- As well as serving in the Army Reserve part-time, pharma CFO Victor Guevara CA deployed to the Middle East for six months full-time.
- The role of accountants in the Australian Defence Force is to help maintain financial conscience and integrity.
- Army reservists give around 50 days per year to help ensure the nation’s security.
When he arrived at the main Australian Defence Force base in the Middle East to support Operation Accordion in 2018, Victor Guevara CA wasn’t quite sure what to make of his new surroundings.
“The day you land in the operation, it can be unsettling and exciting all at once,” says Guevara, chief financial officer in Australia and New Zealand for US multinational pharmaceutical business Elanco. “It feels like you’ve landed in a different world.
“It was very different to an Australian military base because the host nation and other coalition partners are involved. This was a military operation, not a training exercise, there were very big pieces of equipment all around you, and a lot of dust.
“It was eye-opening and, as you were getting used to the new environment, quite disorienting.”
As a reservist, a Royal Australian Army Pay Corps officer currently posted to the adjutant general’s branch of army headquarters, it was Guevara’s first deployment. At the same time, it was precisely why he joined the Army Reserve.
Experiencing the world through accounting
In his mid-20s, Guevara was working as an expat for the Procter & Gamble Company in Singapore when he was asked to return to Australia to manage finances in a factory in Gosford.
Once back home, he had the urge to “experience other things,” he says. One day, in the lunchroom at work, he picked up an accounting magazine and read a story just like this one about an accountant who had joined the Army Reserve.
“Sixteen years later, I’m still a reservist,” Guevara says. “With a full-time job, it can be a juggle, but the Army Reserve is now quite flexible.”
Deployed to the Middle East for six months, Guevara had to get down to work, at the same time as coming to terms with the climate, local customs and new routines. He’d typically work six to seven days per week.
“You are disoriented in the fact that it’s not a 40-hour week,” he says. “You don’t go home or switch off. You don’t go shopping at Woolworths for groceries. You’re in an operational environment and dislocated from your family, so there’s an aspect of homesickness. That’s before you even start doing your job.”
Pictured: Lieutenant Colonel Victor Guevara CA
“You are disoriented in the fact that it’s not a 40-hour week. You don’t go home or switch off. You don’t go shopping at Woolworths for groceries.”
It’s the job that kept him truly engaged.
“The work itself wasn’t a stretch from a technical accounting standpoint, however the operational tempo and rapid-scenario planning required some getting used to,” Guevara says. “It’s normal accounting work, but you would want a qualified accountant to do it.
“The position was for a financial advisor (overseas), whose role was to advise commanders of the various deployed force elements on how to comply with their financial and governance responsibilities while carrying out their mission. This position was based within the Joint Task Force Headquarters.”
It’s a job, like any other accounting job, that involves planning, controls and governance, he says. At the same time, it’s not like any other job at all.
Integrity in a war zone
The role of financial advisor during a military operation is quite a special one, says Guevara.
“In a way, we ensure the financial integrity of the deployed force,” he says. “We’re there to help ensure the normal rules continue to be applied in a high-tempo environment where plans continuously evolve. The same rules apply as if deployed personnel were physically in Australia.”
In terms of governance and control, a financial advisor has an influencing role as a staff officer in a headquarters, Guevara says, rather than a direct command role – much like a CFO influencing those functions outside of finance in a business. But unlike a CFO who plays a central role in the organisation’s strategy, they have less to do with the strategic plan in the operational context. Rather, they provide guidance on the financial parameters which will help to achieve the commander’s intent.
What sort of commitment does the Army Reserve require?
For anybody looking to add adventure to their career, it’s important to know what level of commitment is involved in a role with the Army Reserve.
It really is just like the advertisement says, Guevara confirms. “One weekend a month and two weeks a year, for the part-time of your life,” he says.
“So, it’s around 50 days per year and it really is a very rewarding experience. The people that get through the Australian Defence Force recruiting process are usually very down-to-earth.
“The people that get through the Australian Defence Force recruiting process are usually very down-to-earth. They’re really great people and that’s important.”
“They’re really great people and that’s important. You’ll live, work and eat with some of your colleagues over an extended period, initially for at least two weeks, which is not something you tend to do in the civilian context. But after that two weeks, going through some unique experiences together, some of them become your best friends.
“They’re great people, great colleagues and great friends.”