Pamela Monroe Ellis was appointed Auditor General in 2008 and is responsible for the effective management of the Government of Jamaica’s financial management systems, as well as complying with financial management policies. She spent the early part of her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a Staff Accountant. As Jamaica’s Auditor General, she is also Secretary General of the Caribbean Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (CAROSAI), and a member of the International Association of Supreme Audit Institutions’ (INTOSAI), a working group of the Value and Benefit of Supreme Audit Institutions. Pamela served as Chair of the Investigation Committee of ICAJ, Director of the Board of the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI), and Chair of the steering committee of the International Financial Reporting for Non-Profit Organizations (IFR4NPO). She is currently Commissioner of the Integrity Commission of Jamaica.
Pamela is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica (ICAJ) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants for the United Kingdom (ACCA, UK). Between 2013 and 2018, she served on the Board of the International Federation of Accountants.
Elena Churikova (EC): Pamela, I know that your career goal as a child was to become a hotel manager, and it was your father who prompted you to study accounting. Tell us about your path to become an accountant?
Pamela Monroe Ellis (PME): My father indeed played an important role in influencing and supporting my career decisions. Being an accountant himself, he showed me the different opportunities an accounting education could offer me, both in the public and private sectors, or being an entrepreneur. I decided to give it a shot. However, obtaining the accounting qualification proved to be a challenge in and of itself. My exam pass rate was less than impressive in the beginning, but I was determined!
Motivated by avoiding wasting money on re-taking the exams, I developed a rigorous approach by way of preparation. And when I say preparation, I mean preparing a timetable for drilling down to the subject area, which pages I would cover each day, and then practice questions I needed to complete. It required discipline, and in the end, it worked! My pass rates improved tremendously, so much so that I earned the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica’s Award for outstanding performance for the final level of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) examination. More importantly, this discipline has remained with me until today, and has served me well, considering what I have achieved till now. The pathway to becoming an accountant can be difficult, but it is also true that an accounting education offers tremendous opportunities and the promise of a fulfilling career. In the end though, you have to listen to your heart and pursue your own passion.
EC: You started your career at PwC. Why did you switch to the public sector and what do you enjoy the most about working in the public sector?
PME: Working in the public sector is more a matter of fate. After leaving the PwC, I joined the family business, and it was a great experience to learn the business side of an accountant’s job. After a few years, I decided to venture back into the corporate world. It was my dad who encouraged me to apply to the Auditor General’s Department, because that’s where he got his first offer when he became a certified accountant. In the end, I didn’t apply to the Auditor General’s Department but instead to the Office of the Services Commission. Nonetheless, I was invited for an interview with the Auditor General’s Department and the rest is history.
I can say that I’ve really enjoyed working at the Auditor General’s Department. From the start, I knew that I could make a positive difference. When I became Auditor General there was a general drive to transform the public sector. In that vein I’ve worked towards improving both the audit and support processes in the organization. The experience and exposure I’ve gained at the Auditor General’s Department has been priceless, and has opened many doors for me, opportunities I could never have imagined. It has been a truly rewarding career!
EC: In 2008, you became Jamaica’s first woman Auditor General. How does it feel to have such legacy on your shoulders, and how do you hope to inspire other women to have fulfilling careers?
PME: I actually don’t think about it this way. I don’t define my tenure as Auditor General based on my being the first woman to hold the position. I would like my legacy to be defined by my performance, that I was a good leader and a good role model for everyone. I am motivated by a desire to contribute positively to the development of individuals, of the organization, and of my country. This is what fuels my drive to continuously improve and adapt to an ever-evolving environment. As I said earlier, my advice to others is to go after the career that allows you to pursue your passion. My experience has been that people who enjoy what they do tend to perform better than those who are just in it for the job and remuneration. Having said that, performing well or exceptionally well will likely result in greater opportunities, and maybe greater monetary rewards.
I am also a strong believer in coaching and mentoring. I have people in my life who inspired and supported my career. My predecessor, Adrian Strachan, was a great mentor for me. He saw in me what I did not see in myself. What I appreciated most from my interaction with him is that he used every teachable moment to pass on a lesson. Many of his lessons are embedded in my subconscious and I apply them almost daily. Those lessons came in the form of admonishment, not just praise (laugh). The benefit of mentoring is not limited to just increasing knowledge but also, to enhance wisdom—you learn to be a good leader for someone else. We develop habits from exposure. My aim has always been for those whom I work with to benefit from the same level of development and positive influence I experienced. It is truly motivating when one can be a positive influence for others.
EC: What would be your recommendation to a student or a young professional considering a career in public sector finance?
PME: First, I would encourage them to obtain a recognized professional qualification, as this provides the foundation for a successful career. Second, I would assure them that the accountancy profession is one of the most organized professions in the world. Through the leadership of IFAC and PAOs, accountants have at their disposal a wealth of resources and large network of professional accountants that can contribute to their development and success.
Given the increased focus on the public sector and the need for good governance arrangements, public financial management and sustainability reporting, there is clearly a need for professional accountants in the public sector.
Finally, I recommend that accountants consider up-skilling and developing their soft skills. It is one’s soft skills that allow one to move up the rungs of leadership. The best and most cost-effective way for developing one’s soft skills is through volunteerism. The accountancy profession is filled with opportunities for developing in this way and I certainly benefitted from this! I was able to develop my soft skills during my early years by serving on committees at my local PAO, at the regional level at via CAROSAI, and at the global level via IFAC. One committee paved the way for the next, and there is no one job that can provide you with the experience one gains from serving on committees at different levels.
EC: You have an impressive career serving the public interest! You also have filled multiple senior roles where you gave back to the profession and have served on various committees in support of good causes. How do you find time for everything? If you’ve found a good recipe for a work-life balance, what is it?
PME: I am not sure I have a good recipe, one that would work for everyone, but I found what works best for me. And it did not come naturally to me either! Let’s face it, it is difficult to find time for everything, and usually it comes at the expense of one’s well-being or family time. I take my volunteer commitments very seriously. It is not enough for me to just be present at meetings, I take time to prepare and do the necessary research to ensure I’m adding value. Of course, these things become easier as I gained more experience. At this point in my career, I don’t need to spend as much time on preparation as I did in the beginning.
My recipe for a good work-life balance now is very simple and includes the following components:
work smarter, not longer;
have an active lifestyle (which is important for having the necessary energy to do mental work); and
allocate time for hobbies. My go-to activities are reading, gardening and my new love badminton, all of which bring me tremendous joy.
EC: What is something you’ve read, watched, or listened to recently (or an all-time favorite piece of media) that you would recommend?
PME: It is difficult to choose as there are so many! Two novels that come to mind are Wuthering Heights and The Godfather, and I should note that in both cases, the movie pales in comparison to the novel. I would also recommend The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie. One of the key principles of his book is that we learn “to do by doing.” I often recommend this book to young professionals who want to improve their communication skills.