Date posted: 2/08/2017 9 min read

Stop, think and reflect

Canstar CFO Chris Mitchell CA had great coaches and mentors, and now he enjoys giving back by passing on the career lessons he’s learned to up-and-coming CAs.

In Brief

  • The Mentor Exchange gave mentee CA Dana McDonald a fresh perspective on her career.
  • Use mentor relationships to better yourself in your profession.
  • Chris Mitchell CA believes you can always benefit from an independent view to work through challenges.

For Canstar CFO Chris Mitchell and his mentee, CA Dana McDonald, Mentor Exchange meant a chance to pause from the everyday grind and view things from a fresh perspective. 

Dana McDonald CA

I was drawn into the finance world when I moved to Sydney from New Zealand when I was 19. I worked at a construction company as an office junior to start with and soon moved into an accounts clerk role, where I learnt the fundamentals of accounting. I studied a Diploma of Accounting at TAFE NSW at night school, part time, which took three years. I followed on with a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) back in New Zealand and took the public practice path in order to obtain my CA qualification.

I always knew I wanted to work back in the commercial space, so once qualified, I moved to Brisbane and started my career with Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG). The great thing about FCTG is the diversity of the business – I have had the chance to work in different divisions, which all contributed to my experience as a CA in the commercial environment, including area accountant, commercial analyst and commercial manager.

I have always benefited from having mentor relationships throughout my career and I always want to better myself in my profession. What drew me to Mentor Exchange was the chance to have a mentor outside of FCTG so I could learn from their knowledge and experience. I wanted to take my career to the next level and I felt Mentor Exchange was the right place to start.

Chris is the most laid-back and genuine person I have ever met. Not your typical CFO – I think that’s why we got along so well. I could see from the start I could learn a lot from him and his approach to all things business. He is casual, but professional, and has great relationships with staff, including the CEO. He took a genuine interest in what I wanted to do, which was to accelerate my career to achieve my goals.

Chris assessed my career path and provided insight into what I could potentially achieve. He looked at some career opportunities I had before me and guided me to challenge myself. I learnt how to build my brand and demonstrate value – all in an elevator pitch. Challenging to do but rewarding once achieved.

We also focused on my relationships with key stakeholders and how to deal with different personalities. Chris was very good at explaining both sides of the relationship – financial vs operational – and how to achieve the best outcomes for the business.

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This experience has given me valuable insights by showing me where I am at in my career, from the perspective of an external party. I got advice and genuine interest in my career path from a CFO – that doesn’t happen every day – and would never have happened without Chartered Accountants ANZ. I never find the time to network socially, so this was the most perfect programme for me.

I have learnt so much from Chris that I could not have learnt from anyone else in my current workplace. He understood my career goals, and helped me challenge myself to start achieving them. Chartered Accountants ANZ did an amazing job pairing me with Chris and I am very grateful to have benefited so much from this experience.

Chris Mitchell CA

I’m a country boy who finished university in North Queensland and landed in audit. Audit gave me a great base to work from in business, but completing my CA gave me a ticket to work overseas, and I couldn’t resist the urge to go and explore. I’ve worked in senior finance roles in advertising in London and hospitality in Canada, and now I’m CFO for Canstar in Brisbane. I’ve been at Canstar for ten years and have seen it built up from very humble B2B beginnings in financial services with less than 30 staff to a B2B2C digital business that is on national TV and operates in more than 30 finance categories and more than 100 consumer categories through Canstar Blue. Canstar now has over 100 staff, with operations in Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland and Manila.

My career has been varied, and it has been awesome. The CA training gave me a great base from which to build my career.

 

I have learnt so much from Chris that I could not have learnt from anyone else in my current workplace.
Dana McDonald CA, Mentee

 

I’ve had some great coaches, mentors and bosses who have supported me throughout my life. I still catch up for lunch with my very first boss (who was my audit partner back in the day) at least once a year, and my old boss from advertising in London every couple of years when we can arrange our paths to cross.

Prior to this Mentor Exchange, I’ve been involved in mentoring outside of CA ANZ, both as mentor and mentee. I enjoy helping people coming through, and it’s a way to give back. 

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To kick things off we had our first meeting at a pub not far from Dana’s office for lunch. I prefer to keep things a little casual (but still professional) in order to help the mentee relax. The first session was all about building rapport and defining what Dana wanted to get out of the programme.

Dana was great. She definitely engaged in the process and was very interested in how her career could progress. Her focus and level of engagement made it a really easy programme to participate in and hopefully I’ve made a positive contribution to the way she thinks about her career and works through the challenges that pop up in day-to-day business.

I’ll be more than happy to keep in touch with Dana, catch up for a coffee (or beer) from time to time and help out in her career in any way I can. 

What was most valuable to me personally about the programme was making myself find the time to get out of the grind of the office and go and chat to Dana and reflect. Having to think about my messaging and the conversations with Dana from an advice perspective forced me to think about what was going on around me, and that can only be a good thing. I found myself speaking to Dana, thinking, “I’m well overdue for some mentoring myself.”

I believe everyone needs a mentor from time to time. There is no substitute for experience (and scars!) and it’s important people pass on these lessons to help people coming through. One of the single biggest benefits of mentoring is that it just makes you stop, think and reflect – and that is really important. Otherwise it can be hard to self-improve, or even identify where you need to improve personally and professionally.

I also think it doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are, you can always benefit from an independent view to help you work through whatever challenge you may be facing.