On top of her game
AS A TEENAGER, Joan Elizabeth “Betty” Brathwaite always had big dreams.
A chance encounter at a career showcase at Harrison College where she completed her sixth form studies after leaving Queen’s College led her to the accounting profession. However, it was her determination and a disciplined work ethic that have led her to the top of her game as the first female managing partner of Deloitte.
The partners of the accounting firm, which is part of a global accounting and financial advisory services company, recently voted Brathwaite as the person to head the firm as its managing partner Patrick Toppin prepared to take his exit from the company he helped to build with Gordon Walker.
Seated in an office at the newly opened executive complex – The Goddard Building – in Haggatt Hall, St Michael, Brathwaite admitted that she never actively pursued the top post but felt extremely proud that the other partners, Ikins Clarke, Oliver Jordan, Gordon Walker and Toppin, were so confident in her capacity to lead the firm that they elected her as managing partner.
The 51-year-old, who started her career with Pricewaterhouse fresh out of school, said she had set herself the target of becoming its first female partner when she joined them in 1981.
However, Brathwaite left the firm when it merged with RS Kirby.
Prepared for challenges
“I decided there was no future there for me and I moved on. To me there were two partners from Pricewaterhouse and significantly more from RS Kirby and I thought to myself that there was no way that I would rise in the firm,” she recalled.
Brathwaite would later join accountant Joe Ward and Julia Norris before leaving for England where she spent two years completing her studies.
The firm underwent a number of changes, including the addition of Toppin, who would later become her husband. It would morph over the years until 2004 when it became a member of the international firm – Deloitte.
Conceding that she assumed the top position at a difficult economic period, Brathwaite said she was prepared for the challenges.
She admitted, too, that being a mother, wife and chief executive called for delicate management of all three but stressed that a key theme of her management style was fair and responsible treatment of those around her.
“I would say if there was something that I live by it is to treat others as you expect to be treated and I think that is how I respond on a business or personal level. If I was the client, or friend or employee, how would I expect to be treated?” she remarked.
Of the current environment in which she leads a 67-member team at Deloitte, Brathwaite said there needed to be a national attitudinal change as the country battled through the tough economic times.
Remember to laugh
“We need also to find a way to encourage people to spend a bit so that money keeps flowing through the economy. . . . There has to be encouragement, too, to get the country ready so that as soon as the global economy gets better – Barbados is ready and its doors are open for business,” the accountant told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
To her fellow female executives, Brathwaite said there was nothing wrong with being competitive but there was a way to do it without pulling each other down.
“I have told women that they have to get over themselves and stop taking themselves so seriously. One of my closing remarks [at an International Women’s Day event] was to remember
to laugh because sometimes men will have a discussion or argument and at the end of the day they go out and have a drink together – it is nothing personal but women tend to get very personal and [internalize] criticism,” she remarked.
“I’ve said to many women to get rid of the three Cs. Stop criticizing, condemning and complaining and instead adopt the three As – change your attitude, [take] action and [seek] advancement.”
On the other hand, Brathwaite said she had become more conscious of the issues and concerns of women as they juggled their personal and professional lives.
And even as she felt a sense of pride about her own achievements in the accounting field, Brathwaite said it was important also to celebrate the achievements of other women in the profession, including the first female partner at Pricewaterhouse (now PwC) Joyce Dear, Carol Nicholls, the managing partner of KPMG, and Maria Robinson of Ernst & Young.