Sales Planning Manager, Nicola Imison discusses the demands of her role with a luxury car brand and why taking a step back in your career can be the right approach.
Living and working in Australia was always a part of Nicola Imison’s plan, and accounting was an important way to make it a reality. But a second essential ingredient would also be required, one that she didn’t discover until several years after entering the workforce.
Having grown up in the port city of Plymouth, in Devon, Nicola was no stranger to the ocean. Her father was a member of the marine police and, during his downtime, he would hand young Nicola a lifejacket and take her out in the boat.
She remembers these moments with great joy, but from a young age she knew that a career in accounting and finance could offer steady and reliable employment and the means to make choices around where she worked.
When you’re in practise you have ebbs and flows that could be difficult to manage. But in industry you’re generally able to plan.
At school she excelled in mathematics and was comfortable with processes and logic, leading to an Accounting and Finance degree with Plymouth university.
Her CA qualification was earned during her time with KPMG in Nottingham, where she was employed in a Tax Advisor role. After four years at KPMG she moved into industry as Tax Manager with Alliance Boots. Her role was to manage the group’s tax and transfer pricing affairs.
“I preferred working in industry,” Nicola said. “I felt it was easier for me to achieve a work/life balance. When you’re in practise you have ebbs and flows that could be difficult to manage. But in industry you’re generally able to plan. And I quite enjoyed coming to know a single business inside-out.”
Nicola had successfully made her way into the career that she desired, but how was she going to realise her travel plans? She never found the answer - instead it found her. The second essential ingredient for adventure was love!
What brought you to Australia?
My partner at the time, who is now my husband, wanted to move back home. He’s an Australian IT professional and we had met in the UK.
Was this a difficult decision for you, leaving everything behind, including your job?
Actually, it was very simple. I always wanted to do a secondment to Australia or New Zealand. That was always part of my plan. And that’s part of why I was torn about going into industry from practice, because the best chances of secondment are there.
You came to Australia without employment. How did the job search go?
I arrived in late 2011 and didn’t find work until three or four months later. It was stressful at the time because I didn’t know if I was going to get a job. My partner fell into a job very quickly; we found that IT was more easily transferable than tax, where I specialised.
I completed a number of modules to retrain, once I arrived, to make it easier to find work in accounting. My first job was as a management accountant for an insurance company.
When did you land a job with Jaguar Land Rover?
That was just three or four months later. It was a more senior position, as a senior management accountant, and it was for a bigger and better-known business. I also quite like working for multi-nationals.
I was in the finance role for about five years, as it mutated from senior management accountant to control and profit planning manager. We were dealing with transfer pricing, pricing of vehicles, forecasts, budgets, variable marketing and managing the budget for that. We worked closely with sales. Basically, any project that needed to get going, my team got involved at some point.
Is working for a luxury car brand as glamorous as it sounds?
It is, yes. We go to launch events, whether that be a new product or a new retailer. The business likes to share its successes with its people. Plus, I head back to the UK about once a year to catch up with my counterparts in the head office.
On the other hand, year-end is about as non-glamorous as it gets. I think every accountant gets that. There are a lot of late nights to make sure everything is submitted on time.
You’re now Sales Planning Manager. What are the challenges of the role?
There is still a large element of management accounting. It involves forecasting, budgeting, looking at actuals versus what you’re expecting, etc. The skills are very much the same. You might be talking in units, not dollars, but it is a very similar role.
The extra challenges involve balancing the various goals and needs of a number of stakeholders and business partners. I have to understand what the market is doing, and I'm also in charge of logistics and distribution, effectively getting cars into the country and getting them out to the network.
There’s an operational, logistics role and then sales planning, which is more my comfort zone.
How do you cope outside your comfort zone?
It’s a great challenge. It’s really all about having some flexibility as nothing is black and white; there is a lot of grey. I actually think it’s very good for any accountant to get out and do a secondment in the wider business. It showed me why I was butting heads with people when I was in finance. There’s an entirely new spectrum of issues to consider that you don’t recognise when you’re only seeing the numbers.
What tips do you have for ICAS members wanting to come to Australia?
Just accept that you’re not necessarily going to be able to come over at the same job level. I was a manager and I had to take a step back because I was unproven within the Australian system. But it’s okay to take a step back - you’ll find you can quite quickly move back up again as soon as you’ve proven yourself. Just remain focused and enthusiastic.
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.