Date posted: 13/10/2020 3 min read

Career growth comes from learning

Learning how businesses operate and honing her emotional intelligence gave Sabah Hussain a wealth of experiences over a 15-year career.

In Brief

  • CA designation provides the rigour required for critical thinking and problem solving
  • Developing resilience comes from staying your own path
  • Using every opportunity to learn and grow

Sabah Hussain has worked in public practice and a variety of businesses, immersing herself in their processes to understand how the organisation operated.

She toured regional areas for Tip Top Australia and zoomed around a warehouse in a buggy at Fox Studios Australia during the filming of US TV series Modern Family.

Her training started with a Bachelor of Business, majoring in accounting and finance, at the University of Technology Sydney while she worked full time for a small insolvency firm. Hussain had direct access to the founder of the firm and learned early on how he acquired clients and expanded the business.

In this seven year-long role, she acquired invaluable communication skills – "the small things that make a big difference" – such as how to draft a sensitive letter and how to talk on the phone and face-to-face to clients who were distressed.

"I found it very human and emotional," she says. "Sometimes I had to tell people that they were not going to get their money when they've invested their super and their life savings and their worker's comp. That was difficult."

A turning point for Hussain was her next role in the head office of a printing and copying franchise company. She'd just finished her Chartered Accountant certification and she was able to put into practice exactly what she'd learned directly in a business for the first time.

"You must have a feeling of self-worth"

"I was very thankful that the CA designation gives you that rigour of how to think critically. From insolvency, I also had the experience of walking into feral environments and having to puzzle everything out."

Hussain also had a supportive mentor through the CA ANZ Mentor Exchange program who helped her develop both technical skills in tax and financial accounting, but also emotional intelligence.

"If you've always had the path cleared for you, you'll never develop resilience," she says. "But I learned you should always make decisions based on your health, your dignity and your career. You must have a feeling of self-worth, that there's only so much you'll take and then you'll walk."

When Hussain found herself in a situation where she felt compromised, she resigned. "If you feel like you're either not learning or you can't change things and you don't feel right about it no matter how good the role or the industry is, you have to make that decision for yourself," she says.

Instead, she progressively found rewarding roles that stretched her skills and capabilities with Fox Studios Australia, George Western Foods, Harper Collins and then Moelis Securities, a financial services group. But before she started each new role, she had a winning formula.

"The takeaway for me is before you jump into Excel, the process and the models and find out what your incumbent did, put that all away and take a month to learn the business," she says.

At Fox Studios Australia, she toured the set of Modern Family and met with the film's support crew to understand their pain points. At George Western Foods, she travelled into regional Queensland, Victoria and NSW, wearing the Tip Top uniform accompanying sales reps to meet customers.

"I got out of my comfort zone"

"To be effective, you need to understand what the front end of any business is actually doing," Hussain says. "You can't be sitting in the head office behind a computer and expect to know everything. You have to be out there. Basically, I got out of my comfort zone and I built up a lot of respect."

Forging relationships was important for all her roles. "I learned to build relationships long before you need them. Some finance people sometimes get caught out when they start relationships only when they need some information and that's very disingenuous."

Along the way, Hussain has enhanced her capabilities with CPD courses in areas such as tax. She also attended Young CA events on issues such as career change, financial literacy and wealth management.

"As accountants, we're great at giving advice but not at looking at our own books," she says. "What really helped me was learning about commerce or finance in a real-life context.”

Her self-education has also entailed making herself a more well-rounded person rather than focusing solely on career-focused courses. She studied to become a qualified personal fitness trainer and gained official proficiency in Japanese.

Hussain now works with CA ANZ in Sydney as a Senior Financial Analyst.

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