Demographers estimate that an Australian Millennial may have 25 jobs over a 40-year career. It certainly expands the options for anyone quizzed; "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Career trajectories today are less linear than ever before as professionals move companies, test adjacent opportunities, navigate retrenchment, engineer career breaks and enjoy sabbaticals. For finance professionals headed for the upper echelons - there's no "right" way to become a chief financial officer and a myriad routes to the top.

At a recent Growth Series event in Sydney, FEI CEO Kate Mills spoke to three leading executives about their career trajectories, and the insights they gleaned along the way.

Aaron Canning is CFO of Blackmores and candidly admitted that when he started in his career; "Never in my wildest dreams or nightmares did I want to work in finance." After a start in sales and then marketing which gave him an understanding of operational business issues, Canning segued into finance before eventually taking on the role as managing director of Goodman Fielder.

He then returned to the finance fold and joined Blackmores. He stressed that in his career choices he always chose the organisation rather than the role, particularly in the early years. "It's easier to join a great company and then be given opportunities in the function or across the function. We work 40 odd years of our lives; I want a varied and interesting career - finance will be a part of that though it may not be the end game."

His varied career has, said Canning, honed his CFO capability. "Having experience running businesses has made me a better CFO - the appreciation of what it takes to run a listed business and from a CFO what it takes to support business."

Perpetual CFO Gillian Larkins described herself as good with numbers and problem solving. She has had permanent CFO roles, contract CFO roles and a career break along the way. In contrast to Canning she said that; "I didn't choose the company I choose the challenge."

She said that her work pattern has involved a move every four or five years in the search for a new challenge. On arriving; "I sit and watch for six months - what you see on the surface is not necessarily what you get," she said, adding that this time also allowed her to ensure that the team she inherited was assigned to the work they enjoyed doing in order to optimise results.

As a working mother Larkins is also acutely aware of the challenges facing many women CFO aspirants, and credits her supportive partner as a key factor in her success, adding that women did not need to settle for being the 2IC in finance, but can take on CFO roles.

Like Larkins, Andrew Tobin CFO of Challenger entered the finance function through a traditional chartered accountant role and spent his formative years with the LendLease Group. He moved around the diverse group every two years, acknowledging that he often moved before he felt he had fully mastered the role he was in. It led to some uncomfortable times - but also conferred a wide range of experience. His advice to finance professionals is to grab opportunities when they arise.

"Hug the cactus - these things may feel uncomfortable but we are going to do it - it's the right thing to do.

"Periods of stress are learning experiences," he said, particularly opportunities to work overseas adding that on-the-job experience always trumped education.

Perhaps it's that exposure to this kind of discomfort that seeded his calm approach to the CFO role.  "The task always gets done - there may be issues along the way but try and have a calm view of issues along the way. I leave work at work and don't really stew on things. Find some circuit breakers and find a mechanism to de-stress."

Go to top