How to carve out a new financial career in Australia

As Victoria celebrates Cultural Diversity Week we talk to senior finance executive, Cleide Pereira, about building a successful career as a finance professional, migrating from Brazil to Australia and the importance of networks in discovering opportunities.

What are you focused on achieving in your current role right now? 

Aconex delivers mobile and web based collaboration technologies for project management, so my team is always looking to provide financial insights that help the business improve profitability.  It is a fast-growing sales-focused business, so our job is to bring more financial insight and rigour to the way we operate. That includes educating the regional managers on financial KPI’s and supporting them to achieve their goals. It’s a very competitive market, so we have to be responsive and demonstrate strong commercial understanding.

You’re originally from Brazil. What led you to move to Australia?

Back in 2002, my husband and I were newly married and had no kids so we decided to see some of the world and learn English. I came to Australia as a student initially planning to stay for a couple of years…and now it's been 13 years!

What were the key challenges you faced coming here to study and work?

It was very challenging when we first arrived because my husband and I didn't speak English and we weren’t sure how to connect with the Brazilian expat community. We didn’t have tools like Facebook which play such an important role in connecting new arrivals now. The expat community has grown exponentially.

How did your career path evolve? Did you do further study?

Once I learned English, I started doing my masters in professional accounting at Victoria University. It was a good option, building on my bachelor's degree in economics and meeting the skilled migration requirements that enabled me to stay in Australia and build a career.

And what about your first job?

My first accounting role was as an accounts payable officer in the pharmaceutical industry, but I was bored there because I had deeper skills. My career story shows just how important networks can be. One day I was having dinner with the CEO of M2 Telecommunications – his Brazilian wife happened to be a friend - and I mentioned that I wasn’t being challenged at work. I thought I was just chatting with friends, but afterwards he put me forward for a job at M2 Telecommunications as an assistant accountant. I had an interview with the CFO and got the job.  

Were there good opportunities for career progression?

I threw myself into the challenges, took up every opportunity that came my way over time and went on to become Group Financial Controller. I had a bit of luck - to be in the right position at the right time - but it takes a positive attitude, hard work and commitment to turn luck into solid career progression in a fast growing company. After almost a decade at M2, Rachel Morton at Marshall McAdam connected me with a host of new opportunities.  She really understood what I wanted in my next role and how to help me find the right fit. As long as I’m being challenged, I thrive.

How does professional life here compare with that in Brazil?

There are greater protections for employees in Australia so conditions are better and you have good job security. In Brazil, there's a lot more competition for jobs, so you're always insecure in your work. I’ve been very lucky to have supportive leaders during my career and I think the relationship between frontline staff, managers and CEOs is one of the biggest differences between working in the two countries. Organisations are more open and inclusive in Australia. You can have coffee with the CEO in the kitchen. In Brazil that doesn't happen. Those doors don’t open unless you are a senior executive.

Is there anything you miss about day to day work life in Brazil?

There seems to be more distinction between friendship and being work colleagues in Australia. I think here it's difficult to move from a relationship as work colleagues to a friendship outside work. I do have fun here but in Brazil we integrate a lot more. You go out with your colleagues socially and they become friends.

Are you involved in the Brazilian expat community in Melbourne?

I am involved with the Brazilian Association. As well as participating in the social events they host to welcome newcomers from Brazil, I am also a point of contact for professionals in the finance field. I provide them with some network contacts as well as insights into how I went about developing my career in Australia. The organisation also plays an important role in retaining or learning Brazilian language skills. I have two kids and it's important to me to keep them connected to their background.

Speaking of kids, how do you juggle senior roles and parenthood?

My role as a financial controller was very demanding and I had young children at the time. Those are the most challenging times but you can’t always plan when opportunity is going to strike. If you have good support at home and good job flexibility with your employer, you can make it work. But there are only so many hours in a day and looking back on that time, I sometimes wonder how I did it all.  But I did and it was worth it.