Behind the music scene with Tom Atherton CA
He may have recently returned to the UK after four years in Sydney, but Tom Atherton is not giving up his Aussie citizenship.
At what should have been a time of career uncertainty brought on by various buyouts of the business for which he worked, Tom Atherton CA found himself faced with a surprisingly wonderful choice - move to Sydney for work or go for the opportunity to become Finance Director of the iconic Abbey Road Studios.
He grew up in London’s Fulham and saw his father, also a CA, move from KPMG into the world of film financing, and Tom was determined to create a similarly fascinating career.
Soon after accepting a role at EY, Tom discovered a department known as ‘Technology, Communications & Entertainment’. It boasted such clients as EMI, Universal Music, Warner/Chappell Music and more. Having been obsessed with music his entire life, including a work experience program with EMI when he was just 16, Tom realised he’d met his match.
“I put my hand up to get involved with this department and EMI ended up being one of my main clients,” he said. “Towards the end of the three years of qualifying with ICAS and working at EY, Terra Firma [a private equity firm] purchased EMI, and EMI’s finance team required some additional assistance.
“They brought on board a couple of people who had worked on the EMI audit, and that’s when I got my first taste of working in the industry.”
To stay in the UK or move to Australia?
Tom became the UK Finance Reporting Manager for EMI and, at the end of his six-month term instead of returning to EY, he accepted a permanent position as Head of Digital Finance & Recording.
His dream role of Finance Director at Abbey Road Studios also became available after a period, but EMI suggested a new opportunity in Australia, working for an operating company instead of head office.
“It seemed really interesting,” said Tom. “In Australia, it was a small company, just 65 people. Everyone was accountable for what they were doing. The CEO had created an incredible, family-like culture and everyone was very proud to be working for that company. I had to go!”
Tom was subsequently promoted to Commercial Insight & Strategy Director after EMI was acquired by Universal.
Left to right: Queen’s Brian May, the joint MD of Universal Australia, Mike Taylor, and Tom Atherton CA.
Was it a steep learning curve in a new market?
“There certainly are differences in the ways of working and the channels through which you engage with your consumers and customers – all the retailers and radio stations and media channels.
“And in the music industry there are many Australian acts that have made it big globally, but there are also many that are very successful just within Australia.
"For instance, I arrived having never heard of the band Cold Chisel (a band that enjoys God-like status amongst several generations of Australians), which my workmates could not quite comprehend!”
How was the work culture different?
“The work culture is an incredibly optimistic one. It was a real breath of fresh air. Everyone was very eager and determined to succeed and it was quite something to be part of that.
"In a company the size of Universal Australia, I was given so much breadth of responsibility that I perhaps wouldn't have received if I’d remained in the head office.”
And you’ve now got an Australian daughter?
“Yes, our daughter was born in Australia, so she’s an Australian before her parents. I went over on the 457 visa. In fact, I am joining my daughter by becoming an Australian citizen and flying back to Australia to gain my citizenship.”
After more than four years, why did you decide to head back to the UK?
“It was a family decision. With a young child, we wanted the support of family and friends at least for a time. Once we're more established as a family then we will look back to Sydney, or indeed elsewhere, for other opportunities.
"We’re in a fortunate position where we've got two pretty good job markets, both English-speaking, to choose from in future years.”
How valuable has the ICAS qualification been?
“I picked up the benefits of ICAS when I was in Sydney. There are about 350 ICAS members in Sydney who work across numerous industries. They've really stepped up the social side of ICAS and they do their utmost to bring everyone together.
“As an expat with a relatively small network of friends, to be placed into this phenomenal professional network is quite amazing. I'm sure at some point my family and I will head back to Australia and I'll plug into that again, but right now my intention is to plug into the London ICAS network.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.