Stephen Doyle is proof positive that careers don’t always go to plan. Doyle’s ambition growing up had been to become a teacher, but poor Leaving Cert results hexed that and it took him a while to find his niche after this setback.
Doyle is the first to admit that his professional life got off to a slow start. However, over time a business degree at John Moores university in Liverpool, good mentoring and an ACCA qualification put him on a career path that has progressed successfully from finance to senior roles in project and operations management.
“I’m one of nine children from Killinarden in Tallaght and, while I loved school, I didn’t have the easiest journey there, especially in my teenage years with bullying,” he says. “I failed my Leaving first time around but was fortunate to get funding that enabled me to repeat it elsewhere. Sr Angela Doyle was my mentor at the time and she sat me down one day and said, ‘Stephen, you will go as far as you want to go in life, but it’s always going to take you a little bit longer than everybody else.’ The moment she said that a light bulb went off. I realised that academically I mightn’t be the smartest guy in the class but if I worked hard and took the opportunities that came my way I could do well.
“I still didn’t get the points I needed for teaching with my repeat Leaving and, at the age of 20, I packed a bag and moved to the UK. From there my education and career took off in a different direction.”
Doyle, now the incoming chairman of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in Ireland (ACCA) and head of real estate, technology and operations at EY Ireland, says the decision to study business and subsequently accountancy happened by accident. He was doing general office work in the UK at the time and began taking an interest in finance after watching a colleague.
“It turned out I had a bit of a grá for numbers and my employer offered to send me on a finance course,” he says. “I opted to do business instead as I wasn’t sure that finance in its purest sense was what I wanted to do. I felt a broader degree would open up more avenues. That said, my best results were in finance and the decision to go for the ACCA followed on from that.”
Doyle has never shied away from putting in the effort and completed both his degree and his ACCA while working full-time. He is passionate about getting it across to others, and to young people in particular, that there’s more than one way on to the career ladder.
“It actually took me a while to complete my ACCA because I let myself get sidetracked by life, but a family tragedy – three of my brothers were killed in a car accident – brought me down to earth and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to finish my qualification and increase my earning power to support my family. It also opened doors to great career opportunities and diversifying my experience.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had great mentors in my personal and professional lives,” Doyle adds. “One in particular, my boss in Poland when I was working for Whirlpool, gave me great confidence. He trusted me to do my best but allowed me to fail and still had my back.
“That’s really important because we all make mistakes. When somebody empowers you as he did, you know it’s safe to fail once you’re upfront about it and have done everything you can to mitigate the risk. Now as someone in a leadership role, I try to help others the same way to be the best they can.”
Doyle moved to his current role within EY four years ago and says the diversity of the brief suits him down to the ground. One of the big projects he is involved with at the moment is the firm’s ambitious plan to create a new landmark headquarters in Dublin.
As the new president of ACCA, Doyle is keen to promote the advantages of this qualification to those starting their career or looking for a change. “I’m passionate about lifting the myths around what the accountancy profession looks like and educating people about different career opportunities within the profession and the various routes into it,” he says.
“There’s a historical view that to become a professional accountant you need the best Leaving Cert results and then a business degree and then a professional qualification. That’s not the case with ACCA and one of the best things about it is the agility in the curriculum which means you can work while you study. We’re committed to diversity in all its forms and to showing people that it doesn’t matter where or what background you come from, you can be a valued member of this profession.”
Doyle adds that while at one time there was a clear-cut distinction between the different forms of accountancy qualifications with chartered more associated with professional services and ACCA and CMA more aligned with industry and manufacturing, the difference is fading. “I think the profession has worked hard to diversify and evolve its curricula and its focus today is on attracting people into professional services regardless of what sector or industry they ultimately wish to pursue,” he says.