Why this Irish CA resigned as a Financial Controller to tap into the $15.4 bn Career Coaching Market.

Irish chartered accountant turned career coach

  • Meet James Perry, a Chartered Accountant turned Exam and Career Coach in Ireland.
  • He spent almost 9 years at Grant Thornton, only to realize that becoming a Partner was not his end goal.
  • An unfortunate event helped him find his hidden passion for coaching.
  • Was resigning as a Financial Controller for virtually no money, worth it?


Back in school, someone told me “You are very good at mathematics. Did you know that accountants earn a lot of money?” 

That inspired me. 

I did my Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Accounting, and eventually Master’s in Advanced Accounting in 2003. 

My first job was with Grant Thornton; it was a 3-year training contract to be precise. Simultaneously I decided to pursue my Chartered Accountancy from Chartered Accountants Ireland.

It is Ireland's largest accountancy body, with over 30,000 members globally.

I qualified as a CA in 2006.     

The best part was that, toward the end of my training, the Partners and Senior Management of Grant Thornton wanted me to continue.

At that time everybody told me that I should aim to become a Partner. After all, that is what most people thrive to achieve. 

However, I didn’t know that there were other options as well, such as industry, public sector, investment banking, or even academics. Hence, I carried on with it.

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From Grant Thornton to Financial Controller to Coaching 

I gathered incredible experience during my time at Grant Thornton.

However, within two years post qualification, I realized that becoming a partner was not meant for me. I wanted something slightly different but didn’t know exactly what that was. 

After 8 and a half years at Grant Thornton, I moved to a new company. It was a multi-million-dollar company, which I joined as a Financial Controller. 

It was a crazy time, to be honest. It was my first role in the industry where I was tasked to rebuild and integrate a brand new Finance Team, and stabilize the Management Accounts and Financial Reporting function! But I really enjoyed it.

I later worked in the government sector for 4 years. 

Then something unfortunate happened; my father got diagnosed with cancer. I immediately left my job to look after him full-time. Now, I had to make something else work for me, to fit into the schedule of my current responsibilities.

Looking back, I always loved helping the staff or even the trainees at Grant Thornton. Whenever they had a question, and I gave them a solution, it gave me great job satisfaction. 

One day I woke up in the middle of the night and went, “I enjoy coaching and mentoring. So why don’t I try and make a business out of it?”

And that’s how it began. 

Building a Coaching Business in Ireland from the Ground Up

In 2017, I bootstrapped my coaching business and started coaching on a part-time basis.   

I paid a local web developer £200 to build a website for me. To be honest, the website was rubbish, but on the bright side, I was at least able to put blogs up there. 

When I saw that there was potential in what I was doing, I decided to make my business visible. I reached out to people on LinkedIn and launched a podcast for free.

But the biggest positive change came when I started using LinkedIn to promote myself.

My very first client was the daughter of a friend. I had no idea what I was going to say. Despite that, I turned up with a pen and a piece of paper and gave practical solutions after carefully listening to her. 

Gladly, my guidance helped her and there has been no turning back ever since.  

Unique techniques that made me stand out in the crowd: 

  • I once recorded a study tip video on a boat in Niagara Falls. Sounds crazy right? But that out-of-the-box thinking is what made me stand out.
  • To date, my most famous study tip video was recorded outside the Royal Palace of Madrid, in Spain. I don’t think anyone ever thought of doing that.  
  • People started noticing me because I was doing something that an accountant normally does not do. 
  • This led to an opportunity to become a part-time Associate Lecturer at the University of Ulster. I did my Master’s there and today I am a lecturer at the Department of Accounting, Finance & Economics. That was quite an achievement. 

I provide two types of services, Exam Coaching & Career Development Programmes.

I talk about Curriculum Vitae or CV, interview skills, networking, utilizing LinkedIn, becoming a better business partner, and enhancing your communication skills among others. 

So far, I have coached hundreds of people in Ireland, the UK, and around the world. 

Finding Success in the Face of Adversity 

Success isn’t going to come overnight. 

When my father became ill and I came back to my family to look after him, I went from a very good salary to virtually nothing.

Close to no income: 

  • Over the first 3 years of my journey, I wasn’t making a lot of money at all. How did I get by?
  • I was using a credit card to pay the bills. Since I am good at managing my money I didn’t fall into the credit card debt trap, but I would not endorse this to others. 

Less engagement from clients:

  • I was putting my ideas and thoughts right out there. I was building up blogs, and videos, on LinkedIn. But for the first few months, I didn’t get a huge engagement.
  • Most of my clients never liked my posts at first, they were always in the background. 
  • I assessed the situation and started taking courses on social media. I needed to learn how it worked, and how to utilized it. 

Negative thoughts: 

  • Sometimes different thoughts would come to mind. I would go from “God, I am doing well.” to “My friend that I went to university with is now a partner at the Big 4, why have I not done that.” 
  • That’s the other thing; do not let comparison wreck what you believe in.

I have made a lot of mistakes in my career, and life, so if I can help others avoid that, I would be very happy.

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Making the leap into Entrepreneurship: A few pieces of advice  

The right support: 

  • Here is a big piece of advice. If you are planning on going this route, you’d have to surround yourself with the right kind of people. 
  • Never be afraid of asking someone for help. It’s not a weakness, it shows courage. I wish I learned that earlier. 

Be consistent: 

  • Most people’s businesses fail because they give up after 18 months or two years. 
  • Most businesses don’t take off until after the first three years anyway. 
  • Don’t fall for that get rich quick in 6 months' posts. It takes time. 
  • If you are interested in doing something, build it as you go along, maybe after work hours.

Don’t compare your journey to others: 

  • You may get jealous of people on LinkedIn, but don’t let that destroy what you believe in and what you are doing. 
  • Do not be afraid to be yourself. That is an important tip to build a business and build trust and brand on LinkedIn. 

The career coaching market is valued at $15.4 billion according to IBIS World. As research demonstrates the substantial ROI of professional coaching, an increasing number of people seek guidance. Over 1.5 million internet searches are conducted each month by individuals seeking life, business, and executive coaching.

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