Lisa Gemmell CPA enjoys striking a happy medium between an accountant's low-risk appetite and the high-risk appetite of an adventure sports brand.
At the tender age of 19, Lisa Gemmell CPA took on a big responsibility that was to ignite her enthusiasm for understanding how things tick.
Gemmell is head of finance at Mons Royale, a New Zealand-based merino clothing manufacturer. She grew up in regional New Zealand, where her parents ran a succession of small businesses. When she was in her teens, they owned the local supermarket where she worked casually.
“Mum and Dad offered me the choice: during my summer break I could either go on holiday with them, or I could stay and manage the supermarket and get paid double what I would normally earn. It was an amazing opportunity, and I took it.”
Gemmell had a natural aptitude for numbers, so studying accounting as one of her subjects at university was an obvious choice. However, her career path for the first 10 years didn’t take her down an accountancy route.
After working as a systems analyst and consultant across different industries in Australia, she says, “I got to the point where I wanted to do something more permanent and stick around to see the impact of what I was achieving. I also wanted a family, so moving to a more traditional accountancy role seemed appealing, and I felt it would add value to my experience.”
Gemmell looked at the CPA Program, and it seemed a really good fit.
“The course aligned well with my values, and I could tailor it around my work and family commitments. Most importantly, it has given me the credibility I needed to make that transition in my career, and has helped me secure senior financial roles.”
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When the family moved back to regional New Zealand in 2012, Gemmell expected it to involve professional compromise, but the opposite proved true. In joining Mons Royale, she found the balance of challenge, opportunity and value addition she had been seeking. “It’s my dream to have all the corporate challenges that I now have and to be living in a beautiful place.”
Launched by professional free skier Hamish Acland with graphic designer Hannah Aubrey (now Acland), Mons Royale turns merino wool into stylish and functional garments, and has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2009.
“We had a team of 10 when I joined Mons in 2015. We now employ 50, and we’re doing a lot of business in North America and Europe. The challenge has been the speed of growth; we are often breaking new ground and figuring things out for the first time with a new and growing team.”
To make a global business work in a small town environment, Gemmell says you have to surround yourself with good people. “Of course, they aren’t necessarily on your doorstep, so we seek out [remote] advisers who we can call upon to help us navigate those challenges. The good thing is that what we are doing interests people, so they are keen to be involved.”
Another big lesson when faced with multiple demands on her time is choosing what to let go of and when, says Gemmell.
“I have learnt that trying to achieve perfection in every area is not going to equal success. Being really disciplined about where you spend your time and energy and what is going to get the results means you’re more productive.”
Gemmell’s natural low appetite for risk as an accountant has seen her come up against her free skiing boss who, by the nature of his sport, has a large appetite for risk. Yet, like the art of skiing itself, “the secret is we have a good balance”.
One piece of advice
“Don’t have a narrow view of your career path. Be open to opportunities. When I look at the career choices I made that weren’t the best ones, those were the ones I learnt the most from – about myself and what I wanted to achieve.”