Interview: Deborah Zimmer CA, CFO of Inabox Group
Most parents are thrilled when their children announce that they’d like to become an accountant, but Deborah (nee A’Hara) Zimmer’s father attempted to talk her out of it. He too was an accountant, but he had experienced a completely different side of the industry.
“He was an accountant who worked for Coopers & Lybrand and also worked in tier two firms, then went into business for himself,” Deborah says. “He was on the practice side and didn’t always enjoy it. The thing that puts me off the practice side is – I’d have to deal with clients who were just like me!”
Deborah’s choice ended up being the right one for her because it’s a career, she says, that offers a great deal of flexibility and opportunity. “You can work in practice or industry,” she explains. “You can work in banking or commercial or you can do pure accounting. You can work across different industries and in lots of different countries. It’s a qualification that gives you a lot of freedom to pick your career as you go.”
That is exactly what Deborah has done. Having grown up in Glasgow and Dumfries, studied at the University of Stirling then worked at Coopers & Lybrand / PwC in Edinburgh, her travels had only just begun.
Her work would take her to London, with management positions within United Biscuits, and then to the other side of the world, to Sydney, Australia – a city that would become her new home.
I just felt that the qualification was very highly regarded nationally and internationally...Even on the other side of the world I find people don’t just take it for granted that I'm a chartered accountant.
It also didn’t hurt that Deborah chose the ICAS qualification over others. “I just felt that the qualification was very highly regarded nationally and internationally,” she says.
“Even on the other side of the world I find people don’t just take it for granted that I'm a chartered accountant. They don't necessarily differentiate that my qualification is from Scotland, but they give a chartered qualification the respect it deserves.”
What brought you to Australia?
“I came here for a friend's wedding in 2003, and I came over with my then partner who was also a Scottish CA. On the last day of our holiday his company rang and asked if there was any way he could stay in Australia, because they were having some problems with their Australian operation. So I was originally here as a ‘plus one’. I applied for my working visa and went from there.”
Where did you find employment?
“I started work over here as a commercial analyst for Hutchison Telecoms, which had brands such as Orange and 3 Mobile. It was an excellent place to work, and so different to what I had experienced in the UK.
"It was the ultimate meritocracy, the harder you worked the more challenges you were given. Within three years I was Head of Commercial for 3 Mobile, which merged with Vodafone. I put my hand up to go into the integration team because I wanted a new challenge and I was also keen to get out and do something else.”
Did you travel much?
“My partner and I both left our jobs at the same time, so we took a year off to travel the world in 2010. He worked for Babcock & Brown, which didn’t survive the GFC. When we came back I got a job as the Finance Director for Virgin Active Australia. I was there for a couple of years and left as I was having my second child.”
And your next job was with Inabox Group (a leading provider of next generation IT, cloud and IP telephony services)?
"That’s right. I have been here just over a year. I’ve always been with big brands – Virgin Active and 3 Mobile etc. But when I have joined those companies they have been in start-up mode.
"They have been in that naughty toddler stage where they challenge all the norms. That’s what I liked about this company. It’s entrepreneurial and dynamic and it changes quickly. I’m a bit of a change junkie. I love the next thing, and there is always a next thing in this very dynamic business."
You mentioned the meritocracy at Hutchison Telecoms. Is this typical of most Australian workplaces?
“Yes, that's what I find. You're judged on the job you do. It doesn't matter where you went to school or university, or what accent you have, or what family connections you have, you're just judged on what you do. It is an absolute breath of fresh air compared to some companies in the UK.”
Is Australia ‘home’?
“Yes, it is. My parents come out to visit and they can see why I live here, especially with young children – I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old. I’m sure my parents would love me to come home but instead, they’re glad I’m in Australia because they can see how much enjoyment I get from living here.
"I miss the Scottish sense of humour, but I love the Australian inclusiveness. They're always willing to spend time with people that are not from Australia and teach them Australian things. They're very accepting of other cultures. It's just a very nice place to be.”