader I am today. I worked for more than 50 clients, from SMEs to big plcs, going into a different business on a weekly basis, with very little time to learn the key drivers, risks and opportunities.
I learned about teamwork, delivering under tight deadlines, and stakeholder management through dealing with CFOs and heads of audit committees. The ACA is so broad, so well recognised and it ticks so many boxes that are important in running a successful business.
What do you consider to be your most important career successes?
When I joined IRIS, I wanted to be the best CFO I could be, but three years later I’d already made it to COO and then CEO. This is a business I genuinely love, and to be in this position is my highest achievement from a career perspective. You’re only as good as your team, and I’m really lucky to work with amazing people – some of whom I’ve known for 20 years.
What challenges have you faced along the way in your career?
The most recent is the pandemic. When I became CEO, I didn’t think I would have to deal with something like this in my first year. We are all capable of doing more than we thought was possible.
Another challenge for me has been being a mum of two young children, now aged five and nine, wanting to be the best parent I can. It’s a juggling act, and my solution has been to ask for and accept help. I never miss events such as sports day, and work will fit around that.
People are happier if they can balance home and work. If we’ve learned anything from coronavirus, it’s how to be flexible, and how to make sure that it’s output that’s judged, not input.
What are the most important lessons that you have learned?
As a leader, you must be authentic, rather than the version people want you to be. Every leader is faced with difficult decisions. The job is to protect the greater good, not to please everybody.
Second, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what challenges we face, we are resilient and adaptable. I couldn’t be prouder of how everyone working at IRIS has risen to the situation, and not only kept the lights on, but delivered and flourished.
Where do you go from here?
My plan is to be the best at the role I’m currently in. I’m always driven and inspired by what I’m doing, and that’s worked for me, because when we do that well, a new opportunity comes around the corner.
Right now I’m focused on growing IRIS to maximise its potential for its customers, employees and shareholders. As long as I’m surrounded by inspiring people, that’s what makes me tick.