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Q&A: Donna Bulmer, managing partner at Haines Watts

Tell us about your career journey to date and your role at Haines Watts.

I started my career at Haines Watts 27 years ago, straight out of University. After joining I trained and qualified as a Chartered Accountant, and it was an opportunity through Haines Watts’ international network which took me to Australia.

I lived and worked in Australia for three years which I loved, but culturally the firm I moved to didn’t align with my own values. So I made the move back to Haines Watts in the North East with ambition and drive to become a Partner.

I worked my way through the ranks with the support of our talent development programmes, and progressed from Partner to Managing Partner. Being part of the decision making team and being able to make a difference is really important to me as a person.

In 2018 I joined the national board at Haines Watts as the first female board member, which is something I’m really proud of. And last year I was delighted to have been appointed as Group Chair.

As a firm we’ve been on an absolutely incredible journey, and I’m so excited to see what is still to come.

What do you think are the most important attributes and characteristics of a leader today?

I think for me, there are three attributes which are invaluable when it comes to leadership today.

Listening – you don’t get the best out of people with a ‘tell’ attitude. Taking the time to actively listen, not just hearing, your team is crucial.

The ability to inspire and motivate others  – this is especially important through times of change. Being able to get people behind you and build advocacy goes a long way.

Authentic – just be yourself.

What is the most important thing an organisation can do to nurture workplace culture?

I think the most important area of focus should be behaviours.

Really understanding what good looks like when we’re behaving in line with our values. Calling our when we’re not.

Culture and values should be embedded in everything we do. In our interactions with each other, our clients and in our connections with the communities in which we live and work.

Leaders should walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Cultural change has to be driven be leadership.

Name a leader you admire, and why?

It might sound like a cliché, but I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by so many great leaders at Haines Watts. I’m constantly inspired by their leadership styles and how well aligned we all are. So, I would have to say the leadership team I work with.

When you need a sounding board, where do you turn?

Being able to call upon the leaders I work with for peer support and my husband for advice is definitely something I don’t take for granted.

I also find it invaluable to have an executive coach. It’s something I would really recommend for other business leaders. It’s a regular session with somebody completely independent who listens to me without judgement. It helps me focus on what is important and bring the answers to light.

As any other business leader will say, on a day-to-day basis there can be a lot to juggle. So being able to get some clarity of thought on a regular basis is vital.

We know you are passionate about social mobility in our region. How do you think businesses can make a positive impact and contribute to addressing this imbalance?

Addressing the imbalance and making a positive, tangible impact has to start with the young people.

There’s multiple layers to this. So firstly, we make sure we’re constantly reviewing our recruitment and onboarding process when it comes to the next generation and ensuring that it is as broad as possible, that it’s completely unbiased and that there’s absolutely no exclusions or barriers in place.

These barriers can come in all shapes and sizes. One of which being the digital divide, which is still very much ever-present. As the world continues to turn digital, we – as in the business community – have a responsibility to ensure that nobody is ostracised because of a lack of access to/education of the technology we use.

It’s also about connecting with young people and making sure that they know of the opportunities out there. University isn’t for everyone, so apprenticeships might be the perfect route for some young people today, but they need to know that these career routes are out there.

As a business, we spend a lot of time engaging with and getting to know charities and not-for-profits in our regions who speak directly to young people. This can really help us to understand young people and to get the message out there so we can address the imbalance head on.

Haines Watts

September 28, 2023

  • Ideas & Observations

Created by North East Times