Fiona McCarthy CA: Moving a business into a listed environment
Mantra Group Limited, where Fiona is Group Reporting Manager, is Australia’s largest hotel and resort marketer and operator, providing hospitality management across Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Her journey to the group and being part of their transition from private equity to listing on the ASX started during her teens.
After developing an interest in investment banking during her school economics course, 15-year-old Fiona McCarthy wrote a letter to a major investment bank in London, asking for career advice. A staff member was kind enough to write back with a single piece of wisdom: ‘Get your CA qualification!’
Armed with this advice, Fiona achieved her Bachelor of Accounting at the University of Glasgow then, in 1995, a job in audit with Coopers & Lybrand. A desire to travel once qualified (and the fact that she married an Aussie, whom she’d met in Glasgow) brought Fiona to PwC’s Brisbane office for two-and-a-half years, but the lure of family and friends enticed the couple back to Edinburgh and the audit team with PwC for a six-year stint.
Now with two children, the couple realised their family’s future home was in Australia: “We simply decided that Australia was an easier place to bring up kids, with its outdoor lifestyle and sunshine and beaches,” she said. “Also, we’d previously bought an investment property on the beach, and we decided that would actually be an ideal place to live - we moved in 2008.”
How was the initial experience of finding a job in Australia?
“I emailed a partner I used to work with in Brisbane to say I’m coming back. But because we were going to live two hours’ commute from Brisbane, I said I wasn’t planning to move with PwC. He said he could make it work, and he did. My clients were all based on the Gold Coast, which meant I didn't have to go to Brisbane very often, and I was able to work from home.”
Is there a difference in audit culture between the UK and Australia?
“Not really. I think the culture of the work I did in audit was very much driven by the client. If the client is laid-back, then you can work that way. If they’re going through a tough time and need more support, then you have to work to their demands.
“Also, in the business world in general, people are quite driven. CFOs and Group Financial Controllers have high expectations of advisors, so the culture in each country is quite similar. I expected Australia to be a little bit more laid back, but I didn't really find that to be the case.”
Why did you finally move from PwC into industry?
“I moved to Mantra Group Limited in 2014. They had been my audit client since 2008, so I knew the people and loved the industry. Two months after I joined, they listed on the ASX – they’d been under private equity prior to that.
“They had a finance team, but they didn’t have the experience or a sufficient number of people to deal with the excess requirements brought on by an ASX listing.”
What are the main challenges of the Mantra Group role?
“Mantra Group has been on an acquisition spree over the last few years and I’ve been very involved in that. I’m not just seeing what the commercial decisions are, but making sure people understand the accounting implications of the commercial decision.
“It’s very interesting because I get to see where the business is moving and how actions relate to our strategy.
“Other challenges include working through the impact of new accounting standards and guidance. I recently ‘streamlined’ the Group accounts and have been working on the three big, new accounting standards; revenue, financial instruments and leases. AASB16, in particular, is a big one for the Group.”
Has working in a listed environment provided new challenges?
“Yes, the investor relations piece is new to me. The listed environment is very different from the private equity environment, where you have people who have invested a lot of money into the business, but the business is run behind closed doors.
“Now the business is under a magnifying glass and everything we do affects the share price. It’s very interesting and I’m learning all the time.”
What does the future of your career hold?
“I’m currently completing a Graduate Diploma in Applied Corporate Governance, with the Australian Governance Institute. With that, I’m adding a feather in my cap to see where the future will take me. I think it’s a good, complementary qualification to have as a CA.”
What advice do you have for ICAS members wanting to make the move to Australia?
“From a personal point of view, they’ve definitely got to prepare for the fact that they’ll be leaving family and friends behind. We were lucky to have a support network made up of my husband’s family but if you’re coming here and not knowing any family or friends, it can be difficult.
“Make sure you give yourself sufficient time to settle in, rather than running back home when you think it’s not working. From a professional point of view, some people think that because Australia is smaller, it doesn’t offer the opportunities you might have in the UK.
“As far as I can see, the opportunities over here are significant and are always increasing. For intelligent, driven employees, the opportunities are plentiful.”
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.