I have met some interesting people in my time, both inside and outside of work. I am a firm believer that life is a continual learning process and I like to hear others opinions – especially on business related topics. I thought it would be exciting to interview different types of people to hear more about their views and also to gain some insights from them on any current ‘hot topics’ or elements of their work they may be passionate about.
Today I am going to be interviewing Jo Harris from The Compliance Alliance and JOH Consultancy who specialises in Insolvency. Jo is an incredibly knowledgeable, intelligent individual who is passionate about her work. She is academically brilliant with a life-long thirst for learning which has amounted in her earning numerous degrees in various subjects. Not one to suffer fools, Jo is one of the most straight-talking people I have ever met. She is exceptionally focused with a tremendous work ethic which has helped her build a successful consultancy.
Q1. Jo tell us a bit about yourself? Who are you?
I am on a continuous quest for knowledge and to challenge myself. I started my working life in the legal department of a local authority while studying law. After 5 years, I decided to go to university and complete a maths degree. I then fell into insolvency by accident and whilst working in insolvency obtained a degree and Masters in Psychology since I was not sure whether I wanted a career in insolvency. I finally became a licensed IP and I have traded companies and dealt with all areas of corporate and personal insolvency, finally ending up specialising in compliance. After a few years, I decided to start my own business providing compliance services and teaching insolvency. Having now established my business and dealt with sweeping new legislation, I am considering a PhD in an area of Psychology.
Q2. Tell us something interesting about yourself that few people know?
I have a motor bike licence and love poetry, oh and I am thinking of obtaining my first tattoo to cover a motorbike accident scar.
Q3. Do you consider any of your career moves so far to be a mistake and if so why?
No, everywhere I have worked I have been able to learn from my colleagues and the working environment. Every move was a step forward and provided its own unique challenges.
Q4. Why did you decide to set up your own company and what have been some of the challenges?
I realised there was a glass ceiling which I had reached and therefore wanted to create my own opportunities.
Q5. What have you found to be the most frustrating element of working in Insolvency?
Insolvency attracts entrepreneurs and mavericks so dealing with and managing the expectations of IPs is the most frustrating area…we always think we are right.
Q6. My understanding is that it is exceptionally hard to pass the Insolvency Practitioners’ exams (JIEB), with a high fail rate on first attempts. What are your thoughts on this?
It is a very difficult exam and has been likened to taking a degree in one year with the sheer volume of knowledge that needs to be acquired. Like all exams, it has its limitations but it is varied and difficult requiring knowledge of legislation, case law, industry and professional guidance as well as practical knowledge because once passed an individual may become a licensed Insolvency Practitioner (IP). The IP will then be able to take insolvency appointments and will become responsible for advising Boards of Directors as well as individuals and will be personally responsible for dealing with all aspects of a company or individual once appointed.
Q7. There has recently been a vast change in legislation relating to Insolvency, how has this impacted your business and what are your thoughts on the changes?
The business has been incredibly busy in preparing over 2,000 documents and detailed checklists to provide to clients as well as webinar training on the new legislation. For the last 3 months, I have been working 24/7 to meet the deadline for the legislation going live. While there have been some fundamental changes to the way IPs will be conducting case work, and in particular seeking decisions from creditors, I think that the impact this will have for the profession has been over-estimated and IPs will quickly adapt to the new regime.
Q8. An important element of working at a senior level in Insolvency is around cultivating relationships and networking to bring in business. We know there are many personality types in the workplace and this element of a senior role may put some people off, if it is not one of their strengths. Do you believe that may hold them back from working at a senior level?
To be a successful IP you need to bring in work. Whereas other professions have repeat business, that is not something that this area lends itself to since once each appointment has been finalised the company will usually cease to exist. Work is therefore referred to IPs from various sources; accountants, lawyers, banks, asset based lenders, etc. This is further complicated by IPs not being able to pay work-referrers which would be a breach of the Code of Ethics. To become a partner or to open your own practise you need to able to bring in work through contacts. There are places below partner level where you may be able to progress without it being dependent on work obtained, but this will limit your earning power.
Q9. Working in Insolvency, Practitioners must have knowledge of employment law for when a company goes into administration, being a Consultant how do you ensure that you keep your knowledge up to date in this area?
It is not just employment law that IPs need to be familiar with, there is also licensing legislation, H&S and environmental law; the list is endless. I personally subscribe to LexisNexis for daily updates on changes in Insolvency including legislation, case law and industry issues. As an industry, we also ensure that lawyers are instructed on complex areas of the law when appointed over a case.
Q10. What routes do most people take to get into Insolvency?
It is very rare that a person starts out wanting to become an IP and most people fall into it. When there were lots of trading jobs in the 1990s, IPs would employ staff from companies that had become insolvent since the IP would keep staff to run the business whilst trying to achieve a sale or an orderly wind down of the business. Some staff at the company may then have been offered a position with the IP’s own firm. Now staff usually come from an accounting background.
Q11. What advice would you give to new or junior professionals who are looking for a career in Insolvency?
Obtain qualifications in accountancy and insolvency as soon as possible and network continuously as the contacts you make as a junior will grow with you.
Q12. The world of work is definitely changing with many reports and articles discussing how the future will involve more workplace flexibility – portfolio careers, the gig economy, etc. What are your thoughts on this and how do you think it may impact on Insolvency as an industry?
I think the changes are fantastic and long overdue. With the recent changes in legislation in insolvency lending themselves to virtual meetings, this should help with workplace flexibility but unfortunately we are a profession that still charges by the hour which means that there continues to be an expectation of doing so many chargeable hours per week and maintaining a 9-5 ethos.
Q13. What is your favourite business book and why?
I try to avoid reading all business books.
Q14. Who has been the most inspiring person you have worked with and why?
When I began my career in law I was lucky enough to work with a female lawyer who was dynamic and ambitious. She obtained her degree then completed voluntary work in South Africa. Upon returning to the UK she qualified as a lawyer and while I was working with her she was studying for a Master in European Law. She empowered her staff, supporting them and helping them in any areas they indicated an interest. She was happy to go head to head with anyone and used the term “F$$k” a lot.
Q15. Who would you consider to be a charismatic leader (dead or alive) and why?
Ghandi, because he inspired a whole country through love and peaceful protest.
Q16. Do you have a 5 year professional / career plan and if so would you share it with us?
Haha no I am continuing to make this up as I go along.
You can contact Jo directly on email@example.com / 07780 613826. You can find out more about Jo through her Linked In page https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-harris-40507617/.
Jo also writes a monthly Insolvency technical update that is read industry wide. If you would like to subscribe to this update, register on her website at http://johconsultancy.co.uk/blog/.
There are number of people I am going to be interviewing over the next few months and I will advise in advance who they are. If you would like to ask them a question as well please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will include a few of the most interesting questions! My next interviewee is Alex Mulhall from The Child Development Centre. Find out more at www.thechildcentre.com.