Pablo Benitez CPA moved from a world of profiteroles to steel, then salad, then steel again in an accounting career marked by ups and downs.
Story by Winsome Byrne
Pablo Benitez CPA credits two main factors with driving his accounting and business career: a terrific long-term boss, for whom he worked twice, and running a small business, a task he admits he was not prepared for.
Benitez was born in Argentina and moved to Australia at age 17 with his parents and four siblings.
He studied business and accounting at university and one of his first professional jobs was accounts and payroll clerk at Laurent Patisserie. For a man who loves his food, three years at Laurent was an enjoyable experience.
His next move proved to be one of the best of his career so far – Benitez took on the role of accounts payable clerk at Selection Steel Trading in Melbourne. He moved through the ranks for close to five years, rising to the level of assistant accountant – a role which saw him directly supporting the financial controller.
He also started studying for his CPA designation.
An opportunity to invest in a Sumo Salad franchise was intended to be exactly that – an investment – but a growing family meant his wife could not run the business alone, so Benitez resigned from Selection Steel and went into small business.
He says he soon realised running your own business was a lot harder than he expected.
"I really enjoyed finding who would be the next star. it was very satisfying."
“I learned that you can control your own behaviour but not anyone else’s,” he says.
The first 12 months were especially difficult but Benitez says he had no choice but to make it work.
Part of his strategy was to employ students – it was a practice that backfired in part but also taught him a lot about the hiring game. For every five people he hired, only one would turn out to be a winner.
“I would know in the first two to three weeks if one was going to be a gun,” he says. “I really enjoyed finding who would be the next star. It was very satisfying.”
What Benitez also learned was how to assess what skills he needed to hire in to the business.
“When you’re dealing with people, you have to adjust your expectations. I need someone who is not like me because there are things I’m not good at,” says Benitez.
“Your natural reaction is to criticise someone who doesn’t do things the way you do them, but you need someone who complements the way you work.”
After five years running the salad franchise, his wife took over and Benitez was offered the role of company accountant at Selection Steel. He says he was chuffed!
It was at this point that Benitez was diagnosed with cancer, and had to go through 12 chemotherapy sessions to treat it.
“I didn’t stop to think about it much because there were some pretty pessimistic predictions,” he recalls. “I hated the chemo. My energy was completely sapped, but I don’t think I put my life on hold.”
Linking strategy to people and operations: communicate a common understanding of the mission, values and vision that drives your strategy.
His drive to keep going saw him resume his CPA studies, which had fallen by the wayside during his time at Sumo Salad.
Benitez says Paul Kocsis, the general manager of finance at Selection Steel, was an inspiration. He has reported to Kocsis in every role he’s had at the company.
“He taught me almost by stealth, which is a very good quality to have,” he says. “He wouldn’t openly say ‘we are doing it this way’, but then I’d find I was doing it the way he said.
“When I went back to Selection Steel, that was a real leap of faith because I had not done accounting for five years, and the responsibilities were very different from those I’d had when I worked there before.”
His journey to becoming a CPA was hardly direct, but what Benitez learned from running his own business and dealing with ill health has also been valuable.
One piece of advice
"Never lie to yourself about who you are.
"You can fool everyone around you but you have to accept who you are and then move forward. Until that happens, I don’t think anyone can fulfil their potential."
Small practice dreams big in Ballarat