CEO Interview

Francesca Lagerberg – ‘Creating a bolder future’ with Baker Tilly International

A longstanding accountancy industry professional, Francesca Lagerberg takes up the reigns as CEO, Baker Tilly International. Zoya Malik, Editor-in-Chief, Financial Services Practice, GlobaData spoke to her about her career journey and expectations and strategy in her new role

Francesca Lagerberg
Baker Tilly International

Zoya Malik: How has your background in financial services and accountancy prepared you for your role as CEO?

Francesca Lagerberg: The role of CEO for a network like Baker Tilly International requires the bringing together of all the experience from every role that you've done over your career. I've got over 30 years of experience in professional services working in financial services and tax while I've also run departments in legal, risk and human resources. There’s no doubt that’s why I am so excited about this opportunity, because it enables me to utilise all of those learnings to deal with the complexities and nuances of the role and to work with a fantastic team on the growth agenda that we have.

ZM: What attracted you to Baker Tilly and to the role of CEO?

FL: There's a huge opportunity for Baker Tilly International in the market as many clients want to move away from some of the more traditional competitors and while they want to work with a network that has a truly global reach, they also need someone who has a deep local understanding. I believe the Baker Tilly network is beautifully positioned in that mid-market space.

Our firms are big enough to be able to serve clients in almost every field that they might want to engage in, while at the same time they can offer a very personalised service of independent advice with the knowledge that the person you initially speak to about your challenge or opportunity, is the person you'll deal with going forward.

The other thing that really excited me was that I've been involved in global networks that have grown with increasing presence and influence. And I've really enjoyed working with the network firms in those organisations as they have continued to grow and develop and expand what they do. There is a similar opportunity with the Baker Tilly network and that's the piece that excites me the most: to create a better future, leave behind a good legacy and work with firms that are ambitious and excited about the opportunities that are coming along.

ZM: What is your vision for the organisation over the next three years?

FL: My vision for the future is very much tied to our network’s strategy. There's been a lot of thought and energy that has gone into developing a strategy that is all about creating a bolder future that's attractive for both the talent coming into the network and for people working in the network already – and in being the confident choice for our clients who fuel our economies and enrich our communities. We will bring the power of our network to chosen strategic markets. We will be known for our agile, borderless client service and the engagement of our people to shape tomorrow. And of course, attracting the kind of clients that we're keen to work with and keeping those current clients who we enjoy a great relationship with.

My vision is to see our global network continue to grow and foster our strong reputation in the market, to be able to serve clients that have an international outlook, and to position us as an international go-to for firms given our client base and great expertise. So, it's about building on the great foundations that are already there and relentless execution of our six key strategic markets – digital, corporate finance, global tax services, legal, financial services and multinational corporations.

ZM: What are your main priorities with the board and management?

FL: The Board and its committees are hugely important in the success of the Baker Tilly network and I've begun working closely with those key stakeholders. The leadership here is very international in nature with all regions and major markets represented which gives us a truly global understanding of the issues of the day and the future.

What unites us is that we are all focused on delivering our strategy. That’s what we’re here to do with focus, clarity and clear intent for our people and our clients and to the market.

ZM: What investments are you planning in terms of technology, infrastructure, learning and development and recruitment in the next 12 months?

FL: There’s a lot happening in terms of plans to invest in those three areas over the next 12 months and beyond. From a global network perspective, it’s about what we can do to strengthen our network and help network firms understand what they can do better individually and where they can benefit from collaborating globally.

ZM: What is your plan for getting to know the network firms?

FL: One of the great joys of a job like this is the opportunity to meet and work with extraordinary people based in many different parts of the world. I’m very fortunate to have taken over at a time when people can meet face to face again after three difficult years and I’m so looking forward to visiting as many network firms as I can to stay connected and keep us all pulling in a common direction.

