How my CPA qualification helped my new career

After a highly successful finance career, these days Phillipa Leggo is more likely to be out on photo shoots

Becoming a CPA helps many to climb the corporate ladder but it can also open doors to a raft of other career opportunities. Three CPAs tell their stories.

Phillipa Leggo CPA: Co-founder scottleggo.com

In late 2016, Phillipa Leggo resigned as CFO for a multinational advertising agency to plunge head-first into her husband’s small business, which provides Australian landscape photography as wall art for homes and offices.

After a highly successful finance career at corporates including Wesfarmers and KPMG, Leggo is more likely to be seen these days out on photo shoots at picturesque locations – while keeping a firm focus on the finances of scottleggo.com.

“I played safe with my career choices but always wanted to try a different path outside pure finance – to challenge myself, take a risk and be bold,” Leggo says. 

Icon of the South West - Sugarloaf by scottleggo.com“I thought my finance skills were transferable to other industries, and my husband Scott could see the value to our business with me working full-time in it, rather than supporting from the side.”

Leggo transitioned into her new role relatively easily and wishes she had done it sooner.

“The most challenging part has been how to best allocate my time,” she says. 

“I don’t have a large team around me anymore to delegate tasks and share the workload, which means ruthlessly applying the Pareto [or 80/20] principle to everything I do to ensure we get maximum productivity.”

Corporate experience did, however, provide her with a thorough understanding of what is best practice and truly essential versus “nice to have”.

Scottleggo.com adopted cloud-based software solutions that are driving the right behaviour across not just finance, but sales and customer management. As a result, month-end is quick and straightforward.

 “As a CPA from a large corporate background, the ability to think big and differently has assisted our growth. We have weekly sales and monthly finance meetings and quarterly performance reviews – standard practice in big business but often missed in small businesses and start-ups.”

For anyone contemplating a career sea change, Leggo says an exit strategy is essential.

“Mine meant planning ahead for six months. We put a plan in place for what I would be doing from my first day, so I hit the ground running.”

Israel Cooper: Co-founder, Buildtech

Israel CooperA 2014 INTHEBLACK Young Business Leader, Israel Cooper cut his teeth as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Christchurch and has never looked back.

With start-ups Massive Software and Trigger Happy to his name, Cooper is now committed to the development of affordable housing in New Zealand through the construction company he co-founded with his father to help rebuild Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake, Buildtech.

“Mainstream accounting firms prepare you well for corporate life,” Cooper says. “At PwC I worked across a large cross-section of clients and engaged with quite senior and influential decision-makers – CEOs, CFOs, directors and government bureaucrats. 

“So when it came to establishing our own firm and pitching for investment funds, I already had a lot of confidence and experience in how to engage professionally with those types of individuals.”

Cooper credits his CPA training with providing the analytical skills to develop his business strategy.

“It’s one thing to be able to look at the books, but to interpret and then act on them is another level entirely,” he says. “That’s where I think the CPA focus on not just understanding numbers, but interpreting them in terms of the decisions you will then need to make, has been invaluable.”

There are also the networking opportunities membership provides.

“I’m regularly at CPA events making connections. They are hugely valuable to me and as the NZ network grows they become even more valuable.”

Although Cooper has embraced change throughout his career, he cautions against change for its own sake.

“If you don’t have a clear sense of purpose about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and if you aren’t continually surrounding yourself with great individuals who support and advise you and building strong relationships, it doesn’t matter how well you do anything else.”

Professional Development: CPA Q&A. Access a handpicked selection of resources each month and complete a short monthly assessment to earn CPD hours. Exclusively available to CPA Australia members.

Leon Kosher CPA: Co-founder KISA

Leon Kosher CPAIt’s a leap from being an accountant at a beverage company to pitching a start-up to five hugely successful entrepreneurs on the reality competition television program Shark Tank.

That is exactly what Leon Kosher and his two business partners did with their vision for the KISA (keep it simple always) mobile phone. What’s more, one of the show’s stars, RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson, invested A$200,000 for a 5 per cent stake.

As the acronym suggests, the KISA phone is simple – a product specifically designed for the very young, elderly and people with disabilities. Since launching in 2014, its ease of use has helped thousands in Australia and globally to stay connected, independent and feel secure. It has even saved lives.

Kosher takes great pride in this, together with the fact turnover has doubled every year.

“We started working on it in 2012,” Kosher says, “and my experience as a CPA definitely helped.”

CPA analytical skills were an asset in every aspect of establishing KISA, especially when it came to protecting intellectual property in dealings with overseas suppliers.

“In terms of the overall market, it’s a brand new idea both in concept and design, so it was important to separate what we needed to disclose and what we wanted to keep to ourselves,” Kosher says.

Then, as always, there is the bottom line.

“We have to spend the money we have in the right way and project income two, three, five years ahead, so being a CPA certainly helps with cash flow management,” Kosher says.

“We spent three years without drawing a salary.”

He says any career change has to provide solutions and it can’t be part-time.

“Surround yourself with people who motivate and support you. Don’t start a business by yourself. Some people do, but I disagree with that completely. Never be afraid to ask for help.”

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