Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Joe Sealy, NED

Joe Sealy is co-founder and COO of Greater Pacific Capital.

After qualifying with CIPFA as an accountant while working for Cheshire Council, Joe moved back to his hometown London to work for Merton Council. From there, Joe joined KPMG’s public sector consultancy business, where he rose quickly and was promoted to a partner in their strategic consulting practice advising major UK and international private sector clients. 

Joe’s next move was to Goldman Sachs’ investment banking division, becoming a managing director, then leaving in 2005 to co-found a private equity investment business, Greater Pacific Capital, which he continues to lead today in the role of chief operating officer. The firm manages capital for large institutional investors, pension groups, sovereign wealth funds and government development agencies from around the world, and it invests capital in high growth companies in international markets, including emerging markets such as India.

Joe sits on the CIPFA board as a senior non-executive director.

What attracted you to a career in the public sector, and in particular the public sector finance?

My career has actually spanned the private and public sectors. 

Cheshire County Council gave me my first job out of university, and that was where I qualified as an accountant. After my initial career as a local authority finance specialist, I transitioned into a career as a management consultant to the public sector at KPMG (where I was headhunted by my now wife Eleanor, who is also a CIPFA member and a local authority CEO). Since then my career has very much been in the private sector, firstly with a major professional services firm and now the world of investing. And so I’ve had a hybrid career between the public and private sectors.

My parents are immigrants from the Caribbean and I grew up on a council estate in northwest London. The reason I first looked toward the public sector was that, in the early 1980s, it had just started presenting itself as an equal opportunities employer, at a time where this was not the norm. So I thought that as a young black professional I would get better opportunities in that sector.

How did your career journey lead you to qualify with CIPFA?

I didn’t want to go down the route of being a chartered accountant in the private sector. Cheshire Council allowed me to qualify as an accountant and do an MBA, which was something I had not seen anywhere else. As I say, I was drawn to the public sector for the wider opportunities it offered, and I wanted a professional qualification as a foundation, so the CIPFA qualification seemed to give me that opportunity.

Why would you recommend CIPFA as a qualification for young people with an interest in public finance?

The beauty of the CIPFA qualification is that it’s a passport to any sort of career you want. It’s both an accounting and a management qualification. It trains you to think about finance in the widest sense, as it applies to a whole raft of organisational settings – yes, in the public sector, but also more broadly. If you want to use it to become a local authority CEO or a top civil servant or a health service or housing specialist, you can, but you can also use it to become an entrepreneur, a consultant, or move into the world of international finance. The CIPFA qualification allows you to do all of that. 

How did your CIPFA qualification help you to overcome any barriers to success?

The CIPFA qualification enabled me to not only gain an understanding of accounting and to think about how finance plays an important role in funding public services, but more broadly I could see the role finance plays in the wider economy. During the 1980s you had the increasing fusion of the public and private sectors, with privatisation and outsourcing. My career coincided with the transformation that was taking place in the public sector at that time – for example, competitive tendering of direct and professional services, which was something new that local authorities were having to get to grips with before the growth in public-private partnerships.

How did you feel when you graduated as a CPFA?

When I learned that I had qualified, it was one of the most magical moments of my life. It meant so much to me at that time and my association with CIPFA has been a dominant influence on my career. 

How has being a CIPFA member supported you in your career?

CIPFA has some of the most interesting and diverse people, and there is a real bond between members. For example, when I became a CIPFA examiner and marked P3 management papers, I opened myself up to a network of other CIPFA professionals. You just find yourself meeting individuals from so many walks of life, and your connection is CIPFA. You also feel a bond with the Institute itself and a sense of obligation to give something back, because the CIPFA qualification has given you so much. I’m very proud to be a CIPFA member and some of the most important mentors for me in my career have been fellow members.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges to the housing sector now and into the future?

The housing shortage has been an issue for a long time and still is today. In England, there are many jobs in the South, particularly London, but a lack of affordable housing, whereas there are fewer jobs in the North, but potentially better opportunities to build much more housing.

What is a stand-out moment or pivotal moment in your public finance career to date?

Qualifying is the moment that still stands out for me. It’s one of the abiding memories of my career and I still look back on it fondly.

What is your number one tip, hint or piece of advice to new CIPFA graduates?

Don’t think of achieving your CIPFA qualification as the destination – it’s the beginning of the journey. The diverse range of opportunities it offers means you can dream big and fulfil whatever career ambitions you may hold either domestically in the UK or internationally. The opportunities for CIPFA internationally represents an important aspect of the current strategy and I genuinely believe this is an exciting area of future growth for the institute and its members. 

Can you recommend some reading (such as a podcast or YouTube video or Ted Talk) for this generation of students?

Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is one of the most inspirational ever given. It was introduced to me by my wonderful school high school teacher Sheila, and changed my whole outlook on life, and is just as relevant today as it was then.