Date posted: 27/10/2020 4 min read

People skills power ‘unintended accountant’ to finance leader

Developing soft skills from the beginning of your career is important if you want to reach the C-suite, says finance director Cormac Denton CA.

In Brief

  • Cormac Denton CA has evolved during his career from a technical accountant to senior management.
  • He’s had to develop leadership skills, to empower his employees and not micromanage them
  • Denton advises early-career accountants to develop communication and people management skills early.

Born with dyslexia, Cormac Denton CA initially found numbers difficult, and he describes himself as an “unintended accountant”.

“My real drive was to become an entrepreneur - that was my sole goal,” says Denton, explaining why he took finance and accounting at university.

During his course at Victoria University in Wellington, Denton helped his flatmate start a panel beating business from scratch and grow it into a flourishing company. The experience confirmed his belief that an accountant could be the engine that powered an enterprise.

After working at Audit New Zealand and at various companies in the UK, including Westfield Group, he returned to New Zealand and joined Kāpura, a large Wellington-based hospitality group, as CFO.

He says Kāpura’s CEO, Jamie Williams, became one of the greatest influences in his career. “He moved me from not being just a technical person to become more human-focussed and visionary.”

Denton spent almost four-and-a-half years at Kāpura but realised it was time to tackle his next career step. He is now Finance Director of PAE NZ, a facilities management specialist.

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is if you leave a role when you love it and you’re really enjoying it, then that’s actually the best time to go because you’ll see clearly the challenges that next role will bring to you.”  
Cormac Denton CA

Reflecting on the skills he’s needed for the various roles he’s held, Denton has realised that his technical skills, while important, are not what he uses most at the moment.

The biggest hurdle that many people face in their career as they move through the ranks to more senior positions is letting go, he says.

“So you were the technical person, the go-to person. And now it’s really hard but you have to do a reset and look at the overall picture and understand what that means.”

In his current role, Denton has to consider the implications of a decision not only through a financial lens but also how it affects IT, HR and operations, as well as focusing on employees and the impact on clients and the market.

“Now the skills I require have dramatically changed. I need the skills for people management, human capital and leadership. I’ve learned how to change a culture within an organisation, to negotiate with other people in power, on the board and other organisations.”

As Denton has evolved into a leader, he’s learned not to micromanage his team. “I’ve discovered how far I can push and pull my team and make sure they have enough leash so that they can hurt themselves, they can fail, but they won’t ultimately really fail because they learn on the journey.”

His advice to younger accountants is to develop their communication and people management skills from the beginning of their career if they want to reach the C-suite, because he doesn’t believe people can ever really “future-proof” themselves.

“There’s no guarantee. For an individual to evolve and grow you need to take that leap early and get a wealth of knowledge so that you can start to interact in other fields. Because that’s where excitement happens, but that’s also where understanding of how you can grow and mould organisations start to happen as well.”

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