I’ve also joined as our cycle of regional meetings has just kicked off – in mid-June we had our Europe Middle East and Africa conference in Lisbon, where it was a great pleasure to catch up with nearly 200 of our partners and key business unit leaders in the region, to talk about the big-ticket issues but also really spend quality time together. As well as those conferences which culminate in our World Conference in October, I have also planned some very specific visits to different network firms throughout the rest of 2022 and beyond. So, I am going to be busy!

ZM: What regions will be a focus for your growth markets over the next three years and why?What are the opportunities for growth prospects across different regions and jurisdictions?

FL: Most CEOs in professional services would automatically say look to Asia and that region is incredibly important for us as a network, but the reality is every region has its hot spots and potential areas for growth. We need to have a very clear feel for where our clients expect us to be strongest. They expect us to be able to cover the world in a very effective way for them, but there are certain locations where they will want us to be even stronger because those are the territories they care most about.

No one size fits all and we need to be ready to adapt quickly with new services and deep sector expertise to anticipate where clients will want to go. So, we need to have a clear road map for what we're looking to do. And fortunately, our network has the financial strength and global footprint in nearly 150 territories to do this.

ZM: What are the leadership strengths you bring to Baker Tilly?

FL: I’ve always believed that in leadership what people say about you is as powerful as what you say about yourself. I’d like to think I have a reputation for being a good listener, bringing empathy and understanding to the roles that I perform, but also to make sure that I am really listening to what’s going on both externally and internally and then following through, making sure that we’re taking the right actions to keep an eye on the challenges, but also to drive the opportunities.

Ultimately, I’ve always believed that you should always look to leave a place better than when you started. What can you do to make your organisation a better place and set up its people for the future? I strongly believe that you should always have people around you that are better than you in as many ways as you possibly can.

So, you’re always investing in your people and creating an environment where people can thrive and be their best. And if you’ve done that, you’ve gone a long way to fulfilling the leadership role that you have.

ZM: How do you plan to work with regulators to improve audit standards / frameworks?

FL: Having a constructive and open relationship with the regulators in any market for professional services is hugely important. They need to see that you’re living up to the standards that they have set and also positively engaging with them with on their agenda. Regulators are a stakeholder that all our network firms should be working with rather than working against and making sure that we play our part in adding in thoughts to new potential rules and regulations as well as giving insight to developing themes, where it’s appropriate for us to do that.

From my own experience working with some of the global institutes and with the UK Government, I know how important it is to be able to be at the table and to provide insight and input where it’s required and also to make sure you do everything to follow the rules, so that you uphold the reputation and manage the risk of your network.

ZM: What is your opinion on audit split and what will be Baker Tilly’s strategic position on this going forward? What needs to be considered?

FL: There is no doubt that the world of audit and the future for firms in our profession is currently a very hot topic and we have already seen some first movers trying to take the initiative in the ongoing debate, with the conflicts that inevitably arise when you’re a multidisciplinary firm.

In terms of whether an audit split is the right way forward, I think the jury is still very much out about what’s the most successful way that you can meet the demands of managing risk and doing the right thing for clients. We are very much of the mind that giving our clients a wide range of offerings, is hugely important to our ability to present them a holistic set of solutions.

That said, as a global network, we’re going to be very thoughtful about the next steps particularly as the local situation in each country or territory we are present in, is incredibly different as well. My sense is that a global decision isn't always the right decision in a particular region. And there is no doubt, regulators will be very keen to make sure that their views have been taken on board in this debate.

ZM: What is your plan for industry stakeholder engagement?

FL: Baker Tilly network firms have had specialist industry groups for many years, primarily because if you're talking to clients, they expect you to know not only what is going on in their own business but also what is happening in their industry. We need to be able to speak in a language that resonates with them.

At the same time, we constantly assess as a network what services we are best placed to offer each client - whether it is traditional offerings like corporate finance, audit or tax consulting or whether it’s growing service lines, like legal. Regardless though you need that deep industry experience.