During the global financial crisis, Craig Watson FCPA built a reputation for staying the course, which means more companies want to work with him now than ever before.
By Johanna Leggatt
Craig Watson FCPA is undoubtedly among the busiest finance executives in the country.
Adelaide-based Watson is the executive director of investment funds manager Kinsmen Securities Limited, a non-executive director of the start-up Refueler, a responsible manager for TSL Capital and Clear Sky Properties and the president of Volleyball South Australia.
As if all of this doesn’t keep him busy enough, he is also CFO of Cartridge World in Australia and New Zealand.
“I like to emphasise balance to others, but I would not advocate the amount of time I spend in front of the computer,” Watson says with a laugh.
“I have not had a week off in years, but I still play sport to this day, as it helps clear my head, which makes you more relaxed in other parts of your life.”
Focus and drive
Watson’s drive has been a huge part of his career success, coupled with his strategic focus and attention to detail.
“I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I felt like I was just making mistakes for the first couple of years of my career,” he says.
“A lot of these mistakes were quite minor, but it still didn’t sit well with me, so I used my analytical skills to self-evaluate.”
While Watson’s father was a third-generation butcher, Watson’s true passion was for maths and strategy, and so, rather than joining the family business, he completed a bachelor of economics, majoring in accounting, at the University of Adelaide.
“As my education evolved, I realised that accounting and commerce open doors, and you can apply those skills to a wide range of areas,” he says.
Watson took a graduate role at KPMG in the audit division, but while he relished the learning experience, he left after 18 months.
“I just felt it would take a long while before I would be able to add value and contribute in the way I wanted to contribute,” he says.
“The big firms want you to specialise, and I wanted to be broader than that to add value and help a business grow.”
Enter Kinsmen, a property development firm, which has since evolved into an investment funds manager. Watson joined the team as a project accountant in 1991 and immediately felt right at home.
“We were doing residential development projects, so you could start with a blank sheet and develop an entire community,” he reflects.
“It was more than just cutting up land or looking at figures – you were also building communities.”
Determined not to stagnate, Watson also completed a diploma in property development and later a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Melbourne Business School.
“The calibre of people in the MBA [program] was phenomenal and, at 32, I was the youngest in the group,” he says.
“We were learning from some of the best professors in the world, as well as each other, and we left with a comprehensive toolkit to apply to our work.”
CPA Library resource:
Career match: connecting who you are with what you'll love to do. Read now.
Watson was appointed as the managing director of Kinsmen in 2004, and has remained at the company ever since.
He nominates the global financial crisis (GFC) as the greatest challenge of his career so far.
While the economic crash put him in good stead to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, it was extremely tough on property fund managers.
“We are one of roughly 5 per cent in our industry that survived the GFC,” he says.
Property valuations went down by 50 per cent, and there was pressure to find quick capital to restore balance sheets, but Watson was determined to do the right thing by his clients.
“Banks were looking for quick-fix solutions,” he says. Watson dug in, refusing to dud investors by offloading properties cheaply.
“One bank wanted to sell a property for A$4.6 million, and it took almost two years to convince them not to,” he says.
“Five years later, we sold it for A$13 million, recovering a lot of money for investors.”
The stress of the GFC took a toll and, naturally, Watson started to question where his dedication was leading him.
“I was taking pay cuts to do the right thing by the people and the projects, but I was starting to wonder where integrity gets you these days,” he says.
The answer came somewhere around 2017, when people he had worked with during the GFC wash-up – executives in professional services firms and bankers – started to reach out to him. “They came to me and said, ‘We could do with someone with your skills’, because they knew I don’t bail from a tough situation and possess strong analytical abilities,” Watson says.
These days, Watson is working with a range of companies outside his role at Kinsmen, including helping to commercialise the fuel comparison start-up Refueler, which allows consumers to shop around for the cheapest fuel online and fill up at a time that suits them.
“The entrepreneur in me made me say ‘Yes’ to Refueler,” he says.
“There is a challenge in taking a great idea and commercialising it.”
One piece of advice
Choose a career that you are passionate about, because if you do what you love, then it won’t feel like you’re going to work each day. Don’t get locked into a certain path – choose something that engages you.