Jennifer Warawa has been Executive Vice President of Partners, Accountants & Alliances at Sage since June 2017. Here she talks to Accounting Insight Editor Ian Moss about her life and times…
The here and now….
What are your favourite early career memories, Jennifer?
I came from a family of entrepreneurs, with both my Mom and Step-Dad owning their own businesses which I was involved in as early back as high school and right through when they sold those businesses when I was in my 30s. During those years, I learned a lot about entrepreneurship, what it takes to run a business, sales and the many hats business owners have to wear. These really are some of my favourite early career memories and played a significant role in who I am today and built a foundation of skills I still use every day.
How did you get into this business?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial home (my parents were business owners) and as a result I have a very ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. When my step-dad lost the bookkeeper/accountant for his business, which happened to be at the same time that I was studying accounting at college, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to immediately apply what I was learning in the classroom in a practical way. I learned that behind every successful business is someone who understands the numbers and once I realised the numbers tell the story of the business, and that accounting is so much more than just the numbers, you could say I fell in love with it.
What can accountants and finance professionals learn from Sage, in a nutshell!?
A company of more than 30 years standing, we are built from, and of, accountants, which means that we understand the evolving nature of this profession. This stands us in good stead for providing the right guidance, technology and insights into helping the accounting profession grow and succeed.
We have been privileged to help them though periods of great change such as auto enrolment and, GDPR, and Sage is committed to ensuring it provides customers with software products and services that are ready for GDPR. Sage is a champion of business builders, and it is committed to arming them with the information they need to learn more about GDPR for their business.
Sage is also helping businesses access artificial intelligence (AI) through our technology, breaking it down for them, making it realistic, and then assisting them use it to operate more efficiently. In 2016 we introduced Pegg, a smart assistant, to help businesses manage everything from money to people by texting requirements through a familiar style messaging platform on their phone, tablet or laptop. In 2017 we introduced the Pegg framework, a smart AI platform to help our customers manage everything from money to people across the Sage product portfolio.
Does the idea of information overload concern you?
I think it’s all about understanding and deciphering the right information and the task in hand. As consumers we deal with information overload daily, be it via Twitter, news channels, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. From a professional standpoint, I receive information from our accounting partners, my team, senior management, and third parties ,several times a day. I would rather be over-communicated to, than not at all. I think this does, however, put a lot more pressure on communications and making sure you’re sending the right information at the right time and not contributing to the ‘information overload’. If your messages don’t stand out, they will simply disappear in to the mix.
What’s on the horizon for you and the sector?
My focus is to continue supporting our almost 100,000 accounting firms who do business with us (in addition to our 40,000+ partners and strategic alliances). One of the ways we have been supporting them is by developing the Sage Practice Growth Plan. We heard from accountants that they wanted more materials, resources and training to support them in changing their business model, and so this program will provide accountants with a roadmap to help them on their transformational journey and support the evolution of accounting practices through strategic insights gained from practicing accountants, thought leaders and industry experts. The model helps accountants learn new skills, anticipate the future and reorient their thinking to put their firm ahead, and we are committed to supporting accountants to adapt and stay relevant by embracing new technology and ways of working.
For the accounting profession there is more pressure than ever to stay competitive, and to strive to meet expectations of increasingly demanding clients. Accountants are expanding far past their traditional roles — becoming more holistic business advisers to their clients and strategic partners with an ever-increasing list of demands on their time. Technological advances have brought significant benefits and are redefining how accountants work and even their purpose. It falls to the accountants to grasp these opportunities and to become a modern day super-accountant. To truly succeed in this new world, today’s accountant must fulfill their half of the deal and follow through with better interactions with clients, and improved service offerings
As an influential voice, what impact do you want to have on the industry this year and in the long run?
I would like to be a catalyst for change in the accounting profession, closing the gap between accounting and technology for fellow practitioners around the world. My roots are in accounting and I am passionate about it and this has afforded me a unique perspective in business, when talking to our accounting partners, so if I can continue in the same vein, I will be very happy. The same applies to something else I am passionate about – mentoring women across the accounting industry, looking to provide them with guidance and encourage more females to join the accounting profession.
Do you feel women are fairly represented in the profession?
I don’t think that the accounting profession is quite there yet with equal female to male ratio, however the opportunities for women are available and endless, but you need to go after them. Push harder, demand equality and be ambitious. I’ve said already how passionate I am about guiding women and investing in the next generation of technologists and business owners, and so will do all I can professionally and personally to support women in accounting.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Kelowna, British Columbia Canada. It’s a town of about 100,000 people but is like a close “community” (as an example, the doctor that delivered me was still my doctor when I moved to the US in 2010).
Were you any good at maths at school?
I was not good at math, but I was good at accounting (go figure!). When math tells a story, I enjoy it and in turn, am good at it.
What’s your favourite film? (you’re allowed more than one)
I actually am not much of a movie person, so when I do watch a movie it’s because kids rope me in to it. With that, one of the movies I saw recently that I enjoyed was Moana (I bet no one else has that answer 😊).
What’s your favourite book? (you’re allowed more than one)
One of the books that has had the greatest influence on me recently is ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself’ by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It clearly lays out the science of what it takes to drive lasting change in yourself and uncover limitless possibilities for what you can achieve and become.
What’s your favourite type of music?
I listen to anything and everything and the type of music depends on the activity. Working out: dance music. Poolside: Reggae or Latin American music. Relaxing: Instrumental. Holidays: Christmas! One of my favourite bands of all time is the Eagles (I’ve seen them live three times) so they are a regular on my play list.
What’s your ideal day out?
My ideal day out is spent outside, preferably by water. Beaches, pools, lakes and sunshine – the best!
What’s your ideal holiday?
A mountain retreat, or on the beach where I could relax and get away from it all. Just unwind and unplug.
Is money the root of all evil?
I would have to say no, not when used wisely and for good causes.
Do you support a football team?
Of course! I assume you mean UK football, but I will refer to American football because I am an Atlanta Falcons NFL fan.
Do you have a heroine or hero?
One of my heroines and greatest inspirations was my mother, who I lost in a car accident in 2005 when she was just 50 years old. Throughout my life, my Mom taught me, both by example and by what she said, that nothing is impossible. In her eyes, there was never a limit to what I could be or what I could become, and it opened-up possibilities that would have otherwise seemed impossible. As a single parent for much of my childhood, my Mum showed me what innovation was before innovation was even a thing, reinventing herself as many times as she needed to provide for my sister and I. Even though I no longer have her physically in my life, the lessons she taught me and the way she inspired me continues to be part of my DNA.