It was a sprained ankle that led Stephen Hall, senior tax partner and head of Deloitte Newcastle, into accountancy.
After completing a history degree at Cambridge University and studying for an MA in 17th century studies at Durham University, he was all set to begin his teacher training – until a misstep changed his career trajectory.
He explains: “I was working at Durham University after finishing my studies and I fell down some steps. I wasn’t able to go on the holiday that I had booked and was confined to my home. One day I picked up the Chronicle newspaper and saw an advert for trainees at Touche Ross [which later became Deloitte]. I decided to apply and the rest, they say, is history.”
Durham-born Stephen became a trainee accountant in 1992 and has since risen through the ranks from trainee to associate, director, partner and then senior partner. In July 2015, Stephen was appointed head of the Newcastle office and is now responsible for all North East operations at the ‘big four’ accountancy firm.
This September, Stephen – who specialises in tax – will celebrate his silver anniversary at Deloitte Newcastle.
Over the years he has witnessed substantial growth at the Tyneside office, which was based at Grey’s Monument when Stephen first joined the company before moving to Gainsborough House on Grey Street and then to its current location at One Trinity Gardens on Newcastle Quayside.
Deloitte Newcastle now boasts a team of 210 and provides a range of accountancy services to regional, national and international clients, spanning private individuals up to major multinational businesses.
Stephen, who lives in Durham city centre, remains devoted to the North East and talks enthusiastically about the benefits to professionals who choose to base themselves in the region.
“Working in Newcastle, or in the North East, is great because the quality of life is so good here. Deloitte recently released a report that studied the 273 regions of the EU and Newcastle (and Northumberland) was the first metropolitan area in the UK in terms of quality of life.
“But being part of a major firm like Deloitte also means you don’t have to compromise on the work you do either. Our staff get access to high quality and challenging work – a lot of which is directed to us because of our expertise from around the UK.
“I am always flying the flag for the North East and one of my ambitions is for one of the Deloitte annual conferences to take place in the North East.”
Far from hiding in the relative plush surroundings on Newcastle Quayside, the team at Deloitte Newcastle works hard to integrate itself into the local community and is proud of its corporate social responsibility programme in the region.
The team works with local charities, TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People, to provide pro bono work to those struggling with their tax affairs – often due to a family bereavement or other tragic circumstances.
Staff are also given time each month to work on charitable and social projects of their choosing, and the Newcastle office works with Cardinal Hume Catholic School in Gateshead – as part of Deloitte UK’s One Million Futures initiative – to help build pupils’ career aspirations.
Encouraging social mobility and opening up accountancy as a possible career choice is something that Stephen feels strongly about.
“Often, people think that accountancy isn’t for them because they don’t think they have the right background, didn’t go to the right university or didn’t do the right degree; but this simply isn’t the case.”
Stephen – an arts degree graduate – believes that studying a finance-related degree doesn’t necessarily make you more suitable for a career in accountancy compared to someone who completed an arts or science-related degree.
“You may have to take a bigger leap of faith if you studied an arts degree but you can be just as be suitable to become a trainee in an accountancy firm,” he says.
“I actually found that the research and communication skills I developed while studying my degree in history really helped me when I started my career.”
Stephen also reveals that, while he attended one of the most prestigious universities in the world, if he was to apply for a trainee contract at Deloitte today, this fact may never be known to recruiters. Instead, the global accountancy firm is beginning to use ‘blind recruiting’, where only qualifications – not the educational establishment – are revealed.
“Deloitte is also taking on more Bright Start apprentices from A level,” Stephen adds. “We recognise that university is not for everyone – for a variety of reasons – but this doesn’t have to exclude you from a career in accountancy.”
Over his career, Deloitte Newcastle’s chief has also seen the impact technology has made on accountancy, and the increasing requirement for services to be available to clients 24 hours a day.
Enabling staff to manage this changing environment while also maintaining a productive work/life balance is important to Stephen. Many members of the Newcastle team have adopted ‘agile working’, which enables them to choose their working hours, and Stephen believes that it is this scheme that helped Deloitte Newcastle collect the Accounting and Finance Employer of the Year and Tax Team of the Year accolades at the most recent North East Accountancy Awards.
Stephen encourages people to follow their passions and interests outside of work. He is an avid theatre fan himself and invests in theatre productions, from those performed in London’s West End to those in local theatres in the North East.
“I fell in love with acting while I was at school and I’ve always enjoyed going to the theatre and the cinema; it provides a lovely contrast to what I do in my job,” he says. “I began investing in productions a few years ago to help finance those that otherwise wouldn’t be put on.
“During my career,” he adds, “I’ve also found that people are very receptive when I talk about my interest in theatre and so I always say to my team, be yourself. Don’t feel you need to impress. Talk about the things that interest you and take an interest in the things that interest others.”
When speaking to Stephen – whether it’s about the North East, his love of theatre, inspiring people to look at accountancy as a career, or the work the team at Deloitte Newcastle delivers – his passion is infectious.
Stephen may quite literally have ‘fallen’ into his career but it seems that teaching’s loss was North East accountancy’s gain.