Making it to the C-suite in Australia
Chris Sheedy speaks with three CAs who have made it to the C-suite, and reveal that people and teamwork are the secrets to success at CFO and CEO level.
As Nicola Salmond CA was making the transition from financial accountant to financial controller at a previous business, she was lucky enough to work under a manager who had a great interest in mentoring promising staff.
“He made me think outside the box,” said Nicola, an ICAS member who is now the CFO of Australian business Boardroom Pty Limited, delivering smart business decisions.
“He challenged me in terms of ideas and taught me to question things a lot more than I would have. When standards were released, for example, he always insisted that I write technical papers about them, suggesting improvements.”
This manager took Nicola under his wing and trusted her as a sounding board. He would seek her advice on tenders and other important matters, always offering feedback that would improve her analytical and strategic thinking skills.
“I joined as their financial accountant and grew to having a team and managing accounts,” she explained. “Success in your career is not always about what you do but is often about who you work with. If you’re in a well-supported team environment, then you flourish.”
Being a driver of change
Lesley Kennedy, another ICAS CA in the Australian market, strongly agrees with Nicola’s thoughts about career success. In the early 2000s Kennedy, now CFO of the ASX-listed Xenith IP Group Limited, took a gamble by accepting her first CFO role.
Having previously worked in Audit with EY for eight years, and in a dotcom start-up, she was invited to take her first CFO role in a company that had almost hit the wall thanks to questionable management. Its share price was languishing at around three cents and a major bank was breathing down its neck.
Kennedy accepted the challenge offered by her first C-suite role, but says the success that she and her colleagues achieved over the next seven years came mainly from a single vital ingredient – teamwork.
“I’m not sure if I could do the same thing today,” she said. “It was a very intense period and hard work restructuring a business. There were lots of late nights and weekend work.
“It was very hands-on. The company had grown by acquisition but failed to integrate the businesses. We had to re-engineer business processes and restructure the various teams. But our team was young and enthusiastic and we took great pride in our work. We eventually grew the share price nine-fold and successfully sold the business to one of Australia’s top 50 companies.
“Being a CFO is about being a driver of change, so actually it’s more about relationships than technical abilities. You’ve got to be good with people in order to engage them and drive them all in the same direction.”
A change in responsibilities
One CA recently thrown into the deep end of organisational management is Bradley Delamare, CEO of Tank Stream Labs in Sydney’s central business district.
Delamare had worked as an auditor and business development manager with EY before taking over top spot at the co-working space, fewer than 12 months previously.
Tank Stream Labs is now Australia’s biggest tech start-up hub with over 100 businesses in residence.
“The role has represented an enormous change in responsibilities,” Bradley said. “I’m not just responsible for one area of the business but instead for the whole operation - accounting, HR, recruitment, sales, marketing, customer relations, etc. It has involved a lot of learning.”
The job with EY in professional services offered him a great deal of experience and created a good level of knowledge. But what makes a noticeable difference now, he believes, are the people around him.
“I have been able to make a lot of mistakes and learn from them along the way,” he revealed. “But I have a mentor network, fellow directors of the business who are experienced entrepreneurs. They have been a fantastic sounding board and I have been able to leverage off their experience.”
Although his sector is very new, it is a major focus for innovation-hungry businesses and government bodies. In fact, Tank Stream Labs is regularly approached by various corporates and government departments to discuss partnerships.
“Our programs and co-working spaces are currently full, but we’re looking for new offices and new locations, including international expansion,” Bradley said. “My ICAS training as a CA has been very valuable. That, along with my experience in various roles, has created a great level of knowledge and confidence when taking on such a role.”
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.