To celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th, this week we will be bringing you a series of guest blogs from leading senior females in Accounting & Finance. They will be discussing their success, career defining moments and what advice they would give to another female looking to pursue a similar career. This is what Dianne James, CFO, Strategy & Enterprise Services and Director Enterprise Investments at Westpac, had to say.
Dianne is the CFO, Strategy & Enterprise Services and Director Enterprise Investments at the Westpac Group. Dianne is responsible for leading the finance function’s business partnering for Strategy & Enterprise Services and the Enterprise Investment Portfolio across financial performance reporting and forecasting, formulation and implementation of strategic direction and maintenance of the Group’s financial policies and control environment.
Dianne originally joined Westpac in 2008 as Project Director for Finance merger activities and was the CFO for Westpac Retail Business Bank from 2009 – 2013. Dianne held the Director Finance Transformation role at AMP before re-joining Westpac in February 2016.
Dianne commenced her career at KPMG and has 30 years’ experience in the financial services industry. Dianne has previously held roles with MLC, NAB and State Street Australia across Transformation Programs, Finance, People & Culture and Process ownership.
What factors do you think have been critical to the success you have achieved in your career?
There are so many different factors, so I think it’s been the combination and the timing. Core though, has been that I was raised with a strong work ethic, and that I have always felt very fortunate to work in great organisations where there have been no constraints to what I could experience, and learn, and be expected to do. Honestly, a lot of it has been working hard…those times where I have had to really stretch, and actually wondered if I could do what had to be done…those have been turning points in my career to prove to myself and others that I’ll give every challenge my best shot! I wish I had realised a little sooner that colleagues, leaders, friends and mentors are terrific support, nobody has to cope with everything on their own! My performance and enjoyment of my integrated life at work and outside of work really escalated once I realised this. After experiencing such strong leadership and organisational culture very early in my career, I have also carefully chosen those organisations, and leaders, which enable and inspire me to deliver and lead high performance and be happy.
What initiatives have you experienced within an organisation that you believe have helped you?
Starting out as an undergraduate in audit was the best training ground, truly! The support we had was amazing. Arriving in Sydney very fresh faced and naïve from the country could have been daunting, but Hungerfords provided all round support to us…covering work, Uni, our wellbeing, our social lives. When I qualified and moved to Lend Lease, they were very progressive with employee engagement and leadership development. Through my 18 years in MLC I was part of numerous development opportunities, both through structured programs and through a variety of roles and special projects such as mergers and system implementations. This enabled me to work across Finance , Strategy, Operations, Investment Management, HR and Distribution, Project Execution..providing me with a strong general management experience base which is critical to being an effective CFO. My advice is to try anything you can early in your career to build that broader experience, especially with adapting and leading change. I’ve had a lot of unofficial mentors, and even some that I don’t think I was conscious of to be honest….I’ve learnt as much about what kind of leader and CFO I want to be AND don’t want to be by observing others that I have worked with and for and seeing their effect on people and organisations.
Can you highlight any career defining moments?
Every time I have taken a role where people have asked “why are you doing that? That role is a mess” or I have said to my leader “I have no experience in that area, what if I fail”, it has led to me being part of the most incredible teams who have achieved what nobody thought could be done. These deeply satisfying moments with the most wonderful people have really defined my career, and clarified what I am most proficient at, and most happy doing.
What advice would you share with females on how to progress their careers within Accounting & Finance?
Enjoy! Life is too short to be in a career which weighs you down. There have been some rough weeks and months, but overall I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There are so many opportunities, have the patience to know that not every role will be fabulous, and use those times to build your resilience and potentially show how you can reshape a role. Have a vision for yourself and your life and check periodically that you are aligning to that vision…maybe not every day, but over the longer term. Trust and care for yourself and those around you and never limit yourself, you won’t know what you can achieve unless you give it a go…the worst that can happen is that you need to make a different decision at a later point!