There’s a Miley Cyrus song that features the lyrics, “It’s not about how fast we get there, it’s not about what’s waiting on the other side, it’s the climb.” (For the record, I’m not a Miley Cyrus type, but I thought it was a good quote). While we’re pretty sure she wasn’t singing about career progression, her words do have a certain ring of truth about them. Particularly for someone like Beata Lipman, who recently chatted to us about her impressive career climb from an auditor with PWC to her current position as the highly regarded Head of Finance for Pacific National (former-division of ASX listed group, Asciano).
Pacific National is the largest combined rail freight company in Australia, providing intermodal, breakbulk and bulk haulage rail services across the country. Beata started at Asciano in external reporting and has grown with the organisation to her current position, which she’s held for the past three years. She leads a team across Sydney and Melbourne, has been involved in commercial and supplier negotiations, and has headed up an operational strategic transaction.
Beata spoke to Brad Eisenhuth about how she went about evolving her career from “accountant” and life in a firm to manager and a diverse career. It was a privilege to chat to someone with such a positive energy for giving back to the community and the fantastic depth to her comments.
- Stretching outside of your comfort zone to achieve progress
- What to consider when you are making your 'first move' into industry
- Lessons learned from mentors and career supporters
The full webinar with Beata is available on our webinar page, which can be accessed by clicking the link at the end of this blog, but in the meantime, here are some of the most interesting take-outs:
Chartered and Industry – Are They Two Sides Of The Same Coin?
Only a small percentage of finance professionals stay in the profession for their entire careers. Sooner or later, most make the move into industry. But while the view on the other side of the table might be very different, Beata believes she learned valuable lessons as an auditor that really benefit her now that she’s in industry.
“At one point during my time with PWC, we were applying for a very high-level tender,” she remembers. “I was the most junior person on the team, but the senior partners were genuinely interested in my point of view. So, I sat around the table and had a voice. That taught me two very important things that I’ve taken with me as I’ve progressed through my career. Firstly, it taught me how to engage with people at a very senior level. And secondly, it taught me the importance of getting insights from people, regardless of what level they’re at. That really resonated with me on that audit.”
Beata cites another valuable lesson – the importance of asking questions – which was reinforced while on secondment in London with PwC. “I was new to the city, I had no local accounting knowledge, and I didn’t know my team or the client,” she remembers. “But suddenly, I was asked to lead a FTSE 100 audit. I built relationships very quickly and got to know people and my team. I did this by asking a lot of questions. This gives you quick knowledge and insight into the day to day lives of other people and how they do their job.”
The Importance Of Not Being A Desk Jockey
Finance professionals are often stereotyped as being number-obsessed office addicts who never step out from behind their computers to see what’s going on in the real world. While Beata admits that she’s always loved numbers, she believes to be successful in financial management, it’s essential to spend time away from your desk every day, engaging with other people in your organisation.
“If you spend your whole day sitting behind your computer, you lose the respect of the people around you,” she says. “The way to add value is to get to know the business. This means getting out and seeing what’s happening on site. I put on my hi-viz and my steel capped boots and I speak to train drivers and terminal operators. The interesting thing about learning their language is that you’ll find, in time, they start speaking yours. They start focussing on costs and cost control and all the things that finance people care about because you’ve gained their respect by being out on site with them.”
Life On The Other Side – Common Misperceptions
Beata believes that one of the things holding back financial professionals when they start thinking about migrating to industry is the perception that your career doesn’t progress as smoothly as if you stay in chartered. But, she says, she has found the exact opposite to be true.
“In commerce, your career actually progresses in a much more enriching way because you can move into so many different areas,” she says. “You’re not confined to one ladder, you can move around from department to department and division to division, even within the same company. You gain a much wider skill set than by staying in a chartered environment.”
Beata admits she’s been fortunate to have worked for people who haven’t restricted her development, and who’ve allowed her to develop skill sets that weren’t strictly in her initial job description. Equally, however, she stresses the importance of looking for this quality in a potential employer.
“It’s so important to find a manager who will allow you to grow and develop within your role,” she says. “Make sure you choose a company that’s passionate about developing its staff.”
Beata believes another common misperception is that when you choose a role in the industry, is that it has to be the “perfect” one. “The search for the perfect role is endless,” she cautions. “Rather focus on finding a role or an organisation that you can see yourself progressing through. View each role as adding to your skill set. It doesn’t have to tick every single one of your requirements. With each role, you develop strengths that you then take with you into your next role.”
Preparing To Jump
When looking for a role outside of the profession, Beata believes it’s vital not to judge a book by its cover. “If I had, I wouldn’t have gone into the rail industry,” she says. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s so interesting and multi-dimensional. The same goes for a role title. Don’t disregard it if it doesn’t have an appealing title. Learn as much as you can about what the job actually entails, because often things are really interesting when you don’t expect them to be. It is true that, at certain levels, a certain title gives you the opening to start a conversation with someone. So be comfortable with the title you end up with, but don’t break a leg making sure you have the right title.”
Beata is a firm believer that your career is your responsibility, and that you shouldn’t rely on anyone else to make it happen. “I always go through a steep learning curve when I start a new role,” she says, “so as soon as I start feeling comfortable in a role, then I know it’s time to move on! And I let people know that. I really value guidance and insight from people I trust. Trust is huge.”
To listen to the full interview, click here.