Betty’s by the book
When Betty Brathwaite sits before her television set watching a movie and sipping a glass of her favourite red wine, she is indeed in the arms of luxury. She has earned the right.
The lone female partner in the local accounting firm DeLoitte has spent all her adult life in the accounting profession, from the time she left Queen’s College and started work in 1981.
The eager, bright-eyed teenage applicant said to the then Price Waterhouse interviewer “tell me everything there is to know about the firm, about auditing, about the profession”. The answer turned out to be her launch pad on a trajectory that has today placed her at the top of her game.
“I chose the profession because I always loved maths, I always loved business, and I loved the thought of management; being in administration,” she said.
“At the time I was thinking of my career and what would be my profession. I really wanted to do business administration but my parents could not afford at that time to send me to Trinidad to study. I thought, ‘what is the field that I could get involved in that could give me the widest opportunity, that I would not be stuck behind a single desk all the time’.”
Nowadays when she posts the “No Interruptions” sign outside the door of her office, it is because she is stuck behind the desk, but this is a corporate desk from which she wields a lot of authority.
She is the lone female office managing partner within the Deloitte Caribbean cluster that includes Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Bahamas and Trinidad – all operating as one managerially, drawing on each other’s staff expertise when the situation demands.
A working day can confine her to a desk reviewing files and dealing with managers and staff issues. She is also responsible for audit and for the full management of the firm and other services.
It is a long way from the day Betty first put her foot into the world of accounting and was “like a sponge” soaking up all she could from the senior staff accountant to whom she was assigned at Price Waterhouse, which is now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“He was the sort of person to give me the opportunity to do things I should not have been doing at my level.”
She joined Toppin Ward in February 1986, and went to Britain for two years of study. Working and studying had proved a big challenge: “I studied hard, I studied long but I could not get the exams passed.”
“When I went to Britain I said this is a make or break time. I was 26 at the time and I gave myself six months. In that six months I was going to decide whether I would change my career altogether or continue with it. In that six months I recognised I was studying hard but not smart.”
Two years later, she returned to Barbados a qualified accountant with the coveted ACCA designation.
The firm was then setting up a corporate services department specialising in corporate services and tax and she transitioned from audit to that department to build it.
In a virtual man’s world at the time, the advice of a partner at the firm spurred her on to double her efforts to succeed in the male environment. “I remember Tony Hoyos who was one of the partners telling me then ‘Betty one of the things you have to realise is that you have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition of any of the men in here’.
“I have to thank him for that because he really and truly put things in perspective for me.”
Still, there was a lot of people in the company who were “very, very helpful.”
Just two doors down the corridor from her impressive office is the office of Betty’s business and life partner and one of the four Deloitte partners, Patrick Toppin. At work she is Ms Brathwaite and he is Mr Toppin and most of the new staff only know they are Mr and Mrs Toppin when somebody tells them.
“People make the mistake of assuming that because they have told him something work-related, that I know. But his attitude always has been that I need to be treated on the same basis as any other partner,” Betty said.
“I think they have learnt that there is Mr Toppin and Ms Brathwaite and there is Betty and Patrick, and sometimes people on the outside they find it hard to understand how that works.”
But it does work with the two different personalities – Betty as “the integrator, liking harmony”, Patrick as “more the guardian”.
The work/life balance sometimes, she said, poses a challenge. She said her 13-year-old son believes he is the victim of that imbalance.
“Not true” assures Betty. “When I was pregnant with Peter I decided that I was raising him and not somebody else . . . . I try to make sure that I am home at a reasonable time. . . . I try not to work on weekend.”
It is time she sets aside not only for her immediate family but includes the extended family as well, a regular Sunday exercise undertaken with her donning apron and preparing a family feast in the kitchen.
A colleague once told Betty “what I really appreciate most is the positive that you put out. You don’t let the negative creep in. There are days that I look at you and I can see you have a phenomenal amount of stress on your shoulders but somehow you manage to smile and push through it and don’t let it get to you”.
“I had to say that is true because about ten years ago I made a decision not to let the negative in,” she said.
“I try as far as possible to focus on all the positives and if I have any negative people or negative energy around me, I feel my shoulders coming down and I just say I can’t deal with it because the only way that I can survive, that I can actually accomplish what needs to be done is if I focus on positive things.”
With her years of experience she has a valuable role of mentorship for the young people entering the profession that has dominated her life. Though she has relinquished the responsibilities of president of the Caribbean Institute of Chartered Accountants, she still sits on the council of the local institute of accountants and remains the ACCA representative in Barbados.