My JC Path: From university lecturer to Head of Early Careers

Elisa Henderson

Elisa Henderson

Head of Early Careers

29 November 2021

Throughout her career journey Elisa Henderson has been a student, an auditor, and a university lecturer teaching accounting and auditing - so who better to cultivate the advisers of the future as our Head of Early Careers? Having joined Johnston Carmichael in August 2021, Elisa tells us how she’s grown her own way by helping others do the same.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I grew up in the Orkney islands then moved to Edinburgh to study Law & Accounting at university. I loved counting the money in the change pot, so decided very young I wanted to be an accountant. After graduating, I trained with a Big 4 firm in audit, working on a combination of private and listed clients which I really enjoyed. My original plan was to go into insolvency, but while I was in my second year of studying ICAS, one of my former professors at the University of Edinburgh highlighted a job at the university that I might like. At first it was teaching in financial reporting and auditing, which I felt very at home with, and then I embarked on a PhD as well. This was in 2007/8 during the global financial crisis, so my PhD looked at the financial accountability of the UK banks that had collapsed.

Whilst I was completing my PhD and continuing with teaching, I got involved in the peer support offering at the business school. When I was working through my ICAS qualification, I had a peer network and there were two people in particular who were so motivated that it really drove me on. I loved having that peer collaboration and wanted to encourage and nurture that within the university business school.

While the pandemic hitting in 2020 was undoubtedly a very challenging time, I enjoyed the transition to online learning and the opportunities it created for us to be more innovative from a teaching perspective. However, I felt like I needed a new challenge – then the role at Johnston Carmichael came up and it felt like my dream occupation had been articulated there in a job description!

What attracted you to JC?

As well as being attracted by the size and scope of Johnston Carmichael, I had admired the firm from afar for a long time through my work at the university, where I brought in people from industry to support the students. I had originally contacted Irvine Spowart, and that led to a partnership with David McBain who began presenting at the university regularly on topics such as audit practice. Whenever JC are presenting to students they talk about the ethos of the firm, and the values really spoke to me – particularly ‘standing in other people’s shoes’. I thought that was really special. It told me that JC’s approach wasn’t just “Here’s our expertise and we’re going to impose it on you as a client”, but actually listening and seeing the client as a whole. Whenever students went on to join JC after their fourth year of university I remember thinking that they’d chosen well!

What are you enjoying most about your role and working at JC?

The commitment to people and investment in early careers has been very heartening, and that’s evident from the leadership team and all the way through the firm. I’m enjoying speaking to so many people all over the firm, and everyone has been so welcoming. At my initial interview, I was so nervous and was put completely at ease by how warm and welcoming the team were. I remember thinking “This is definitely the sort of people I would like to work with!” – and I’ve had that same feeling with everyone I’ve met since I joined. Everyone has been exceptionally welcoming and supportive.

The challenge of a new place is also something I’m really enjoying. I wanted to work in a more commercial and dynamic environment, and the opportunity to make the job my own was a big incentive to join the firm. I felt that I had a made a positive impact for students in my previous role and I wanted to bring that enthusiasm to an environment with new professionals. Being entrusted to take the role and run with it, with a fresh perspective, gives me a great sense of possibility and opportunity. Having such a close alignment between the firm’s strategy and my personal aspirations is really exciting. From my university teaching role to Johnston Carmichael there are a lot of similarities – building peer support, implementing buddying and mentoring for example. This is certainly what I want to be doing and I think understanding both sides of the coin, with first-hand experience of going through the exam process and liaising with professional bodies, is very helpful.

The commitment to people and investment in early careers has been very heartening, and that’s evident from the leadership team and all the way through the firm.

Elisa Henderson

Head of Early Careers

What goals have you set yourself for the next five years?

I’ve come into this role really believing that Johnston Carmichael offers one of the best training experiences for accounting professionals in Scotland. I would like to shout about that, and I’d also like to learn more about and enhance the good practice we already have so much of. I’m very excited about JC Academy, our internal training and development hub which gives our entire team access to a wide range of learning opportunities. We’re also very keen to widen the talent pool of recruits, from different university faculties.

A lot of accounting and audit and tax is so driven by regulation, and it’s easy to lose the human in that – but there are so many interesting humans and stories and clients and projects! Sometimes when you’re ticking a box in audit or balancing an account in BA, you can lose sight of the fact that there’s a business you’re enabling on the other side of that. I’d like to keep that front of mind that within the early careers cohort to inspire them and compel them on. Keeping the human at the centre of the training experience allows us to grow our own and develop professionals who thrive.

Finally - what’s been your best meal ever?!

After a lot of thought, my best meal was a Spanish tortilla when I was about 15. We were on Eynhallow, one of the uninhabited islands in Orkney. My friend’s dad did bird surveys for the University of Aberdeen, so were going around the island ringing fulmars to tag and track them. By the time we had ringed and surveyed the last bird on the island it was getting late and we were so hungry - so warm food, a cold night, and a massive sense of accomplishment was a winning combination!  

Take the first step on your JC Path with a firm that helps you grow your own way - visit our Careers page now.

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