Date posted: 23/07/2020 5 min read

Meeting face to FaceTime: Natalie Macdonald CA and Stephen Long CA

Natalie Macdonald CA and mentor Stephen Long CA share an understanding of regional accounting, despite being 1000km apart.

In Brief

  • Mentee Natalie Macdonald CA and mentor Stephen Long CA have been connecting through FaceTime since July 2019.
  • Long thought the CA Mentor Exchange program would be a good way to pass on knowledge to younger people.
  • Macdonald says being part of the CA Mentor Exchange program has encouraged her to do more self-reflection.

As told to Susan Muldowney

Stephen Long CA

Co-founder Brodie Long & Grew [BLG Business Advisers] Wollongong, NSW

Stephen Long CA

I stumbled into accounting the way you stumble into things when you are young and looking at all the different options available to you. I was always interested in working in the financial sector in some way and, once I got involved in accounting, the overriding thing that kept me interested was the diversity and depth of knowledge that’s required.

You’ve got to be across taxation, accounting, budgeting and business management, as well as advisory to clients. There is such a body of knowledge and experience you need to do the job properly and that drove me forward.

I’m born and bred in Wollongong, NSW, and that is where we started the practice, Brodie Long & Grew [now BLG Business Advisers] in 1994. Most of our clients were small-to-medium enterprises and we helped with their everyday business needs – mostly the preparation of financial statements and taxation returns. But we were also helping them with the organisation of their factory or premises and advising them on leases, employment issues and generally whatever it takes to run a small business.

I stopped practicing in 2015 and now I’m working on a few business interests, as well as being on the board of Lifeline South Coast. When the chance came up to join the CA Mentor Exchange program, I thought it would be a good way to pass on some of my knowledge to younger people. I’ve certainly done a lot of informal mentoring with staff and clients during the years, but doing it in an official capacity has also helped me develop my skills.

“Being a regional accountant means you have to wear so many different hats because of the diversity of the work you do for clients.”
Stephen Long CA

Natalie and I have been working together in the program since July 2019. She is in Queensland so we’ve connected through FaceTime. The distance isn’t an issue and I think working with someone who is in a regional area means we have some experiences in common. Being a regional accountant means you have to wear so many different hats because of the diversity of the work you do for clients.

Natalie is a very vibrant person and we developed a great rapport straight off. I sense she will continue to do very well in the profession because she’s so engaging and wants to ensure her clients get the right information. She is also a great people manager, which is so important.

When we first started the mentoring program, Natalie listed some of the areas she wanted to work on and I did a bit of research so I was across how I could help in the best way. I also drew on my contacts and, at one point, I brought in a colleague who also has small children, because Natalie had some questions about balancing work and her family life while transitioning to partnership at her firm. I think that helped.

I’d definitely recommend the mentoring program to others. You feel positive about yourself because you’re passing on knowledge and ideas to someone younger, and learning yourself, which is a bonus.

Natalie Macdonald CA

Assistant manager, Ulton Group Hervey Bay, Qld

Natalie Macdonald CA

I suppose I was like many 17-year-olds in that I wasn’t prepared to make a career decision, so I took a gap year after finishing school. I did a traineeship at the Department of Employment, Training and Industrial Relations and because of that exposure I went, “I love accounting and this is where I can see my future.”

Like Stephen, I really love the diversity of my work. Being regional accountants, what we have exposure to is vast. I love what I do and I get a lot of joy out of working with clients to achieve the best outcomes.

I’m the assistant manager at Ulton Group in Hervey Bay. I joined the CA Mentor Exchange program because I’ve now been with the practice for 20 years. I think there’s so much to gain by getting experience from someone from the outside.

I’ve always lived and worked in regional areas. I spent half my working life in Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast, and half in Gladstone in Central Queensland. Maybe it’s because of the regional connection that we got along so well from our very first meeting. I found Stephen to be really open and honest with some remarkable insight.

He was always willing to not just focus on the successes – because you hope we all kick some goals from time to time – but even share when maybe he’d do things differently if he had his time again.

“He was always willing to not just focus on the successes… but even share when maybe he’d do things differently if he had his time again.”
Natalie Macdonald CA

We use FaceTime to catch up every six to eight weeks. This is how I’ve communicated with clients for years. It hasn’t been a stretch to do so during COVID-19 – I’d say most regional accountants are used to finding other ways to stay connected to clients.

Stephen has advocated very strongly for maintaining a work/life balance. I think in nearly every call we’ve had he’s given me a gentle reminder about that. He went over and above when he organised a meeting with a colleague who had been in a similar position to me. We went through what she had experienced in transitioning to become partner at a firm while raising a young family.

Overall, being part of this program has changed how I do things. It’s encouraged a lot of self-reflection. I think sometimes we all get into that “head down, bum up” state and just try and get through as much as we can.

Sometimes what we need to do is stop and look at the bigger picture, call a friend just to say, “This is how it’s going right now.” We can forget how important that is and how much we can learn from a simple conversation. Stephen has really helped me remember to do that and to be present.

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Get involved with CA ANZ Mentor Exchange

Applications for the CA ANZ Mentor Exchange program 2020 close on 14 August 2020. The program will commence in October.

Find out more here