Q&A with PWC’s Cat McCusker

  • Sync NI caught up with Cat McCusker, Regional Market Leader at PwC Northern Ireland, to find out more about her new role and her time at the company.

    Congratulations on your recent appointment as Regional Market Leader for Northern Ireland. How pleased are you to be returning home to Northern Ireland?

    Having grown up and experienced many significant moments of my life in Northern Ireland, it is a huge honour to have taken on this role. I joined PwC as a graduate in our Dublin firm and more recently was the Education Consulting Leader for PwC UK. I also lead Customer Led Transformation for our consulting practice, helping our clients across all sectors achieve responsible growth. In all of these roles I’ve worked closely with our team in Northern Ireland, and I’ve always been blown away by the passion, skill, and expertise they’ve brought to every project. Our people are what makes our firm - they are instrumental in delivering the positive experiences our clients have and the value we bring. So, taking up the Regional Market Leader role for PwC Northern Ireland feels like a natural next step in my career.

    People traditionally considered PwC to be an auditing business, how has the company changed in the last 20 years since you joined as a graduate?

    At our core, we remain a professional services organisation offering a broad range of audit, consulting, deals, risk, and tax services but we have also seen an increasing demand for business transformation over the last 20 years. This includes transformation across the front and back office, technology, and people-led transformation. Our clients are seeking to adopt current and emerging cloud technologies, a shift in workforce strategy and transformation, as well as Execution Managed Services, where we support our clients in the delivery and running of large and complex business processes and programmes.

    We have also dramatically changed ‘how’ we work. During the pandemic, we introduced ‘empowered flexibility’ which allows our people to decide the most effective working pattern for them - given their work commitment on any given day. That might mean starting early to finish early or working in blocks of time to allow people to do something else in the middle of the day.

    Also, as part of our Deal, we have introduced a hybrid working model whereby the expectation is that most of our people will spend around 40-60% of their time co-located with colleagues in the office or at the client site. This not only works well for our people, but it also aligns with PwC's Net Zero commitment. This year, we also extended our summer working hours from June to August - which gave our people the opportunity to condense the working week so that they could finish early on a Friday. 

    I am personally proud of the way that we have a focus on flexibility. I have spoken a lot about the importance of mental health and as an employer we have a critical role to ensure that our teams and our people have the right support and flexibility in place to be able to do what works best for them, particularly following such an extensive period of change and uncertainty 

    What sort of impact can digital transformation bring to our local higher education institutions?

    The higher education sector is rapidly entering a new age – an age in which the effective implementation and use of digital technologies across universities are essential to attracting the right students and staff, promoting growth, and, ultimately, surviving.

    The impact of COVID-19, Brexit, changes to funding models, new technologies and evolving student demands are challenging universities to think differently. To succeed, they will need to reimagine the very nature of higher education. They’ll need to transform and become more flexible and more responsive to external demands. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll need to deliver services that are student-centric and adopt a digital approach across the whole organisation.

    But the focus needs to be on transformation, not change. Universities will need to think beyond developing digital strategies in reaction to demands for new technologies. They don’t need a digital strategy; they need a resilient business strategy that’s fit for the digital age to equip themselves for the long-term challenges ahead.

    When it comes to people and organisation, what would you consider to be the main qualities that make successful senior leaders? 

    Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful leaders and have been given the opportunity to grow as a leader myself. I am passionate about developing others, helping them to grow their skills and develop their careers. And you don’t have to be a CEO or in a senior position to be a leader. I see leadership qualities every day at all levels and grades in both PwC and with our clients. The qualities that I admire are courage, empathy and agility. 

    You need to have courage to back yourself before expecting others to and to make those brave decisions, step up and have a voice. Empathy for what others are going through, and how that impacts them on a day-to-day basis - both in terms of their development and their well-being - is critical. Agility is also really important. I see the value of having a growth mindset, being prepared to learn new things and getting ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’ - that is how you learn and grow as a leader.

    With over 3000 employees in PwC’s merchant square HQ, what plans are there to expand this further?

    I am personally really excited by the opportunities that the next few years bring for PwC, our people and our clients - particularly around the skills agenda, ESG and technology transformation in Northern Ireland. We are proud to employ over 3,500 people in Northern Ireland and to have our destination workplace - Merchant Square - right in the heart of Belfast. We are passionate about working together with our clients and the wider community to create a positive societal impact for the region. Growth is a key part of this, and we will work with our clients to help them meet their needs and respond to the challenges they currently face.

    We want to help attract new talent into the NI labour market; do more to ensure skills meet the needs of local businesses; and intervene once and for all to ensure that every teenager leaves school in NI with useful, relevant qualifications. 

    This is something that I am particularly passionate about. I also see a real opportunity to accelerate the transition to ‘green’ skills and ‘green’ jobs; build on NI's position as a global leader in renewable energy production and invest further in sustainable transport.

    Technology is at the heart of everything we do and helping our clients with digital transformation - through a responsible technology approach that can help ensure technology works for business, people, and the planet - is a key part of our growth strategy.

    What new roles will be available for people wishing to consider a career in PwC and are there opportunities for those with non-STEM backgrounds?

    We have really exciting opportunities across the entire business to suit a wide range of candidates and their career interests and aspirations. These include positions within Technology, Tax, Audit, Deals, Consulting, and within our Operate business. 

    We’ve just launched our school leaver and student roles for 2023. There are lots of opportunities, everything from undergraduate degrees and apprenticeships for school leavers to summer internships, placements and graduate jobs for students. We also have many experienced hire roles available. Visit our careers website for all the opportunities.

    In terms of whom we are looking for, at PwC we welcome applicants from all disciplines, in fact, we encourage it. We have many joiners who come from a variety of backgrounds, all bringing with them different perspectives and valuable skill sets. We have also removed the 2:1 degree classification requirement for all our undergraduate and graduate roles, internships and placements. The move is designed to open up opportunities to more people, increase the socio-economic diversity of the firm and support its efforts to improve social mobility. 

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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