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Quarterly issue 4

Stepping up

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 01 Dec 2020

Raj Thiruchelvarajah

Thanks to the skills and knowledge learned studying the ACA, these young entrepreneurs are pursuing their business dreams. Three accountants who have set up their own businesses talk to Ebunola Adenipekun

Griselda Togobo

Forwardladies.com, CEO

Ghanaian-born Griselda Togobo came to the UK to pursue a master’s degree in engineering and management at the University of Cambridge and then joined Deloitte.

Initially an engineer, Togobo says: “I felt an accountancy qualification would give me that extra knowledge of business that you don’t pick up from an engineering degree. While I was at Deloitte, I got the opportunity to work with many companies, which was a solid business grounding.” 

Her mother had an engineering company in Ghana and she recalls: “Mum’s businesses struggled because she didn’t have the financial skills to sustain their growth. So I felt with the engineering and accountancy qualifications I could avoid some of the challenges she’d faced. She was denied education because of her gender so she tried to give us everything she didn’t have.”

Despite working hard and making it to a world-class university, followed by a role at a top-tier professional services firm, Togobo felt she had limited access to opportunities due to her gender and race. “I decided to put my talent to work behind a more purposeful mission – advancing opportunities for women at work,” she says.

Part of that mission is exercised through her role as CEO of Forwardladies.com (FL), a global women’s professional network and empowerment platform dedicated to the training and development of women in business. Togobo bought the business in 2014 and says: “FL was the perfect channel to exercise all my skills in engineering, accountancy and consulting by coming up with solutions for issues affecting women globally.”

Her clients are FTSE 100 companies and she delivers bespoke diversity and inclusion programmes ranging from women’s leadership to those designed to advance people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

“My work has taken me to Africa, US, Europe… All the women I speak to share similar challenges – accessing opportunities. I’m excited to see the impact of our work beyond the UK.

“Small businesses often fail due to a lack of financial know-how. They know their craft but they don’t know how to turn it into a commercial success. The ACA provided a solid foundation that has been invaluable in running my businesses.”

Sarah Thomas

Clockface Beauty, Co-Founder and CEO

Yorkshire-based Sarah Thomas qualified as an ACA in 2009 and became an FCA 10 years later. Before founding her own business she was Head of Financial Planning and Analysis for Motability Operations, which operates motability cars, powered wheelchairs and scooters.

The trigger to setting up her own business was her first pregnancy in 2015. Her mum, Karen Horsley, Co-Founder of Clockface Beauty and a bio-medical scientist, created post-menopause skincare products initially for herself. Thomas says: “She gave me what went on to be our signature collection facial serum. It cleared my pregnancy hormonal skin. I believed everyone deserved to feel that confident in their skin and that we needed to turn it into a business.”

Thomas launched on 1 October 2018. “We started manufacturing in-house, but that wasn’t sustainable as we were growing so quickly. We partnered with a local skincare manufacturer so we could oversee the production of our formulas.”

For Thomas, accountancy laid the foundations for success: “If I hadn’t been an accountant, we wouldn’t have started this business. Mum’s the science brain, I’m the business brain. Being an accountant is not just about finance, it’s about strategic thinking and business decisions.”

Thomas’s goal is to make Clockface Beauty the largest natural skincare company in the UK. “Once the pandemic is over and the bricks and mortar retail market picks up, we’d like to get into large national retailers, growing as a wellbeing brand as well as a skincare brand.”

Raj Thiruchelvarajah

Hytro, CEO and Co-Founder, Goal Master, CEO 

Raj Thiruchelvarajah started his career working in practice at PwC before moving into banking and management consulting. He qualified in 2008 but, 10 years later, opted for a career change. “After 15 years in the City I felt the need to try something new, to take a risk and to build something myself.”

He came across Paul Harter, previously a partner at international law firm Gibson Dunn. Harter had just founded Goal Master, a health, fitness and nutrition coaching company aimed at providing a tailored one-on-one service to busy professionals. With his interest in health and fitness, as well as 15 years of audit and project management experience, Thiruchelvarajah was the right fit for the role of CEO at Goal Master.

“The skills you acquire by doing the ACA and working in audit are often underrated. They give you an excellent foundation for start-up life.It’s more than just the financials – as an auditor you have to learn quickly how different businesses operate and find solutions to the issues you identify,” he says.

It was at Goal Master that the inspiration for their next venture came. Working with their chief nutrition adviser Dr Warren Bradley, who originally came up with the idea, the team created the Hytro range of blood flow restriction (BFR) integrated sportswear. 

Thiruchelvarajah says: “The benefits of BFR training are extraordinary. It is widely used in elite sports but has not crossed over into public knowledge.” So expanding awareness is their goal for 2021 and beyond. “By the end of the year, we want all gym goers to understand that they can reap the benefits of BFR training.”