From the boardroom to the greenhouse

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Sarah Morrison was a Partner in our Not for Profit team; she left after 28 years in 2014 to undertake further study and start a gardening business.  In this interview, Sarah explains how she was able to combine her passion for the charity sector with the intellectual challenge of working in a leading accountancy practice.

Sarah Morrison

How did you join us?

I’d started my career as a self-taught book-keeper in the charity sector, working for a number of organisations, including Liberty.  I’d never planned to work in finance – my passion, initially at least, was for the charity sector rather than accountancy – but quickly realised that there was considerable demand in the not for profit industry for people with specialist financial skills.  I decided that it would be helpful if I gained a finance qualification so I started applying for training contract roles at accountancy practices.  A firm called Frazer Whiting – which subsequently merged with Littlejohn de Paula to form Littlejohn Frazer – hired me on the spot, and I started there in September 1986.

My plan had always been to return to the charity sector after qualifying, but I decided instead to stay in practice and work my way up.  I initially specialised in auditing manufacturing companies and SMEs, and also spent two years as internal auditor to the London Docklands Development Corporation. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s – almost a decade after I joined – that I got the opportunity to audit clients from the not for profit sector.  Harrow School was one of our first high profile clients in the industry, and I was also part of the team that won our long-standing contract with DG ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid agency.

I continued to help grow PKF Littlejohn’s Not for Profit team until I left in 2014.

What are some of your highlights from your time with us?

I have lots of fond memories of my 28 years at the firm!  Becoming a Partner in 1997 is something of which I’m proud.  Winning and working on DG ECHO is another highlight.  It gave me the opportunity to travel, initially to Brussels  (where we liaised with DG ECHO’s management team) and Geneva and then undertaking fieldwork assignment across all parts of the globe!  And, of course, the move from the City to our offices in Canary Wharf sticks in my mind.  We were one of the first businesses to move out to Docklands, before most of the public transport infrastructure had been built –  which led to some interesting commutes!

What kept you here for so long?

My colleagues played a big part in me staying at the firm for almost three decades.  Many became good friends, and I still stay in touch with some of them now.

The intellectual stimulation I felt was also important.  This is a firm that gives you the opportunity to stretch yourself while supporting you along the way.  I always felt that there was a huge amount of collective expertise and experience to draw upon whenever I encountered a challenging issue.

I also appreciated the flexibility that I was given around childcare.  We were a pioneer of flexible working well before it became mainstream, and that was important to me because it meant that I could be both a Partner and a mum, rather than being forced to choose between the two.

What did you do after leaving?

I went back to university and studied for a Masters in Philosophy at King’s College in London.

I also got the opportunity to pursue my interest in gardening.  I gained a qualification with the Royal Horticultural Society and started my own gardening business, as well as volunteering at a couple of local community gardens.

I didn’t completely step away from finance, though, and took on some short term roles at various NGOs (non governmental organisations) and was a consultant at Cass  Business School.  I’ve mostly stopped that now, although I remain a Trustee of Feedback Global, a charity that seeks to address food supply issues around the world.

Interestingly, I never went back to the charity sector in a full-time, permanent role, despite my initial plans.  I loved the variety of working in practice too much!

What’s next?

I recently became a grandmother for the first time, so that’s going to be a new challenge.  I’m also looking forward to continuing with my volunteer gardening and starting to travel again.