Brent Pienaar CPA's many paths to the Emirates Group

Brent Pienaar CPA, manager of finance systems, strategy and solutions at Emirates Group based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

New countries, industries and skills: Brent Pienaar CPA looks back on the many paths he has taken to get where he is today.

As a child, Brent Pienaar CPA aspired to live a life like that of his accountant uncle. It wasn’t just the smart suits, or that his uncle appeared, through the eyes of the young boy, to be rich. He was also a baseball coach who enjoyed life. It was for all these reasons that the young Pienaar decided he too would become an accountant.

Today Pienaar is the manager of finance systems, strategy and solutions at Emirates Group based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). He oversees the strategic planning, delivery and management of the group’s finance technology systems.

It’s a career that has taken him to three countries, across diverse industries, and provided him with the lifestyle he wanted.

“I’ve had a great, interesting and varied life,” Pienaar says.

“Could I have reached a more senior level and made much more money? Potentially. Yet the richness my career has brought to me and to my family is what counts. As a family, we are probably in the happiest place we could be right now. What more do you need in life than that?”

Pienaar started his career as an accountant and finance manager in his homeland of South Africa, where his natural ability with technology saw him hand-picked by the chief information officer to lead the company’s IT transformation.

Long daily commutes eventually tempted Pienaar and his wife Tarryn to consider relocating and, being young and carefree, they decided to explore expat opportunities at the same time.

Pienaar’s experience in IT would be the passport to his first overseas job, specifically created for him, at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai, one of the largest higher education institutions in the UAE.

He spent nine years there but, afraid of becoming pigeonholed in academia, took a job consulting and project managing clients for IBM, to prepare himself for a move to Australia, this time with their first child.

For seven years Pienaar worked in a variety of senior technology and business management roles in Australia, starting with Melbourne Airport in 2008 and finishing up in 2015 with BHP Billiton.

Pienaar is a firm believer in opening as many doors as possible and letting life lead you down paths you may not have otherwise considered.

“I don’t really enjoy technology,” he admits.

“What I enjoy is solving business problems using technology. IT can take care of running the technology. I want to make sure that we are using that technology effectively and looking for opportunities to leverage technology to solve problems and add value to the organisation.”

CPA Library resource: The traits of today’s CFO: a handbook for excelling in an evolving role. Read now.

From first falling into IT in South Africa, it would be 15 years until Pienaar would be back working in finance. It came about through his return to the UAE in 2015, this time with two children.

Initially holding business-facing IT management roles at the Emirates Group, Pienaar got his longed-for return to finance in April 2018 with the appointment to his current role as finance systems strategy and solutions manager.

“I could have been so focused on a career in finance that I would have lost out on the learning and opportunity that makes me so much more effective at what I am doing in finance now,” Pienaar says.

One of his responsibilities has been to investigate the upgrading of Emirates’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) – a process involving 130 feeder systems and a complex technological environment.

“Having 15 years in the technology domain gives you an understanding that changes how you can approach things. You can engage with people in a different way. You are able to talk to the other side.”

His CPA Australia qualification was one of the deciding factors that secured Pienaar his return to finance.

“The fact I was a CPA and qualified gave them comfort that I could understand the business and know what finance did, as opposed to just doing technology,” he says.

“I could have taken the easy path and not maintained my finance qualification through continued development, because I was still in technology at the time, but the value of that as a professional qualification carries you through, no matter where life is taking you. It adds weight in terms of what you have done and how you got there.”

One piece of advice

“Follow life where it takes you. Have your long-term goal, but don’t focus on it solely to the detriment of other opportunities that might come up.”

Read next: Many countries, many duties: inside the role of ANZ Pacific financial controller

Like what you're reading? Enter your email to receive the INTHEBLACK e-newsletter.
March 2020
March 2020

Read the March 2020 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

Each month we select the must-reads from the current issue of INTHEBLACK. Read more now.