This photo – taken on a trip to Bali in the 1980s not long after I left uni – represents a rite of passage. I took time out with the girls after my marriage broke up. I was feeling like a statistic and looking for some vitality. I've always known how to have a good time.
I studied literature and politics at university and had a strong interest in social justice, but I'd ended up working in a run-of-the-mill personnel job in Customs doing payroll. That's where the numbers thing started.
I thought about doing an MBA, but in my next job as a "paymistress" in private enterprise I was promoted to a state accountant's role. After some years I thought maybe I should get a qualification in that. So my career effectively picked me. I was a late starter, but always a hard worker.
Back on that Bali holiday, if you'd told me that I was going to be an accountant I'd have said you were mad. But I have never looked back. Accounting has been very good to me – a valuable qualification and a solid background – and it's given me lots of opportunities.
I had some early breaks in a then British-owned multinational corporation, P&O Containers, in a high growth phase. I was the first female on the executive committee. It was daunting, but I had some fantastic mentors and supportive people around me.
Perhaps I always had a bent for leadership. I was a school prefect and sports captain and I enjoy bringing people together, influencing them and producing an outcome. I went on to work for the privately owned DFP Recruitment, which also went through several large growth periods, and I learned heaps.
In that time I also took my first board role in the social justice area as a non-executive director and treasurer for YWCA Victoria, and also served at the national level. In 2006, after management consulting, I moved to [bus operator] the Dyson Group – a third-generation family company that's now the size of a large corporate – as CFO, where I got much more experience in M&A.
These days I'm back to finance advisory and consulting in my own business and serving on boards, including the Mental Health Legal Centre, a not-for-profit which works to advance the legal rights of people labelled with psychiatric disability.
It's incredibly rewarding to think you can make even a small difference to someone's life.
Mental health is a huge problem and there are many people who represent themselves before statutory authorities, whose lives may turn a corner with the right representation. Often they just don't know how to get it.
My corporate experience has been fascinating, but it's incredibly rewarding to think you can make even a small difference to someone's life – and sometimes it can feel overwhelming.
Now I'm looking at other board roles in the social justice area. I believe we all have a responsibility to give back to the community.
I've had some great opportunities and many have just presented themselves unexpectedly. When that happens I believe in always taking a good look at it – if you don't you might rue that day.
So what would I tell the young woman in that photo?
Hang in, because hard work and perseverance pay off. Don't limit yourself to one path. Be open to new ideas and directions.
Above all, enjoy what you do – keep having fun.
Do your skills measure up? Assess yourself with CPA Australia's Career Guidance System.