Date posted: 3/12/2018 8 mins min read

The London mentor connection

With a shared Antipodean background, London-based chartered accountants Wendy Peoples and Michelle Mak formed an immediate bond when they started their mentoring relationship.

In Brief

  • The CA ANZ Mentor Exchange program runs from October to April each year.
  • Places are available for both mentors and mentees, and registrations open in July/August 2019.
  • It's not only mentees that benefit. Mentor Wendy Peoples FCA found the experience gave her a chance to look at her own career.
As told to Carolyn Boyd

Wendy Peoples FCA

Chief Financial Officer of Havas People, part of Paris-based Havas Group, which is one of Europe’s largest advertising and communications firms.

I first came over to London in 1997 with a plan to stay for 18 months and then go home to Auckland. But it just never happened. I’ve been here for 21 years now.

After moving to London, I spent some time travelling backwards and forwards to complete my studies in Malaysia. In June 2001, I completed my CA qualification and, from there, more opportunities opened up.

By the mid-2000s I was at a point in my career where I was searching for that next leap, but I was slightly clueless as to what to do. Then an opportunity came along to become a financial controller at Havas-owned ad agency Euro RSCG Riley [now Havas People]. I’m so glad that I went for it.

Two years later, in 2007, I was promoted to my first chief financial officer role. Twelve years later and I’m now in my fourth CFO role within the Havas Group.

It was a proud moment in November 2017 when I became a CA ANZ Fellow. I volunteered for the CA ANZ Mentor Exchange program because it felt like a great opportunity to help someone to move forward, or just give them some guidance. It would have been great to have had someone like that when I was stuck at that level; when I was thinking, ‘Right, I know where I need to go but I don’t have a bloody clue how to get there’.

There certainly was a stage in my career where I didn’t have that help, and Ireally could have done with it.

Years ago, there was a period where I really lacked confidence. When I met Michelle I saw that a bit in her, too. I could tell from talking to her that she was rated in the job that she was doing, so I just tried to instil confidence in her to have the conversations that maybe she’d been dithering about, or was not sure she should.

She’s on the right track. She knows what path she wants to go down and I think she’s got the right balance. She just needs to have confidence.

“The whole experience of being a mentor has actually made me sit back and think – what do I need to do next? Where is my career going now? I got a lot out of it.”
Wendy Peoples FCA

Being an Aussie and Kiwi both living in London definitely helped us form a bond. Michelle brings back a lot of memories for me. She wants to get ahead. She wants to travel. She wants to do all those things that I came over here to do. There’s a lot in common from that point of view and, of course, we have our careers in common as well. And she’s a nice girl. I really like her.

The whole experience of being a mentor has actually made me sit back and think – what do I need to do next? Where is my career going now? I got a lot out of it.

I’ve found the support provided through the CA ANZ Mentor Exchange program fantastic. There’s a lot of joy in helping someone. It’s huge. It’s been very satisfying for me.

Michelle Mak CA

Commercial Finance Manager at Deliveroo, a technology company powering restaurant deliveries, founded in London 2013 and now a multibillion dollar global enterprise.

Wendy has been a really lovely mentor. She’s been very open. We’ve been able to have very frank conversations and I would consider her more of a friend than anything. The moment I met her I think we clicked automatically.

She’s someone who I know that, if I really get stuck in my career again, I can just contact and say, ‘Hey, what do you think? Give me your thoughts on this’. I think sometimes you just really need someone who has no ulterior motive to give you an honest opinion.

After I completed my Bachelor of Commerce, Accounting and Finance at the University of NSW [in 2011], I got my first job as an accountant at Deloitte’s Western Sydney office in Parramatta. It wasn’t far from where I went to high school in Girraween.

After qualifying as a chartered accountant, I took a role as a financial accountant with [food and beverage group] Lion, but my partner and I were keen to try living in another country.

I love to travel and had two stints overseas while I was studying: one in Beijing for an intensive Mandarin course, and another in Gothenburg, Germany as an exchange student.

In early 2016, I accepted a three-month contract and came to London to test the waters. I just wanted something different – the worst that could happen was that my partner and I would go home.

Sydney is a big city but the accounting community still felt quite small. Everywhere I went there was someone I knew, fighting for the same opportunity. Here in London, I was able to gain some independence and really challenge myself.

About a year ago I was in that transition period where I was trying to make the move from technical accounting roles to the commercial accounting side. [But] it’s really hard when you’re in a new position, in a new country, and not really sure where you want to go.

Being mentored by Wendy has really helped me. She is in a much more senior role than me and has loads of experience to share.

At the point we were paired through the CAANZ Mentor Exchange, I was also working in the media industry [at NBC Universal], which made me feel very connected to Wendy.

Even though I worked on a different side of the media industry to her, we did connect on that type of level. Media companies are very well known for, I guess, the types of people they hire. I knew that in terms of a cultural understanding as to how a company works, we would get along.

Talking to Wendy, she gave me confidence. She helped me through our conversations to see my strengths and how I could apply all these strengths to any role. This is different to what a recruiter might tell you.

In July 2018, I began my current role with Deliveroo, and now I work for one of the fastest growing start-ups in Europe. It’s really exciting.

I do feel like mentoring should be a two-way process, not just me soaking up as many ideas and thoughts as I can. So it would be good if I could give something back to Wendy, but I’m not really sure what I could give to her.

It was really nice having someone in the community who was able to guide me. In terms of helping me get a job, I think that was something that I had to do on my own, but in terms of the personal and emotional work that I needed to do, Wendy has been a great support.


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