A small office grows your skills, says EY’s Alison de Groot CA
Alison de Groot CA started in EY’s smallest office, but her focus on gaining experience, not titles, has led to success.
- Alison de Groot CA volunteered for “extra-curricular” activities that helped develop her leadership potential.
- She wore “multiple hats” and gained diverse experience by working in a smaller office.
- De Groot says taking time each day to reflect on what went well and what didn’t is an essential practice.
By Ben Hurley
Alison de Groot CA is one of the most senior partners at Big Four accounting firm EY Oceania. “Wearing multiple hats”, working her way up in smaller offices and putting her hand up for “extra-curricular” activities are career experiences she credits with developing her leadership potential.
In addition to being the managing partner of EY Queensland, de Groot also shoulders the roles of EY assurance partner and Oceania audit leader. She began her career as an auditor at Wise Lord & Ferguson Hobart in 1990, after graduating from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Commerce.
After qualifying as a chartered accountant, de Groot moved to EY and eventually became senior manager at the EY Gold Coast office – the firm’s smallest, with about 50 staff. With no partners based on the Gold Coast, she made a point of connecting with EY partners in nearby Brisbane, and forging close working relationships with clients.
After secondments to EY offices in Sydney, and Atlanta in the US, she moved to the Brisbane office and became the firm’s first Oceania assurance people partner – a role focused on strategic talent initiatives. She then went on to lead the Brisbane assurance team before being named Queensland managing partner in July 2018.
“If you cannot articulate to others what you are after, how can they help you achieve your vision?”
Experience is more important than titles
“Experience trumps roles and titles,” says de Groot, and this can include experiences outside accounting. In 1996, she volunteered to run the Olympic Job Opportunity Program (an initiative between EY and the Australian Olympic Council) in Queensland.
A background as a competitive swimmer at a national level made her a perfect fit. While it “had nothing to do with accounting at all” it gave her the chance to meet executives in businesses as she worked to place athletes in careers.
“I was really just having fun and meeting some very cool Olympians,” de Groot says. “Little did I know at the time I was learning to network and add value.”
How to build leadership skills
EY leadership programs and a number of informal mentors have helped form de Groot’s leadership skills, but she warns against aspiring too hard to be like a single role model.
“I try to take on the great values or ideals and thoughts from aspiring people and, equally, learn from where you see another leader not quite get it right.”
One important habit de Groot maintains is taking some time each day to reflect on her schedule and clarify her goals and direction. She asks herself: What went well and what didn’t? Could meetings have been made more effective? Were the attendees engaged? What action needs to be taken now that they are done?
Asking herself honest questions helps her focus and engage on the challenges of her role and avoid blind spots, she says.
“I have always found this helps to focus you, and others who are supporting you, to get where you want to go,” de Groot says. “If you cannot articulate to others what you are after, how can they help you achieve your vision?”