An intern’s journey to leadership at PwC

In a recent leadership shakeup at PwC, the big four firm appointed Rachel Taylor to head up the firm’s UK Government and Health Industries (G&HI) team. Having started as an intern 25 years ago, Taylor discusses with Accountancy Today the journey she embarked on, how she got to where she is today, and her advice for young starters.

Rachel Taylor has a long-standing career at PwC, having been inspired to join the firm after hailing from a family with a strong background in the health and public sector. Since joining the firm as an intern, Taylor has worked across the breadth of PwC’s government and health sectors, specialising in finance and assurance. At the beginning of her career, Taylor spent 10 years conducting external audit work in the public sector, as well as both financial and non-financial assurance, followed by 14 years in PwC’s risk practice looking at internal audit, finance, governance, and controls work across a whole range of government clients.

Taylor is responsible for leading PwC’s work in G&HI, and she asserts the reason she joined the team at PwC is because she is driven by making a “genuine and real difference”, such as supporting the pandemic response and helping fund administration support. She explains: “Providing trust and transparency work means that people behave differently. It was the power of making a genuine difference to something that’s visible and meaningful to people – to the taxpayer, to the citizens”. Additionally, she emphasises her desire to “build trust, deliver changes and see the firm’s changes and services come to fruition” as the reason she has continued with the big four firm.

Following a successful career, Taylor is now the leader of Industry for G&HI, but what does she hope to achieve in her new role? “It’s not about revolution, it’s about evolution,” she declares. Her main focus comes down to deciphering how to continue the evolution of the practice as “there are loads of challenges” in the G&HI sector, as “there always will be”.

She draws on the fact that there are “loads of opportunities for clients to embrace the positives that come out of digitalisation” as a result of fulsome citizen engagement. Despite not always being seen as positive, Taylor states that the increased social media engagement with government ultimately “provides insight from the taxpayer, and from people who need support”. In particular, she highlights that the positives mean PwC and its clients can access the taxpayer focus and support the move to net zero; “It’s about evolving the capabilities and skills of the practice to help clients respond to the opportunities that exist, as well as tackle the challenges that come alongside that,” she adds.

Taylor says: “I seek to bring together the different capabilities from across the practice to make sure we bring the best of that to our clients. As seen through the pandemic, there’s been real benefit in bringing insights from both other sectors and industries, but also other geographies globally, to help tackle some of the challenges and take opportunities there. ”Additionally, in her new role, she will link her expertise with other industry leaders globally to “tackle client problems and take client opportunities”.

But with all of her ongoing success at the big four firm, what kept Taylor motivated to climb up the ladder throughout her career? As she progressed throughout her employment, Taylor reveals she never considered the act of climbing a ladder, rather she kept her focus on learning about new sectors within the G&HI sector, learning about different clients, and helping them with different challenges.

She says she kept her eyes on learning, including learning what’s new and how to best help clients. “As long as I was doing that and I was enjoying it, I’ve kept going. When I joined, I just really wanted to do work that had purpose and that had meaning, and that meant I eventually got the job I’ve got,” she imparts. Taylor also credits another motivating factor to having worked in a positive environment with colleagues who share the same mindset. She states that the staff and partners that she works with at PwC “make a huge difference”; “that gives me confidence that I can then deliver something really good for my clients,” she shares.

Within the G&HI department at PwC, sector leaders “work collaboratively to bring the best of the firm’s technical expertise” in its lines of service and networks to provide both networks and sector insights to clients. Taylor explains that in her new role, she will bring PwC’s technical capabilities, insights, and networks to the G&HI team by regularly meeting with other sector leaders as a team to share learning and successes. 

“It’s important we’re not just looking down on narrow sectors or client lenses, we’re looking more broadly. A lot of the opportunities and challenges our clients face don’t just require simple solutions, so we provide a much richer set of insights when we work collaboratively as a team,” she explains. The integrated nature of PwC means the G&HI team can draw on expertise from other areas of the firm, which Taylor reveals she will continue to do in her new role.

With such a high level of collaboration across the G&HI team, it begs the question of what challenges the team is currently facing. The world is “changing quickly”, therefore adapting to client needs fast is “essential to remain relevant”, not just for PwC’s clients, but for its staff as well. She states: “We need to make sure we’re attracting the best talent and developing the skills of our staff to enable us to support our clients effectively. Also, what’s really important is we create an environment where we can build talent in what’s a really competitive job market.”

One of the challenges that Taylor highlights that the firm is focusing on is inclusion, in terms of attaining a “diverse and inclusive” set of candidates into PwC, and then supporting their progression throughout the firm. Taylor illustrates that PwC is approaching this through a digital upskilling programme which includes a digital fitness app, digital accelerated training for its 25,000 people in the UK, and developing specialist skills over a 12-week programme to build “more detailed digital capabilities”. She asserts: “The world is so fast paced, so we are continuing to focus on everyday flexibility to be able to respond. For me, it’s all about getting the right skills and capabilities to service our clients in that environment.”

Alongside PwC’s “technical competence”, Taylor adds that the firm incorporates its digital skills with its climate change practice as “climate change is now a business issue”. She highlights: “It’s integral to everybody’s business plans and strategies for the future, therefore the range of services that we provide across the firm are all embedding climate change and risk in what we do.”

Advice for progressing at a big four environment

In order to progress in the big four firms, Taylor echoes the five attributes of PwC’s professional leadership development framework as essential. Firstly, those hoping to join PwC must demonstrate leadership, including “leading yourself and others to make a difference and create a positive impact”. Secondly, individuals should bring business knowledge, innovation, and insight to “create sustainable value” for clients and the firm. Additionally, Taylor echoes that PwC also looks for those with technical and digital skills, as well as someone who “embraces diverse perspectives”, “works effectively in different environments”, and has “client service excellence” at the forefront of their work ethic.

Nevertheless, Taylor also highlights that to progress in a big four environment, individuals must try new things, challenge themselves, and “never shy away” from asking for support. She concludes: “Often people coming into a big four environment feel the need to always prove themselves. While it’s important that you give things a go and produce solutions to problems, it’s actually good to also ask for help. The learning journey you go on as a school leaver or as a graduate is huge, so the more help you can get means you can move up that learning curve so much more quickly.”

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