What happened after the collapse of Ansett

From left to right: Karen Sinclair FCPA, Jennifer Lang FCPA, Sandy Brooks FCPA and Mark Chamberlain FCPA. Photo Jarrod Barnes.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" – four CPAs share a special bond after experiencing Ansett’s collapse together.

Karen Sinclair FCPA
Ex-Ansett, now runs her own bookkeeping and consulting business, Bookwiz.

Jennifer lang FCPA
Ex-Ansett deputy treasurer of cash management and banking, now with the Commonwealth Bank.

Sandy Brooks FCPA
Ex-Ansett, now the finance manager at Guardian Medical.

Mark Chamberlain FCPA
Ex-Ansett group treasurer, now chief financial officer of the OceanaGold mining company.

On 12 September 2001, Ansett Australia was placed into voluntary administration after 66 years in business. The following day, Ansett’s deputy treasurer of cash management and banking, Jennifer Lang FCPA, received a phone call from the National Australia Bank. The airline’s financiers were seeking assurances, concerned about Ansett’s dwindling cash flow and the bank’s exposure to tickets purchased by credit cards.

Responsible for covering wages, Lang dutifully pleaded the company’s case over the telephone, mindful that payday was less than 24 hours away. 

However, the Ansett executive’s thoughts weren’t completely on the task at hand. On maternity leave, the heavily pregnant and overdue Lang was beginning to go into labour. Over the course of the 15-minute call, Lang convinced the bank to honour the company’s wages. That job done, baby Christy was born in hospital just 45 minutes later.

“What can I say? I have fast babies,” smiles Lang, who somehow managed to keep her labour pains in check during the call.

"I was humbled that they’d done all that for me." Mark Chamberlain

“I was trying to save the wages of 15,000 people, so I had to focus on the job. These were the people you loved and the company you adored. 

“Afterwards, Chambo told the guy from the bank about the baby, but I don’t think he believed him!” 

Awesome foursome

“Chambo” is Mark Chamberlain FCPA, an Ansett colleague, now executive vice-president and chief financial officer of mining company OceanaGold.

Chamberlain is also one of four former Ansett finance executives – all FCPAs – whose relationship has lasted long after the airline’s demise. Lang, Sandy Brooks FCPA and Karen Sinclair FCPA round out the group of four who continue to support each other in their professional and personal lives.

Ansett was one of Australia's main domestic airlines before it went into voluntary administration in 2001. Watching them interact with each other is testament to their closeness. There’s a lot of laughter in the room, the playful nature of their relationship clearly on display as a photographer fusses over them. Conversation flows naturally and sentences are begun by one and respectfully finished by another, a sure (and rare) sign of shared experience and workplace compatibility.

“We’ve attended each other’s weddings, we went to the hospitals when babies arrived, and we’ve seen our kids all grow up,” says Sinclair, who runs her own Melbourne-based bookkeeping and consulting business, Bookwiz.

“I know if there was ever a need, we’d drop everything for one another regardless of what’s happening in our lives.”

Today, Brooks and her husband, Trent, own and run healthcare business Guardian Medical. She credits Ansett with laying a strong foundation for many of her skill sets.

Lang, who is now firmly entrenched at the Commonwealth Bank providing strategic insight to corporate clients, concurs.

“For me, the two most effective professional networks I have are CPAs and Ansett,” says Lang, who returned to the workforce at Newcrest Mining on Chamberlain’s recommendation before moving on to Crown Melbourne, also at the instigation of another former Ansett colleague.

The close business relationship between Lang and Chamberlain also endures. Lang says that she still relies on her old boss for business and career advice, while he also benefits from her banking-related expertise.

“Jenny and I catch up periodically,” says Chamberlain. “I’ve tapped her for information on a number of occasions in the procurement and banking area where she has knowledge and contacts.”

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A winning dynamic

In 2005, Chamberlain’s three ex-Ansett colleagues came together and put his name forward, without his knowledge, for the Finance and Treasury Association’s Excellence in Finance and Treasury Award. He triumphed.

“I had no idea I’d been put up for the award about 24 hours before accepting it,” he explains.

“Jenny had arranged a meeting for me in Brisbane, when really it was the Finance and Treasury Association’s annual conference. It was entirely my fault it didn’t remain a surprise. I kept pressing her about this meeting, and she had to tell me the truth to get me on the plane.”

Lang says the award was fully deserved, recognition for a treasurer who approaches his job with “a totally different skill set and mindset”.

"The friendships and business relationships I formed at Ansett have been the most enduring." Jennifer Lang

“Mark is a lawyer, he’s a mathematician, he’s an accountant, and he’s very good at looking at a business operationally and strategically,” she adds.

“When we were at Ansett, he challenged all of us to progress our knowledge in a supportive and positive way, to think broadly, to work laterally, nurturing us in such a way to find solutions for ourselves.” 

Chamberlain remains genuinely touched by the endorsement he received from his former colleagues for the award.

“I was humbled that they’d done all that for me,” he says. “It certainly wasn’t something I was expecting.”

Lang believes the relationship between these four former colleagues is unique in a professional sense.

“We wanted each other to succeed, and there was never even a hint of professional jealousy,” she says.

“That’s the important thing. There was a real family feel to working at Ansett, and a lot of the staff had been with the company for generations.”

Lang adds that the industry was “dynamic” and that they worked hard and collaboratively.

“There were no complaints because we’d all bought into the culture,” she says.

“I don’t know if it was the time in my life, but the friendships and business relationships I formed at Ansett have been the most enduring.”

Brooks adds that trust and respect between the four endures today.

“We could pick the phone up at any time and know that we’d be there for one another.”

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