Mentors matter says CFO with a passion for education

Jacquetta Griggs FCPA, CFO Australia Industry Standards. Photo by Damien Pleming.

Jacquetta Griggs FCPA, CFO at AIS and deputy president of CPA Australia’s Victorian Divisional Council, has a passion for education and a nose for cash flow.

Fact File

Joined: May 2017 
Based: Melbourne, Australia
Qualifications: FCPA; Bachelor of Business, RMIT University
Other roles: Chair, SME Committee CPA Australia; deputy president, CPA Australia Victorian Divisional Council; member, Deakin Accounting Advisory Board
Formerly: Senior finance manager, Elbit Systems Australia (Israeli-based defence electronics company); financial controller, Sturrock and Robson Australia; senior analyst, Boeing
Finance team: Four staff
Australian Industry Standards Ltd (AIS): Part of Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system, AIS is an independent, government-funded, not-for-profit organisation, providing support and training packages for 11 industry reference committees to shape the workforce of the future
Annual revenue: A$5–$6 million

1. The role: “Diverse skill sets”

Along with the financial responsibilities of an organisation, the CFO will often oversee work health and safety, IT, facilities and HR. In a lean organisation, these tend to come under finance operations, but they’re probably not part of your trained skill set. In a previous role, I would quite often hear, “Which hat are you wearing today? HR, safety, IT or accounting?”

I’m passionate about creating a high-performing, agile team with a great culture. I like to see my team looking for opportunities, and to upskill themselves.

My role is to make sure we’re adaptive and responsive to change and new opportunities. It’s important for finance to be part of the business – understanding what the role is and why you’re doing it – so that we’re managing our budget and looking at our objective to deliver a smart outcome that feeds the longevity of our organisation.

It’s important that the finance team have insight and awareness of change management, unconscious bias, gender diversity, IT security – a range of discussion topics that we aim to deliver as part of the SME Committee. It was setting up the round table discussions that really developed my passion for vocational education. 

Now, whether it’s involvement in training package development for assessment in VET, or with CPA Australia, it’s evolved into the right job for me.

2. Game changers: "Do what you love"

A game changer was when I was doing my CPA marking and saw how I could get more involved in education, initially with the SME Committee. It was so important for me to get on that committee, so that I could start looking at ways to provide information around various topics and bolster my skill set. Until then, I was essentially a part-time accountant with two young children. 

That initial involvement with CPA Australia set me on a course to Australian Industry Standards (AIS), which enabled me to use my passion for education: teaching university graduates, but also CPAs in different areas such as change management and IT security. That also led to me becoming the deputy president of CPA Australia Victorian Divisional Council

Another key moment was working with a fantastically smart man who has been my greatest mentor, Bryan Harris, finance director at Sturrock and Robson. We achieved great success in a difficult time and he was able to help me to start thinking more strategically, which has proved really useful in my current role.

The final game changer was actually attaining this role. It happened almost by chance. Elbit had a communications contract with the Australian Government and I was at the barracks in Townsville, giving training to our team onsite, when my plane was delayed. While I was waiting, I saw this job with AIS. 

I probably wasn’t at Elbit for as long as I thought I’d be, but that’s where you have to be mindful about moving where you really want to be, understanding what you love to do. Moving into education, in a CFO role, worked out perfectly for me. 

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3. Challenge: "Cash is critical" 

Every job has its challenges, but challenges create opportunities. Probably my greatest one was working as a financial controller in an SME and managing cash flow. I was at Sturrock and Robson from 2011 to 2015, a South Africa-headquartered organisation with a portfolio of industrial companies. 

It was tough being an SME working in mining at that time, purely because of cash flow. We would get emails from big mining houses like Rio Tinto or BHP, saying “we’ll pay you in 60 days”. That led us to a real focus on capital management, and doing a fair bit around developing the metrics we could use to improve capital. We negotiated with suppliers so that cash would come in when we signed on after a first deliverable, so we weren’t working out of pocket. 

It was a steep learning curve. That’s when I started speaking at CPA Congress on liberating cash through effective capital management. I talked about the tools you can introduce into your business to liberate cash. How do you get the cash out of your balance sheet so you can use it for growth and return to shareholders? 

Cash is so critical in the SME space. You can go to head office and do what you need to do, but at the end of the day you really want to manage cash flow in your business. You need to not only make sure you are using it effectively, but that it’s there to be reinvested. 

Do we grow through acquisition and find different opportunities in the marketplace in order to get that growth? What would happen if we moved our skills from mining to other industries? 

With the downturn, we needed to ensure we survived and flourished. I don’t mean it to sound as if we were on the brink, but the challenge for anyone in an SME is to have that focus on cash – to use it efficiently and effectively.

Lessons learned & best advice

Work-life balance
Work-life balance is so important. I love my work and I involve my children so they get visibility about where I am. I bring them into work with me in the school holidays and they get an idea of what I do and where I go every day. 

You need to find something you love to do for yourself. Mine is that I run with an amazing group of ladies twice a week. To have that opportunity to be with them, run with them, and start my day so positively at 6am, makes the world of difference.

Mentors matter
Find mentors you can learn from, preferably in different industries where you can engage and learn different things. One thing I’ve done with every position I’ve held is maintain those relationships after I have left – they’re so important. I am very fortunate that along the way I’ve had the right mentors to get me where I am. 

Glass half-full
A positive attitude is crucial. Enthusiasm and positivity are contagious across the business. People appreciate it when their leaders are engaged and inspired to be there. Everyone else will be just as inspired to do the same job.

The top toolkit
Make sure you have the right tools to do the compliance. Get things automated and done efficiently, so you can get into managing the business and achieving your objectives. Putting in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is a huge challenge, but the outcome, if you get those efficiencies and real-time reporting, is so beneficial.

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April 2018
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