Meet two CPAs at Victoria's Department of Education and Training

Complementary skills: Cameron Hill ASA and Cynthia Lahiff CPA, both of whom work at the Department of Education and Training, Victoria. Photographer: Jarrod Barnes.

Cynthia Lahiff CPA and Cameron Hill ASA combine complementary skills to effectively manage the financial and customer service demands of a large government department. This is their "my boss and me" story.

Cynthia Lahiff CPA

Executive director finance, CFO, Department of Education and Training, Victoria

Cameron is very outgoing and really good on stakeholder relationship management-type issues.

It’s one thing to have the technical and accounting knowledge but in the kind of job he’s in, he’s got to deal with diverse groups right across the department, which is no easy task.

We have a budget of just under A$14 billion. I think it would be the largest department budget in Victoria. We have about 1500 schools – they’re not separate entities, they’re all part of the department, which is what makes this department so big and complex.

My first impressions of Cameron were that he was a likeable kind of bloke. He’s always happy to help and has a good sense of humour. He’s keen to get on and do new things. Cameron has a very proactive and relaxed approach. He doesn’t get really, really stressed about particular issues. He always knows there’s a solution and that’s what I like.

I’ve learned a lot from Cameron. He’s helped me to understand the whole government process in allocating money and acquitting for government expenditure. It’s quite a complex area. It’s not like you would do for normal accounting in a statutory authority. It’s not your general profit-and-loss approach.

Cameron really is our outward-facing part of the team, so we do rely on him quite a bit for the culture that we want to project from our department as a customer service area.

Cameron’s part in implementing our new operating model over the past 18 months has been very important for the division. His area really had the most change in that they were bringing together systems and reporting.

It was a major restructure for the financial services division. It went very smoothly and we’re happy with the results. He didn’t underestimate how much of a challenge it was going to be. His approach to it was very thorough.

Cameron is a good people manager and he understood that this affected people, so he had to make sure to pay sufficient attention to all of the elements included in the restructure.

With his customer service approach, I think understanding how to talk to non-finance people about finance matters in such a large department is certainly a skill. And being able to communicate with those people about what we want and why we want it without trying to be the police, because we’re finance and we want the information – that’s definitely a skill too.

What Cynthia would change about Cameron:

“He needs to think about his longer-term career aspirations because I don’t think he necessarily takes enough time to plot out where he wants to be in the next five years, which I think is really important at the stage he is at in his career.”

Cameron Hill ASA

Director budgeting and reporting, Department of Education and Training, Victoria

Cynthia has a real presence about her. She definitely makes you feel comfortable pretty quickly. Being of Irish background as well, she’s a fair extrovert for a CFO – or an accountant – so certainly she gets you into the fold quickly.

We like to have a laugh and I think that’s really important. I enjoy working with people and the camaraderie that comes with that.

I’ve been in this job for two-and-a-half years, but I feel like I’ve been working with Cynthia longer because our working relationship just has been so organic, and it came together quite quickly. We both had, I guess, trust in each other.

We are similar, and Cynthia’s been very good for me at just cutting through things and asking, ‘OK, what’s really happening?’ Cynthia has the ability to keep calm and carry on, and I think that’s where she and I are similar.

Where our personalities are more different is that I probably bring people along with me, whereas Cynthia is able to make people move along when she needs to. It’s a little bit of that old thing of good cop, bad cop.

With my job, there’s a thousand balls up in the air at any one time, and a thousand relationships you’re trying to manage. It’s just constantly chipping away and bringing people along and into the fold, and that’s what I find rewarding.

In my role, being budget management, no one ever comes to me handing back money. They’re always looking for more.

Cynthia is really good at providing advice and support. You can go to her with a problem and she’ll always go into solution mode and keep calm. There’s always a solution. It might be obvious to her and obvious to us, or it might not be, and you need to do a bit of digging but you can usually get there. I think that’s important in a leader, especially when she’s got 120-odd people under her, as well as dealing with 100-odd executives across the department.

Cynthia has achieved a lot but she’s always happy to let her direct reports and others take the glory.

What Cameron would change about Cynthia:

“I think sometimes Cynthia just keeps pushing on to the next thing, but having some time to stop and reflect on what she has achieved is really, really important.”

Read next: Meet the two CPAs at KPMG who deliver results to demanding clients


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February 2019
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