- Margaret Pyrchla FCA helps run an organisation that powers the lives of some 2.5 million people.
- Being a senior leader at a time of uncertainty made her realise the importance of timely decision-making.
- She says the best part of her job is working with a great team of accountants and finance professionals.
By Tony Malkovic
Margaret Pyrchla FCA is head of commercial at Western Power, the government-owned power utility that brings electricity to homes, businesses and government organisations across Perth and the south-west of Western Australia.
Its vast network covers about a quarter of a million square kilometres – an area larger than the UK.
It’s a big patch, and so are the numbers Pyrchla works with.
There are more than one million connections to homes and businesses that deliver electricity to 2.5 million people, as well as 271,000 streetlights and more than 103,000km of wires to maintain.
“My work involves procurement for the whole of the business and the management of major ICT and facilities contracts,” she says. “I’m also responsible for the entire supply chain and logistics.
Industry disruption means rethinking the business
In some ways, Western Power sounds like an old-fashioned ‘poles and wires’ business but nothing could be further from the truth.
Like energy markets around the world, industry disruption means Western Power has to re-think the way it does business.
There are essential market reforms to contend with, reliability of electricity supply issues, customers who can turn to other sources of energy such as solar, wind or hydrogen and batteries, and the subsequent pressure to deliver innovative solutions and commercial outcomes.
“The organisation no longer considers itself a provider of electricity; we now think of ourselves as enabling customer energy choices,” Pyrchla says.
“Over the past couple of years we’ve been working with other government organisations and policymakers to enable different ways of supplying reliable power to customers.”
A good example of that is the stand-alone power systems that were initially trialled on a small number of farms in WA’s south-west. As a result of the implementation of Western Australia’s Energy Transformation Strategy, they will now become a part of the Western Power network.
“What it means is that the customers have a solar panel and a small battery that is just dedicated to them,” Pyrchla says. “These eliminate the need for poles and wires, which for the remote customers scattered across the rural part of our network weren’t always the most reliable way of supplying electricity.”
Pyrchla started her career in the corporate sector with EY and then had a stint for a few years with the corporate regulator ASIC. She’s been with Western Power since 2007.
In her previous role with the utility, as head of regulation and investment management, she was responsible for developing Western Power’s regulatory submission to secure the organisation’s revenue stream of close to A$7.75 billion for the five-year period of 2017-2022.
A challenging environment
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the way Western Power and Pyrchla’s team work.
“Being an essential services organisation we needed to ensure continuous electricity supply to the community while maintaining safety and health standards for our employees,” she says.
“We decided on a fortnightly rotation of 50% of the office employees working from home and the other 50% in the office and quickly realised that many roles are suitable for working from home, provided there is appropriate access to technology and IT support.
“Being a senior leader at the time of uncertainty and rapid change made me realise the importance of timely decision-making, providing stability and building trust with your team,” Pyrchla says.
“Western Power’s current CEO, Ed Kalajzic – who is also a chartered accountant – always talks about ‘the shadow of the leader’. The past few months have clearly demonstrated the shadow that leaders cast has a tremendous impact on how organisations function and build solid long-term relationship with their stakeholders.”
“The shadow that leaders cast has a tremendous impact on how organisations function and build solid long-term relationship with their stakeholders.”
Pyrchla says the best part of her job is not just the challenging environment and juggling her strategic, financial and governance roles but working with great people.
“I have a team of extremely competent professionals – a lot of them are accountants and finance professionals,” she says.
“Enabling them to drive efficiencies, grow as professionals, be innovative and provide the business with appropriate solutions – I think that’s the most rewarding part of my job.”
Finally, what advice would she give to CAs thinking of working in the public sector?
“I would definitely advise people to try it. It might be something they would enjoy, a different type of challenge,” she says.
“The drivers are definitely different but it’s a fabulous career when you know you’re doing something good for every citizen, not only for the sake of profitability and returns to shareholders.
“You’re actually providing returns to society.”
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