Billy Meston CA on why he loves working in practice
Now a Partner with PwC in Australia, Billy Meston has spent most of his high-flying career in major firms. Beginning with offers from five of the top six firms prior to graduation, his career led him to working with EY in the UK and Australia, for over a decade.
A period with Baker Tilly as a Director and then Partner was followed by a leap back to Australia, to his current firm where he has been a Partner for over 10 years.
While some see the profession as a stepping stone into industry, Billy would not have his career any other way, with memorable experiences, immense job satisfaction and endless travel thrown in for good measure.
What are the benefits of staying with a major firm?
There are three great benefits. The biggest I have experienced is the variety of work that I face on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Then there’s the energy that comes with working with predominantly young, professional, high-achieving people - the average age in a Big Four firm is about 26. The third is the ability to travel and see the world.
Does the travel come from moving your job to different offices or from travelling for clients?
Both, actually. There is the ability to transfer to work in other countries, and I am a good example of that, having moved my family here to Perth, Western Australia. That’s one piece of it, but the other is working with organisations in different parts of the world and occasionally travelling to those places as part of the job.
What are the drawbacks of working in a Big Four firm?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I wouldn’t have stayed in the profession since 1994 if I didn’t love it!
Some talk about the demanding nature of a job in a firm, the issues with work/life balance…
Do we work hard in the profession in the Big Four? Absolutely. We are in a high-performance culture. But that is what gets me out of bed every morning.
That sort of culture is not suited to everybody. It’s important to realise that a career in the Big Four is not about running 100 miles per hour for the next 30 years. People can’t do that.
We work long hours and we work hard but there is a lot of flexibility in the way we work.
There are times when you’re going to put more effort into work and times when you have to slow it down a little. And depending on where you work in the big firms, there are busy periods and there are quieter periods.
We work long hours and we work hard but there is a lot of flexibility in the way we work, including the way we dress, the location of our work and even where we sit on a daily basis within the office. If I want to see my child’s school assembly or if I have a personal appointment, the way we work with clients allows flexibility for me to manage my work and my life properly. I feel I have a good work/life balance.
How is the Big Four environment for women?
Across industries in Australia, women are underrepresented in senior positions and there is also a lot of evidence that shows women are not paid as much. We’ve recognised these issues at PwC for a long time and have put a number of processes and policies in place.
Things are changing, but we’re certainly not at the finish line. We’re on a journey and we’ve made some great leaps forward in the last two years. I’m very proud of the way PwC has tackled this issue, and continues to tackle it. So while I’d never say the gender equality issue is fixed, I’d absolutely say that for women working within PwC, it is better now than it has ever been.
Has your career ever offered any pinch-yourself moments?
Yes, I’ve had many! At a lunch recently, I had the pleasure of introducing Gina Rinehart (Australian mining magnate and the world’s richest woman) to the room, and sitting and chatting with her for a few hours. A few years ago in Glasgow, I met Bill Clinton and spent a few minutes speaking with him.
There are often work pieces where I have stopped and thought, ‘I’m doing something here that is making a real difference to the world’. As a person who came from very much a working-class background, I still pinch myself about my career, where I get to live and the work I do.
Since before graduation, you have been in great demand. What’s your secret to success?
I don’t think I’ve done anything special. I just enjoy dealing with people and trying to solve problems. If anything, professional services is a people business. I’ve always loved meeting people, learning about them, learning about their business and helping to solve their problems.
What’s coming up for the ICAS Perth cohort in 2018?
Western Australia seems to be beginning to come out of the downturn, so along with that confidence there’s a great sense of energy. The ICAS training that we’ve all enjoyed puts us in a great position to help in a growth market, whether working in a business or in professional services. We are very well placed to help guide businesses and clients through the next cycle.
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.