This interview was first published in the April 2015 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine

Our accounts receivable (AR) team consists of nine people in Westport, Mayo, and two people in Rome. The company also has AR staff in Madrid, Moscow, Paris and South Africa, who report to me. Our main focus is to keep current debt for the region above 85 per cent, having been 55 pre cent in 2006–07. I am also responsible for VAT in the region. Because of the Allergan structure, Allergan Pharmaceuticals Ireland has 17 VAT registrations and a further 25 Allergan companies registered for VAT in the region. The focus on VAT is first about compliance, and second to ensure that VAT remains neutral and does not become a cost to the business.

I joined Allergan in March 2002 after spending 11 years living in England. The AR team was based in our Dublin office, along with customer services, and in 2005 I was asked to lead the AR team and move the function to Westport, which happened in November 2006. One of the reasons for moving to Westport was in anticipation of growth and increased complexity in AR. In the intervening years turnover has more than doubled as has our product mix, and we have a diverse customer profile. We also entered new markets requiring additional language skills. By moving west we were able to recruit staff for the long term. We also made some subtle changes in our recruitment policy. Rather than look for people with finance backgrounds we looked for good communicators. Therefore within our current team we have people who have worked as teachers, hotel receptionists and translators.

We also introduced a credit controller system - eCollect - and this has now been upgraded to Ero 57, supplied by Morton Smith in London. The tool helps the controllers to streamline their day-to-day work: communications are automatically sent to the customer and the customer can self-service by paying online and also getting copies of their invoices and statements. If you look at the debt today, it speaks for itself.

In 2002 Allergan had a VAT consultant engaged to advise on all VAT matters. A French audit in the same year led to interest and penalties that had to be paid to the French VAT authorities. Allergan decided that it was better to have a full-time member of staff dedicated to VAT and I was offered the opportunity.

Allergan’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is SAP, and over the years we discovered that there may be more functionality available that we were not previously aware of. In 2014 I worked on a project where I discovered there was additional functionality available in SAP for VAT reporting - namely, ‘plants abroad’. This functionality is used where a company has more than one VAT registrations. As I said previously, in our case we have 17 VAT registrations, although three of them are outside the European Union. I would really like to see this functionality being implemented in 2015. 

One message I would like to pass on is that we need more leaders to be people-orientated. I feel I am only as good as the team I have, and for me the people are, and will always be, number one.