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Francesca Lagerberg | AccountingWEB | Baker Tilly CEO on breaking leadership barriers
Baker Tilly International

Baker Tilly CEO on breaking leadership barriers

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Francesca Lagerberg, CEO of Baker Tilly International, stands among the few women leading major accounting organisations. In anticipation of International Women’s Day, she shares insights into her career of over 30 years.

5th Mar 2024
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When Francesca Lagerberg (pictured above) started in the accountancy profession she remembers it as being a very male-dominated environment. Although she didn’t realise this at the time – it was just something that was accepted. Now looking back, she realises how far things have shifted. 

But she is quick to point out that more still needs to be done. “There is more of an equal number of men and women coming into the accounting profession at a grassroots level. The difficulty though is as you go more and more senior, the shift hasn’t been as great,” she said. 

“There are some fantastic role models, but equality in the boardroom clearly hasn’t got anything like parity, and if you believe the statistics, it might never get into parity in my lifetime.”  

Being a role model

Lagerberg herself is one of those role models that women breaking into the profession can look up to. A quick browse of her CV and Lagerberg has fitted more into her 30 years’ experience in the profession than half a dozen people can manage. She had a 25-year stint at Grant Thornton, where she was a partner for 15-plus years before joining the global leadership team. Prior to this she was the national tax director for Smith & Williamson. 

She has also been actively involved in shaping the tax profession as a past chair of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales’s Tax Faculty and as a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. Not content with mastering one profession, Lagerberg is also a qualified barrister. 

In 2022, the former Grant Thornton executive added another impressive update to her already impressive CV, when she became the new CEO of Baker Tilly International. In stepping into this new role, she became the first female leader of Baker Tilly globally – which is still rare in a world where none of the Big Four has appointed a global female leader. 

Embrace the opportunities

Reflecting on her career, Lagerberg put her success down to having had “wonderful opportunities to move on and do different things”. She said: “When you talk to Gen Z people they say that they don’t want to stay anywhere longer than a few years – but that was actually my career.” 

She’s worked in audit, tax and advisory – from the Big Four to mid-tier and running her own business – and then in the international field, which led to her being approached to join Baker Tilly International.   

Unsurprisingly then, Lagerberg’s advice to anybody entering the profession is to say “yes” to the different opportunities of the profession and try different things. “It’s an amazing profession, and I was lucky enough to do lots of very different jobs over the years. And that’s really helped me when I came into the CEO role,” she said.

“I had an understanding of what it’s like to do some of those different roles. Whereas if I’d spent my whole own career doing one thing, that might have been more limiting.” 

Life as a CEO

With such a rich career, it’s hard to fathom how she managed to find the time to do it all, especially now that she’s leading an international firm that’s recently posted $5.2bn in revenue. When asked this, Lagerberg praised the “smart, wonderful and highly motivated people” that are part of her team, adding that the secret is making sure that she doesn’t get “dragged too thin”. 

Unflappable in her response, it’s easy to see Lagerberg as someone who just takes every challenge in her stride and nothing keeps her awake at night. While that might be true, she did let slip that the only things that concern her are the unexpected, when something that should be covered off is missed. She quickly brushed off any small chink in her cool-headed demeanor by saying that it’s “not really something I worry about too much”. 

Therein lies the secret to her successful career and captaining an international brand. “If you worry and stress all the time, you’re not giving your best to the role that you have. So it’s all about managing that pressure so you’re in the best place to make a decision. 

“It’s a very volatile market that we work in, so it’s good to keep a sense of calm, so you can make the good decisions, get the facts and get the data and not let things steer you too far off course until you actually know what the facts are.”

A lot can also be said for being spirited enough to keep going and being resilient. “It’s cliche these days, but you do learn a lot more from your failures than from your successes. Actually, the things that might not work the way you wanted, often help you get something that’s even better.”

More still needs to be done

While Lagerberg is a role model for women with ambitions to get into senior roles, she recognises that more needs to be done to keep those people in the profession when they get to those levels and to have more role models around to inspire the next generation of women leaders in the profession. 

“We still have a way to go and this is not the solved issue. There is much more to do. And then in addition to that you bring in the need for diversity, the need for inclusion and many other elements today. 

“I have two sons and a daughter. If I look at my daughter, I kind of hope we just sorted this all out by now. And it’s our responsibility to do better for the next generation and that generation do better for the generation after.”

The Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping will have a dedicated networking session for women in accounting on Thursday 14 March. No agenda for this one, just come and meet the women who light up our professions and say hi. Make a new friend, meet up with an old one and grab a drink! Secure your FREE ticket today

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