Art and accounting: How one CPA pushes the pace at ACMI

Moving forward

Whether on her bike or identifying new financial opportunities for ACMI, Alison McCormack is always pushing the pace.

Alison McCormack’s partner light-heartedly calls her “the Tornado”. She’s otherwise known as the head of commercial and visitor services at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne and, outside business hours, the ambassador for organisations Giant Bicycles and Bicycle Networks Victoria.

McCormack started working as an assistant accountant for her family’s basketball magazine.

Finance training provided opportunities to work across organisations and opened doors to new industries. After postgraduate accounting studies at Monash University, McCormack went to London and managed operations and logistics for global distribution company Worldspan across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Back in Melbourne in 2004, she consulted to ACMI on a change project and fell in love with Australia’s first centre dedicated to the moving image, born from the old State Film Centre. She hadn’t expected to work in the arts but found herself revelling in the employees’ passion and the chance to “be delivering outcomes to your audience rather than shareholders”.

At ACMI, McCormack has evolved by changing roles – from looking after projects, to finance manager, to heading up finance and governance (CFO), responsible for the audit committee, instrumenting change and working with the board, and ensuring financial sustainability for the organisation in challenging times.

She spotted an opportunity in ACMI’s commercial and visitor service area and, in late 2014, made the move across to lead the business’s retail, food and beverage, film festivals, events and visitor-services areas.

The role looks after ACMI’s largest team – about 100 staff providing for the 1 million-plus annual visitors to its Federation Square facility.

“It is a great gig and I love being in a numbers role where you also get to be creative,” says McCormack. This year has been “a wonderful and whirlwind experience”, with her detailed knowledge of the organisation’s finances helping her to make significant changes in a short time.

“There were real opportunities my team were able to convert,” she says.

Bikes were part of her formative years, and in 2008 she got back in the saddle for fitness, including mental health, and networking. Weekly training with her fellow “roadie” and partner, Lee Turner, can mean 250 to 400km of cycling, plus the gym. Both are members of Team Bicycle Network to encourage and support riders to conquer rides, including the Peaks Challenge series, and to act as pace-setters.

McCormack is also sponsored by Giant Bicycles, a company focused on increasing women’s participation in the sport. She was once risk-adverse, but her colleagues and cycling network now know her as the first to implement change.

“The key is to put boundaries around the risk, and when it doesn’t work, learn from it!” she says. 

One piece of advice

“It is so important to be engaged with and passionate about what you do; it’s easy to get caught up behind your desk. I am super lucky to work in an organisation where there is so much fantastic stuff going on – a perk of the job!”

Watch now: Why accountants are superheroes (video)

November 2015
November 2015

Read the November issue

Each month we select the must-reads from the current issue of INTHEBLACK. Read more now.