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How To Find Your Version Of Career Success As A Finance Professional

By Brad Eisenhuth | Eisenhuth, Networking, Career Management, Leadership, CFO |

At The Outperformer, we regularly conduct surveys in which we reach out to people in the finance community. The decidedly concerning result of one of our more recent surveys was that 30 percent of the finance professionals we spoke to wouldn’t choose to be an accountant if they could start their careers over again. The results of a Deloitte’s survey were even more alarming, with 80 percent of respondents saying they were unhappy in their jobs. There seems to be a lot of frustration and pent-up anxiety, and a significant disconnect between what people perceived their career goals to be, and what they’re actually doing now.

It’s so important to understand what career success means to you, and how to find your own version of it. We were privileged recently to speak to Mia Barry, CFO of The Iconic – Australia’s largest online fashion retailer, about exactly that.

Getting to know Mia – Not Just a Finance Leader

When she’s not working, Mia is passionate about nature, the environment and health. She has excelled in the sporting arena, competing on the world stage as a cyclist. She has also completed eight Iron Man competitions and 10 half Iron Man events.

It was through the lens of Mia’s diverse and international experience with a broad range of organisations - including Coca-Cola Amatil, Trainline.com and Webber Shandwick – that we were able to break down one of the most common challenges that affect most accounting and finance professionals at some point: What does "career success" really mean, and how do we find it?

In helping us answer these, and other, important questions, Mia explored:

  • Why 'success' is not the same for everyone
  • The risk of building your career around someone else's goals
  • Strategies for working out your path
  • Appreciating personal achievement and career growth when leading a finance team

Exploring & Finding Mia’s “Version of Success”

Mia started her finance career with KPMG when she was just 17, working full time while she also completed her university studies.

“KPMG was a great platform to grow from,” she says. “I learned good leadership skills, discipline, time management and prioritisation.”

After six years, the travel bug bit. Mia left for London – a 12-month trip that lasted 10 years!

“My time in the UK allowed me to hone a number of the skills I’d learned at KPMG, but also let me operationalise and commercialise that experience,” she says.

Shortly after moving back to Australia, Mia took up what she describes as a “life-changing” job – Head of Commercial for Coca Cola’s retail division. Her four years with Coke ended when she was offered the CFO position at The Iconic - a job that, incredibly, she had had on the top of her list of aspirational roles.

“I honestly believe it is the best CFO job in Australia,” she says. “I’m truly pleased to be in a role where I’m making a difference, and I love going to work every day.”

Of course, this “elevator pitch” version of Mia’s career makes it sound as though it’s been easy for her to get to where she is today, and that career success has come naturally. Like most great careers, however, this is not the case, and Mia has had to overcome a few significant challenges on her journey towards finally finding her own version of career success.


When the Penny Drops… What is Important to You?

“My Big Bang moment came when I was working in London,” she says. “I was working very long hours but was loving what I was doing. I was also training for two Iron Man competitions in one year. Of course, something had to give. Unfortunately for me, it was my health, and I developed some major issues.

“Until that point, my ultimate objective was to be CFO, and I thought there was only one path to achieve that: hard work and life sacrifice. But my health issues made me realise I couldn’t continue to operate at that pace. I took six months out and started to really redefine what my version of success is. It was hugely enlightening. I now focus on things that are important to me. I’m not always looking upwards at what the next role is going to be. I worked hard to understand what makes me happy, what I was good at, and what resonated with me - at work and in life. I found my ‘Why.” Without that, you can feel happy in a role, but you’ll never feel fulfilled.”

How to Find Your Own Version of Career Success - It’s Not About the Job Title

The Oxford English Dictionary defines success as, “the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose.” Essentially then, you have to know your aim or your purpose – your “why” - in order to be successful.

Mia believes very strongly that making sure the values and culture of the company you’re working for align with your own personal values and culture is fundamental to achieving success in your career.

“When you stay true to your own values, you will have pivotal moments in your career, and they can lead to really difficult conversations,” she says. “It’s important to be brave because you need to be in the driving seat of your own career, and not just follow someone else’s path.

“I joined The Iconic because their values aligned with mine,” she says. “You must test for that alignment when looking for a job. It’s up to you to ask the questions to make sure you can actually be successful in that particular company.” Mia added to this that she wasn’t motivated by the job title, but the impact she was able to make.

The full interview with Mia can be found on the webinar pages of our website. It’s well worth a listen.  

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