Lucy Franklin is CEO of Brighton-based Accordance, a company aiming to become Europe’s leading VAT provider. She talks to BLM about her ambitions and her innovative staff wellbeing initiatives.
Can you tell us about Accordance and what it does?
Accordance is an international tech-enabled compliance and consulting firm. We ease the burden that cross-border VAT creates by offering clarity from complexity. We have been established for 13 years, and I have been in the CEO position for one year.
Culturally it’s a very diverse and intellectually-stimulating environment. We care about the people here, and we want them to prosper.
Can you also talk us through your path to this role?
I’ve been in this profession for about 20 years, essentially driving growth for sales functions in other industries. I started as a Sales and Marketing Director here about eight years ago, and moved my way into the Managing Director role, and more recently the Chief Executive Officer position.
My background is around strategic growth, how to maximise people’s potential through their empowerment. I think businesses often fall into the loophole of focusing their strategy on building a plan without their people at the heart of it. Plans don’t work if people are not motivated to fulfil them.
What trends are you seeing around international trade at the moment?
We are in a challenging period as being prepared for Brexit has been difficult given the uncertainty; for us and for the businesses we help to trade confidently. In some instances businesses have stopped trading, or re-routed their supply chains.
What do you think the post-Brexit future might hold?
I think all we can ask for is that we get a deal which allows us to continue trade and to make sure it’s still frictionless. That is the most we can hope for. It’s a case of making sure Europe is still prospering, whether we are inside the European Union (EU) or out.
For me, the deal we already have – being part of the European Union – is the best we can have, and that is the deal we should be sticking to. I am absolutely a Remainer, and anything outside of that is not a good deal for me.
Economies thrive because of trade. It’s that basic. If you put a blocker in the way, we’re not going to thrive to the same degree.
You’ve done a lot of work at Accordance around employee wellbeing, including trialling a four-day working week – can you tell us more about that?
I think, ultimately, if you have people’s wellbeing front and centre of any business, those people will be happier and therefore more efficient. If I can make sure people have the right work/life balance, what should follow is that when they are at work they’re more engaged, they are more productive, and the result is that we grow as a business through people’s empowerment, rather than by pushing them up a hill.
A four-day week is part and parcel of people’s wellbeing, and I’m really passionate about it. We’ve run two trials; we increased productivity, people are feeling happier, they’re doing more in their private life, everything you would expect, really. The next step will be a company-wide trial for a three-month period.
It’s categorically not about compressed hours. I’m looking for them to do four days for the same salary. It’s a genuine four-day week, a 30-hour week. On the whole it’s been received extremely positively, but there’s also a thought process about ‘What does that mean for me? What does that mean for my pay? What does it mean for our clients?’ There have also been concerns about whether such a progressive change could affect our professional credibility within the sector.
And what’s your answer to that?
Absolutely. This is the way in which the professional world needs to be moving, and I think most companies will do well to put in these types of initiatives for wellbeing themselves.
Do you think this is something which could work in all industries, and for businesses of all sizes?
I think it can absolutely work, but it needs commitment, it needs thought, and it needs a change management approach.
But ultimately it goes back to simple things for me; if people are happier and healthier, the natural next step is that there will be the production of better work, your sickness rates will decrease, all the research suggests your retention rates will increase, and you will be able to attract talent in a way which perhaps you were not before. There are huge amounts of benefits to businesses. It comes back to boardroom mentality, and not being afraid to step outside of the norm – I really believe this will be the norm eventually, though.
How have you found being a female leader in a typically male-dominated industry?
Honestly? Hard. I think predominantly women tend to dominate support functions in finance and professional services, and those obviously are really important roles, but there are not enough women in senior positions in this industry at all. As a result of that it has been a challenge for me and, I imagine, other women. I think there’s scepticism about whether or not I’m going to be able to do as good a job as my male counterparts. That’s disappointing in 2019, really disappointing.
What are your ambitions for the next two years?
I would like Accordance to be Europe’s leading specialist VAT services provider. I think we’re well on our way. Since I came into post in January 2018, I have put in a lot of change in terms of putting people at the heart of the business, making sure our technology offering is positive, that our service offering is at the forefront, and expanding our European footprint. For all of those reasons, I think we’ve got a really, really good shot at doing that, and I intend for that to be my legacy.