Date posted: 13/03/2017 4 min read

Perth: From boom town to room town

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand's Aymee Mastaglia is based in Perth, Western Australia, where business is done a bit differently.

In brief

  • In the wake of the mining construction downturn, the Perth CBD office vacancy rate is about twice the national average.
  • It can be better to collaborate rather than compete in tough times.
  • Despite the current economic doldrums, Mastaglia sees some bright spots emerging for Western Australia.

By Tony Malkovic.

Aymee Mastaglia’s staff once dared her to turn up to work dressed as Wonder Woman. She was up to the challenge - and raised A$2,500 for charity.

That flamboyant act gives an indication of the relationship Mastaglia has with the people she works with in the Perth office of Chartered Accountants ANZ. She wants the office culture to be one of communication, creativity and enthusiasm, with people being recognised and rewarded for their efforts. Mind you, it can get a bit noisy at times.

That’s because there’s an office bell that’s rung when good news is received - whether personal or professional - which ensures all staff celebrate the news. Mastaglia has a background in the wine and hospitality industries. As the former CEO of Wines of Western Australia, she was responsible for business strategy and going in to bat on behalf of wine producers and dealing with politicians and government bodies.

“I started with the Wine Industry Association, where I looked after all the wine distributors, producers, growers all around Western Australia,” she says. “So when I moved to Chartered Accountants ANZ, it was going from a membership-based organisation to another membership-based organisation. When you look at that that way, with members’ issues and what members have to deal with representation and getting the most out of their membership, there’s quite a few commonalities.

Entrepreneurial attributes

“For instance, the value people get out of their membership is directly related to the number of touch points they have with their membership body. So here in Perth we try to get out and engage with our members as much as we can. And we’re constantly changing our membership offerings, especially in that workshop/seminar/networking space, in order to be more pertinent to members.”

Mastaglia regards herself as an "intrapreneur", an employee with entrepreneurial attributes, and a disruptive leader. She believes Perth’s unique business culture provides the perfect opportunity to break through "business as usual" activities and be relevant to the needs of members. For example, last year’s meeting with the WA managing partners of the big four had some special guests at the table.

When the mining construction boom was underway, WA was the powerhouse economy of Australia.

“I requested that each invite a junior member of their teams - to be able to share information about their experiences of becoming a CA and undertaking the CA program,” she explains.

Another initiative she has championed is the Financial Toolbox Series for women in Perth, which she co-founded with the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the American Chamber of Commerce Perth. The workshops aim to give women greater financial knowledge, independence and confidence and are set to continue in 2017.

A few short years ago, when the mining construction boom was underway, WA was the powerhouse economy of Australia. But Sandgropers are facing tougher times now. The latest CommSec State Of The States report found WA came last of all the states in terms of economic growth and business investment, with unemployment at 6.7%. Mind you, there was some encouraging news: mainly involving retail trade figures, recent rises in metal and mining prices, and record mining export volumes.

But the signs of a faltering economy are all over the Perth CBD, literally. The "for lease" and "for sale" signs have been popping up all over, with CBD office vacancy rates at their highest level in over 20 years, according to the Property Council of Australia. According to its August report, Perth’s CBD office vacancy rate was 21.8% - about twice the national average.

Drying up

In effect, Perth has gone from boom town to room town. The downturn has had knock-on effects.

“Until recently, there was a big focus on offshoring and what that meant for the accounting industry here in WA,” explains Mastaglia. “But I find now, especially with the larger firms, we’re now seeing centralising of services affecting WA business.

“For example, there are larger practices centralising, especially their graduate roles and what graduates traditionally do, in their larger offices in Sydney and Melbourne in order to provide economies of scale for their services.

"Until recently, there was a big focus on offshoring and what that meant for the accounting industry here in WA."
Aymee Mastaglia regional manager WA, Chartered Accountants ANZ

“What that means for Perth practice is that they don’t have those graduate roles that were there in the past, the graduate opportunities are drying up. So graduates are still coming in but they’re maybe not doing the roles they traditionally did.

“What that might also mean in the future is, if we don’t have that level of graduate enrolment, what does that mean for middle management and upper management in the future?”

A main focus for Mastaglia and her team recently has been government engagement and meeting senior politicians from both sides, as well as the federal level.

“What we’re trying to do is, firstly, increase that level of interaction with government to raise the profile of chartered accountants in WA and secondly come to the table with issues and concerns that we have,” she says. WA has often been seen to do business differently, and there’s a now a new take on that.

“I think something that happens in Perth, not only with business but also in the general community that I think is special for WA people is the sense of community, in the sense that in Perth it’s a small environment, everyone knows someone. If you don’t know that person, you know someone who knows that person,” Mastaglia says. “So there is very much a culture of sharing of networks, sharing success and sharing involvement.

“What that means - and I saw this in the wine industry as well - there’s a level of collaboration, so it’s kind of Western Australia against the world, rather than competition.

“So in other states you might be in competition with the guy next door.  We actually find if you’re in WA, especially if you’re having a product that you export interstate and then internationally, it’s the pride of place and sense of place so that you understand that you need to market WA as a location. And in order to do that you need to collaborate rather than compete.”

Seeing the positives

Despite the current economic doldrums, Mastaglia can see some bright spots emerging.

“Everything is a little bit up in the air at the moment. 2016 has been a pretty crazy year on the world stage and I think with a lot of businesses in WA and in the mining community and elsewhere, it’s very much wait and see atmosphere.

“With Trump being elected, we’re not quite sure what’s happening there. The US is a huge export market for WA products, so I think businesses are being quite sensible in waiting and checking out the water. I was reading that the resources boom has definitely finished, but there is quite a bit of interest in smaller (mining) businesses such as gold and uranium, so even though some parts of the resources boom have finished I think we’re going to see that being overtaken by other parts.”

Tony Malkovic is an award-winning freelance journalist.