Nicola Imison CA on working on the other side of the world
Nicola Imison CA never planned to work in the car industry, let alone travel to the other side of the world to do so. Rachel Ingram discovers how the Sales Operations Manager for Jaguar Land Rover Australia found a new life in Sydney.
Astronaut, firefighter, ballerina... these are aspirations shared by many children, but not Nicola Imison CA. For her, there was only ever one dream. “From a very young age, I wanted to be an accountant,” she says. “Certainly at primary school, it was a weird career choice. Th e other kids wanted to be something a bit more exciting, but I liked numbers, logic and patterns.”
Imison, a member of British Mensa, studied accounting and finance at the University of Plymouth in her home city, before joining the tax graduate programme at KPMG, graduating with a double CA and CTA qualification. After rising through the ranks to assistant manager, she took on a tax manager role at Walgreens Boots Alliance in Nottingham. It was while working here that she met her now husband, an Australian who would help her with the next step of her well-thought-out plan.
Imison had always wanted to live abroad (“somewhere English speaking because I’m not very good with languages”), so, after getting married in the summer of 2012, the pair uprooted and moved to Sydney to be closer to his family.
Arriving in November, they got off to a slow start. “Pretty much everything in Australia shuts down from December to January because it’s summer,” she says. “And while I was quite senior in the area of UK corporate tax, tax in Australia isn’t the same.” She shelved her pride, took a step back and found an accountancy job at a small insurance firm. But after three short months, an opportunity arose with Jaguar Land Rover Australia that would transform her career.
The road ahead
Imison never set out to work with a car manufacturer but was attracted by Jaguar’s links to the UK – and the promise of company cars. “Th e perks make a big difference,” she admits. “I’ve got a Land Rover Discovery at the moment, but my favourite so far has been the F-Pace SVR.”
She joined Jaguar in the control and profit planning division, moving into sales planning five years later. Ever an ambitious student, Imison’s long-term strategy involves gaining experience across the company. “My ultimate goal is to be a finance director and I think the best FDs are those who haven’t just done the number crunching, they’ve gone and done the operations side and they really get the business.”
She’s getting plenty of that in her current role. “The department I work in is the linchpin of the whole business,” she says. “There’s two aspects of my role. First, I’m planning, which is my comfort zone because it’s effectively a sales equivalent of management, accounting and budgeting, but talking in units rather than dollars. Then I’ve also got the operation side where I’m managing our relationships with our suppliers. I’m basically responsible for bringing cars into the country, which is the fundamental part of the business. I’m also helping to plan longer-term strategies, limited editions, campaigns and launches. It’s so much fun and I really love my job.”
The great outdoors
The Sydney lifestyle has its perks, too, Imison soon discovered. “I’d been to visit my husband’s family for holidays prior to moving so I did have some expectations,” she says. “I thought it would be really sunny and people would be outdoors all the time, drinking and relaxing. I thought it’d be a bit of a party country but chilled. It’s very much like that. “Living in Sydney reminds me of being in London.
It’s built up and crowded and the working culture in Sydney is very similar, except that we start at 8.30am. But it’s so green compared to London so it feels less urban. There’s trees and parks everywhere and you can go running or ride a bike.”
She admits being surprised by how multicultural Australia is: “I don’t know why, given the country’s Asia Pacific links. When you see the movies like Crocodile Dundee, it looks like a very white country, but in fact it’s anything but. It’s very diverse.”
Australians seem to share a sense of community. “Australia has not had a very good 2020,” she says. “First, we had the bush fi res, then we had drought, then there was flooding when the rain came, and now we’ve got the COVID-19 crisis. But you only have to look at how much money was raised for the bushfires – A$50m (£25.3m) for just one fundraiser. You also had people going out and taking coffees and supplies to the firefighters. The level of support from people is really quite exceptional.”
Call to action
It’s not just Australia that’s in crisis mode right now. The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening people and businesses around the world, including Jaguar Land Rover.
With reduced traffic to showrooms, Imison is working closely with retailer networks to meet their changing needs. “My role has become even more critical than it was before,” she reveals. “My team is trying to model what is likely to happen over the next six to 12 months so that we can start planning.
It’s probably trickier as an Australian national sales centre than it would be in the UK, simply because we’ve got a very long lead time for cars to get here – about four months. If we make the wrong call, we’re going to end up with too much stock or not enough, and we don’t want to be in either position.”
With the situation changing on a daily basis, and with Australia’s credit rating being re-evaluated – “the credit agencies are signalling that they may consider reducing us from a triple-A rating” – there’s a lot of uncertainty across the industry. But with challenge often comes the opportunity for change.
I expect to see some real opportunities around electrification –coming out of COVID-19, people are going to be more conscious of our environment
“I think that there might be some real opportunities, particularly around electrification,” she predicts. “Coming out of this, I think people are going to be more conscious of our environment, particularly since the reduction in air traffic means less pollution. I think there will be moves towards greener options, and we are perfectly placed for that. We’ve got manufacturing facilities in place already and we’ve proven with the I-Pace that we can get a really good electric product out there that works, is beautiful and has some fantastic features.
“I also think when we do recover, people will say, ‘Life is for living. Why am I saving my money? It could all end tomorrow. I want a Jaguar F-Type. Let’s just go for it.’”
The power of agility
In such unpredictable times, agility is key. With her move to Sydney, Imison has already proven her ability to adapt, and to thrive on change. This is one of the reasons she was named among ICAS’ Top 100 Young CAs in 2019 – an honour that made her “really proud”.
“I’m always proud to say I’m a CA,” she says. “It’s a really hard qualification to come by. It shows you have dedicated yourself, as it takes an awful lot of work. So, being on a shortlist of people for doing well in the Talent category was great.”
Imison has always kept close ties to the ICAS network, finding the local subsidiary a great support when she moved to Australia. “The Sydney branch sends out regular emails and creates opportunities to catch up,” she says. “I’ve been to a few meet-ups in the city and it’s really nice to see other people and hear all the accents. It’s odd to have this whole contingent of English and Scottish people in one place in Sydney, but at the same time it’s really nice.”
With two children, aged five and seven, and having secured Australian citizenship, Imison is now settled in Sydney, with no plans to move again. To CAs considering working abroad, she says, “Go for it. Just be aware that you might have to take a step back, but it won’t be for long. It might be hard to get your foot in the door to begin with, but don’t be disheartened, because people recognise talent. If you’ve got the skills, you’ll get promoted quickly.”
This article first appeared in the May 2020 issue of CA magazine.