A Great Way to Make a Career: Learn from Leadership by Following the Career Advice of These Prominent CFOs

As part of the Robert Half CFO Master Series, eight successful Chief Financial Officers share career advice and their secrets to success.

Career StrategyThe CFO Masters Series is an exclusive series of stand-alone video portraits in which CFOs selected from some of the region’s top companies offer tips and strategies for the young professional embarking on a finance career.

Produced by Robert Half, the world’s largest specialised recruitment firm, the full range of videos are now available on the Robert Half Asia Pacific YouTube channel.

The eight CFOs offering career advice in this installment of the series include Trevor Burgess from Centrelink, Greg Burgoyne ex CFO of the Australian Tax Office, Commonwealth Bank CFO David Craig and Gillian Larkins from Westpac Institutional Bank.

Also contributing are David Phillips, the Finance Director for the Australia and New Zealand arm of Proctor & Gamble, Colonial First State Global Asset Management executive Mark Steinberg, former Qantas Airways CFO Colin Storrie and Stewart Walters, the Asia Pacific CFO of United Group Services.

United Group Services’ Walters offers “big picture” motivation for a career within finance: “I think a CFO is afforded an access to an organisation that often is far broader than most of the functional areas within an organisation. You get to see and touch and influence such a wide part. Stick with it, it’s a great way to make a career.”

It is important that the young professional have a balanced overview of his or her career strategy. “My advice to any graduate entering the finance/accounting profession,” says the ATO’s ex CFO Burgoyne, “would be firstly, to be cognisant of the ethical environment that you work in and remain true to that. Work sensibly be cognisant of work/life balance. And the final piece of advice I would give is take control of your destiny.”

Endurance must be tempered with ambition. “If you want to move fast, you need to be recognised for something,” says Proctor & Gamble’s Phillips. “Because ultimately you will be remembered for two or three pieces of breakthrough work, not the day-to-day work. So how do you do that?”

Carefully, Steinberg cautions: “One thing I have noticed over my career, and no doubt was guilty of myself, I felt that after four or five years I knew everything and I was ready for much more than I was actually capable of carrying out.” With a rueful chuckle, he advises “experience actually makes up a large part of your capability.”

The best way to log that experience, former Qantas CFO Storrie suggests, is to “just take on anything that you are interested in, quite often you’ll get exposure as a young graduate to all different types of finance functions. And sometimes if you think you might like it and you know nothing about it, then put your hand up. Because there’s nothing like stretching yourself and getting thrown in the deep end.”

For the young finance professional, ambition is important. Yet of equal value in the long term is a healthy work/life balance. Adhering to the ethics of the profession is key, as is the experience that can be gained from the proper mix of curiosity and courage. With these valuable tenets in mind, the world of finance is, indeed, “a great way to make a career.”

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