Looking back on a finance career that mirrors few others, Sergei Jansons FCPA is retiring after a professional life that took him to the Big Apple, South-East Asia, the Congo and, finally, the Top End of Australia.
From New York to Africa, Iran and Alice Springs, there is one motto that has driven Sergei Jansons’ career – always be in the driver’s seat.
“I’m of the firm belief that you create your own reality,” says the 65-year-old, who recently stepped down as chief finance officer of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association after 11 years in the job.
Jansons’ career began in Queensland, back in the days when you could dial up the state auditor-general and speak directly on the phone. Jansons had been working part-time as a cashier during his time at the Queensland Institute of Technology (now Queensland University of Technology) studying accounting when a visiting auditor suggested he apply for a government job.
“I actually called the auditor-general and had a direct chat to him,” recalls Jansons. After a short interview, he was offered work the very next week. Over 16 years he rose to become financial controller of Queensland’s Department of Family Services.
Jansons became a CPA in 1980, after completing the program via a mentorship. He says he was looking for a career change after a lengthy stint as a public servant and becoming disillusioned by the bureaucracy of the political system.
“I didn’t want to stay in public service, so I resigned and took off to Europe.”
“I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever so I resigned and took off over to Europe and England and did a bit of travelling,” he says.
Jansons saw an ad in a magazine for CPAs for a job with the United Nations Development Program.
“I thought, ‘Oh gee, I don’t want to go to New York, it’s too risky, but then I thought, why not?’”
Jansons landed a position as roving finance officer but it meant having to leave his girlfriend in Australia – unless they wed.
“They flew me over to New York for a final interview and I called my girlfriend and said, ‘OK, let’s get married’, so we got married within six weeks,” he says.
In two years, the job took Jansons to a dozen nations where he would spend a month at a time. Countries included Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Iran, Peru, Mexico, Cuba and what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he contracted malaria.
In the late 1990s, when the married couple started a family, Jansons wanted to travel less, so he moved to Copenhagen as chief finance and administration officer for the department that contracted all vehicles, office equipment and services for the UN. Then, four years later, when Jansons’ second daughter was only a baby, he was unexpectedly – but willingly– transferred to South-East Asia to the landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan, on the eastern edge of the Himalayas.
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“I ended up there on 1 January 1995, in the middle of winter,” Jansons says.
Jansons spent nearly five years in Bhutan followed by two more back in New York as deputy chief of the UN’s technology services division. For health and family reasons, the family returned to Queensland.
Jansons says it took him a year to recuperate. Then, finding it hard to land a suitable job in Brisbane, he began looking further afield.
“I ended up as financial controller with Ngaanyatjarra Services in Alice Springs in 2003,” he says. In 2006, he was appointed financial controller of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.
“My daughters, when we first came out here, weren’t particularly happy about it but ultimately they said to us, ‘You know, this has been the greatest thing ever.’”
Now that his family has grown, Jansons recently retired from full-time work and is planning to relocate to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. The avid gardener and musician is looking to consult with indigenous organisations, doing further good with his talents for financial management.
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