Sowing the seeds for success

ACCA students Tara Moran-Reeves and Mehvish Sajal tell us about their work in finance operations at Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket chain, and their roles as 'talent attraction champions'.


ACCA students Tara Moran-Reeves and Mehvish Sajal have both enjoyed a swift and impressive rise up the career ladder at Sainsbury’s, an ACCA Approved Employer. Both Tara and Mehvish work in Sainsbury’s finance operations, and are also ACCA professional accountant apprentices. They joined the company just after graduating in 2017, and are already managing teams of staff working in different areas of the finance function.

‘I particularly enjoyed accounting lectures at university and discovered I had a strength in financial accounting, so decided to apply to the Sainsbury’s ACCA Apprenticeship scheme,’ says Mehvish. ‘I was attracted by ACCA’s global recognition and that the qualification provides both a strategic and leadership perspective on business, and also the technical skills needed for progression.’

Tara also wanted a globally recognised qualification that would provide a good foundation for career development.

‘Maths has been my favourite subject for as long as I can remember,’ she says, ‘and I regarded the ACCA Apprenticeship as the start of my professional journey. Now, every day, I’m discovering different opportunities within finance and accounting, and ACCA membership will bring me closer to my goal of working in senior leadership.’


Career progression is fundamental to the Sainsbury’s ACCA Apprenticeship scheme, and Tara and Mehvish maintain a continuous personal development plan focused on six month goals. These, in turn, are mapped onto potential job opportunities that could give them the workplace exposure and experience they need to realise their longer term ambitions. As a result, since joining Sainsbury’s as a finance associate, Tara has moved on to lead a team of four before being promoted to her current position of group team lead.

‘I now manage a team of 10, one of the biggest teams in the department, covering goods not for resale,’ she says. ‘My team is involved in the Sainsbury’s, Argos, Sainsbury’s Bank and Nectar workstreams, and we look after anything bought but then not sold – from store signage and trolleys, for example, to utilities and leases.’

Mehvish has also moved up and is now receivables team lead, heading a team of four colleagues who again work not just for Sainsbury’s but also Argos and Nectar.

‘I’ve progressed from the role of accounts controller to team leader within six months, so ACCA is already proving invaluable to my career progression,’ she says.

As well as their leadership responsibilities, Tara and Mehvish are ‘talent attraction champions’ within the finance function, developing strategies to help Sainsbury’s find the ideal candidates for its finance vacancies.

‘Sometimes, it can be challenging to find the best person for every post,’ explains Mehvish, ‘and not just for new positions but also to back-fill roles resulting from a promotion.’

It had also become clear that a more collaborative approach to recruitment could reap benefits, adds Tara: ‘We needed to attract more talent, but we also needed to find ways of identifying opportunities within different teams so that departments weren’t competing for the same individuals. We also wanted to liaise across the wider business, so that colleagues had the opportunity to move from finance to commerce, for example, if the right opening came up.’

As a result, Tara and Mehvish are closely involved in developing a talent pool of young people with the potential to do well within Sainsbury’s finance operations.

‘We’ve been giving presentations to universities, including Manchester Met and Liverpool,’ says Tara, ‘and we’re also excited about collaborating with ACCA. We’ve started posting jobs on ACCA Careers, for example, and taking part in interviews such as this one!’

‘We’re also starting to talk to school leavers,’ adds Mehvish. ‘Our focus is primarily on degree level candidates, but we are always looking at ways to improve our approach. For example, we recently trialled a post-A Level intern (who is now at university). It was a real success story and, as a result, we are actively exploring ways of encouraging more school leavers to consider Sainsbury’s as a potential future employer.’

The right combination

Attracting talent means highlighting both the academic aptitudes that Sainsbury’s is looking for, and explaining the cultural values that play such a crucial role in a happy and successful workplace.

‘We’re looking for the right combination of practical skills and social skills that can drive our teams forward,’ explains Tara. ‘Candidates must have a general understanding of finance, especially the ability to use Excel, but we’re also a very sociable organisation. This means we’re looking for someone who will work well with colleagues and take advantage of the many different opportunities Sainsbury’s has to offer. I am a very sociable person, and at university I could see that accountancy was a career in which I could use my maths skills and deal with clients. Now, I liaise with colleagues and customers across the world every day, which I find very exciting’.

Sainsbury’s parallel approach – where career and exam progression go hand in hand – has clearly been very successful for Tara and Mehvish.

‘If you work hard and are dedicated, then you have the opportunity to do well while you study,’ says Tara.

‘We are also encouraged to move jobs regularly in order to gain experience, which can be challenging but is a great way to learn,’ says Mehvish, who adds: ‘Sainsbury’s culture is very supportive of workplace development. It’s a very “open” environment where you can talk to senior staff if you need guidance on a particular issue or mentoring more generally.’

What’s next on the development plan for Mehvish and Tara?

Having gained a number of exam exemptions for her degree, Mehvish is aiming to complete her studies and practical experience requirement (PER) and become an ACCA member in 2021. Tara still has most of her exams to sit, but hopes to gain ACCA membership in 2022.

In terms of career ambitions, Mehvish hopes to become ‘an expert in finance, and to gain exposure in different roles and teams so I understand more and different aspects of the job. I’ve also had some fantastic managers and mentors so far in my own career and so, eventually, I would like to move to a more senior position where I can support my colleagues with their career aspirations.’

Tara also wants to work towards a senior finance role, ‘leading a large team, helping my team members achieve their professional goals, and delivering for the company. I am also passionate about empowering women at work, and would eventually like to help more women move into finance, and especially into senior finance positions.’