‘I’m lucky – I enjoy variety, change and building things’… In conversation with Bernadine Reese

‘I’m lucky – I enjoy variety, change and building things’… In conversation with Bernadine Reese

What happens when you discover your entrepreneurial streak in professional services? Bernadine Reese, managing director at Protiviti UK, speaks to her colleague Jas Hullait about developing businesses, working with passionate people, and the challenge of work-life balance.

Jas Hullait - Hello Bernadine, thanks very much for agreeing to share your professional story. Please could you tell us about your career so far?

Bernadine Reese - Thank you, Jas. I trained as a chartered accountant in South Africa. I wanted to do a broad-based business degree, which offered flexibility. I did my training contract in external audit; from there, I followed areas of interest, rather than a career plan. I moved from South Africa to London; after a few years, I started to enjoy working with regulation, and moved to regulatory advisory. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, so I joined Protiviti 16 years ago to develop the risk and compliance team.

Several themes stand out: I enjoy variety and dealing with new and emerging issues. I enjoy change. I like building things. I’m lucky to have done all those things.

Jas - That resonates with me; I went down the same route, and the accountancy qualification is a great stepping-stone. What exactly drew you to Protiviti? It’s exciting to hear you were there at the beginning of the risk and compliance practice.

Bernadine - I’m interested in how businesses are built. While Protiviti was five years old at the time, the intention was to build a specialist financial services practice. I remember coming into the office and thinking: What do we do now? Where do we start? How do we build teams, and connect with our clients? All these elements have added a different dimension to a technical subject.

Jas - I imagine it was great to have ownership over the direction of the business, too…

Bernadine - Absolutely, yes, and Protiviti is hugely supportive in that way. People are given the space to build a business for their clients and industry. That approach encourages entrepreneurial people to join, and they are a real asset.

Jas - It’s a refreshing approach; if someone has a good idea, they can run with it. I can also tell you enjoy Protiviti because you are still here. Please can you tell me how you have managed your work-life balance over the years?

Bernadine - It hasn’t been an easy journey. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, so being ‘good enough’ in key areas of my life doesn’t really sit well. But I’m lucky that Protiviti is a very flexible employer. When my daughter was younger, I worked a four-day week, and I valued that extra time; I learned to prioritise the things I want, and need, to do.

There are times, as a working mum, when you are at the centre of everything and have to make it work. But those times do pass and being kind to yourself is also important. People are understanding and supportive; when I’m in those situations now, I let others know I’m struggling, and ask for help.

Jas - We recognise it’s a real team effort. If one person needs to be flexible, we help each other. How do you think the gender gap has improved in your working life?

Bernadine - I am Protiviti’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) managing director sponsor in the UK, and focus on these issues has grown considerably. There are more senior women in business, and in politics. These role models are very important. It’s valuable to hear how they have approached their careers, how they have progressed, and how they have dealt with challenges. There’s more to do on inclusion, though, so senior women are listened to and fully included in executive-level decision making.

Jas - If you see someone in a role, it’s easier to imagine yourself in their shoes. It’s difficult when you look at senior leaders and you don’t see someone who looks like you. What’s the best work-related advice you’ve received?

Bernadine - Do something you enjoy. If you enjoy your work, you will do it well and put in extra effort. What I enjoy has changed over time, though, so I would also advise people to follow the development of new and exciting areas. It makes work more fun.

Also, look after your people and build a great team. There are so many benefits to investing in people: the satisfaction of working with committed and passionate people is both amazing and energising; seeing them develop and progress is rewarding. I’ve learned so much from the people I work with, too.

Jas - It’s interesting that you talk about passion and people. I think it’s a great combination. You can’t go wrong if you are doing right by your team. What advice do you have for the next generation?

Bernadine - Play to your strengths. Get to know who you are, what you do best, and what you have to offer. Don’t try to emulate someone else. Develop your own style, be bold, and say yes; be willing to take risks. Enjoy the world of work because there is a lot of opportunity.

Jas - That’s really refreshing advice to hear. I’m already thinking about taking this approach. Where do you think your journey will take you next?

Bernadine - I’m really interested in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement. It’s a rapidly growing opportunity for the financial services sector to provide ‘green’ funding and investments; it’s also a rapidly evolving topic from a science and regulatory perspective. ESG is something I can positively influence in the future.

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership which tackles women’s professional issues through forums. It also facilitates networking events and community service activities. For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].