- Helen Argiris FCA started her career manually entering numbers in a ledger. Now she chairs BDO
- Continuous learning and mentorship has enabled her to develop leadership skills, and progress her career
- Nurturing other people in her organisation is why she loves her job
The pivotal career moment for Helen Argiris FCA came when she was on maternity leave. "The office called and said 'how quickly can you come back because we want to make you a partner.'"
Argiris is now Chairman of BDO Australia — one of Australia's largest associations of independently owned accounting practices — where she's had a career of more than 30 years.
The accounting profession has evolved "from number crunchers to advisors", but she says she never had to push up against any glass ceiling because she's a woman.
"I never faced any attitudes like 'you can't do that'. Instead, it was 'You can do everything. Let's just have a go at it'," she says. "The firm had such an open-door policy and everyone was very nurturing. If I had an ambition, I'd talk about it and sooner or later an opportunity prevailed."
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At the same time as becoming a partner, BDO management wanted her to head up People and Culture.
"That was my first panic attack, because I thought: Oh my gosh, human resources, I don't know anything about that," she says. "That's when I realised that if you don't continue to learn every minute of every day you don't remain relevant."
Argiris says she has always invested a lot of time in reading, attending webinars and conferences and learning from other people, working with both internal and external mentors, so that she can receive regular constructive feedback.
The personal why
She has enjoyed mentoring others too. "Ultimately, you're only as good as the people around you. The personal 'why' of this job for me is taking care of the people in my organisation and developing them and getting the most reward out of seeing their career blossom."
Until she became a partner, Argiris says she was a back-office person. In her first accounting job during uni, she entered figures in a ledger by hand. After becoming a partner at BDO, she became client-facing for the first time.
Today, as accounting processes are automated, making it quicker for accountants to analyse and understand an organisation's performance, even new graduates get the opportunity to interact with clients directly.
"We're expecting all our teams to be far more advisory. So we need quite well-rounded people delivering that capability," she says.
"Technical skills are the foundation of any firm but emotional intelligence to understand clients, presentation and communication skills are key."
Argiris has developed her own management and leadership skills. "The secret is how do you bring along your team? How do you bring along every partner and every staff member for that journey? You have to combine all your skill sets and remember that everyone's going to react to something differently."
These skills have served Argiris well outside of work. She's a board member for three not-for-profits and says her skills from managing BDO are very transferable.
"I really enjoy those boards, because you're actually adding value, real value, to an organisation where they don't have the dollars to pay for that skill set. You physically see the benefit that you're able to provide and you get the opportunity to nurture and develop the people in those organisations as well."
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