'International experience' the take-home message for young alumni

By Victoria George

The benefit of gaining international experience was the key take-home message for young alumni of the Faculty of Business and Economics at the annual Business Leaders Breakfast this June.

Held at ACMI in Federation Square, the event gave guests – who were aged 35 and under and early in their careers - the opportunity to meet ten prominent Australian business leaders who studied at the Faculty, who divulged their top career tips.

The morning began with an address by three business leaders giving their reflections on the topic of international careers.

William Cowan AM (BA, BCom 2000), Director at Directioneering a leading Australian executive career strategy firm, has more than 30 years’ experience in senior management positions.

Today his main work involves coaching chief executives, “helping them decide what to do with their lives”.

William’s key advice for the young alumni was to think about themselves, what they want out of their careers, and to work overseas.

I would certainly recommend that you go overseas. We are in a global world - if you want to do your best for Australia, go overseas. William Cowan

“Australians do very well overseas. They’re well educated, they try to get things done, and they like to see results.”

“You’ll take a lot of risks in your careers”

Christopher Thorn (centre), Partner at Ernst and Young, speaks to alumni aged 35 and under who are in their early careers.

Andrew Bonwick (MCom 1988) is a Partner at executive search firm Fish & Nankivell, whose career has covered a number of industrial and service sectors, including CEO and Non-Executive Director roles in ASX listed companies.

He added to William’s point, highlighting the benefits of working in different cultures.

“When you work overseas you go and swim in a different culture. My observation is that when you take execs and put them in a different culture, they become analytical about what things are important and what things are interesting.

“The other important thing is independence. You’re going to go to a different place, so it breeds independence, which is very important.

Finding how to work in the culture of an organisation and getting people to do what you want is really important. Andrew Bonwick

“You’ll take a lot of risks in your careers, you really will. You’re going to have to find what the risk is to take you overseas.”

“Apply integrity to everything that you do”

Gloria Goh (BCom Hons 1982) is a retired Partner of Ernst & Young, Malaysia and former Council Member of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) and the ASEAN Federation of Accountants. She has worked in three different countries, and is currently an Independent Non-executive Director of the Malaysia Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Larisa Moran, Chief Operating Officer at Woods Bagot, answers questions.

She told the young alumni they needed to seize opportunities as they arise: “If you actually take an interest and look at your career beyond just a job – it’s amazing,” she said.

“You [need to be] on the look-out for opportunities. If you are prepared to accept and embrace change, if you are willing to stand up and say ‘yes I will be willing to be part of any project’, you will learn a lot.

“Apply integrity to everything you do. If you have empathy for people, you enjoy learning about other cultures, you are adaptable, and respectful of how other cultures may be different from ours, you will have a wonderful time.

I get up every morning looking forward to going to work, ready to meet the challenges. Gloria Goh

After the sharing their key insights, William, Andrew and Gloria joined their fellow business leaders seated amongst young alumni guests.

Throughout the morning the leaders rotated around the tables, so each table got to hear directly from three of the business leaders, asking them any questions on their minds.

Going overseas has been “life-changing”

Barry Vienet (BCom 1980) Managing Director at Johnson Recruitment, was one of the business leaders who joined the tables of the young alumni.

During his career he spent four years working in London and three in Singapore and said those experiences were “life-changing”.

He also told the table of young alumni that he was “crap at career planning!”

“But a senior person once said to me a valid career plan is assessing opportunities as they present themselves. And I strongly believe that – networking and assessing opportunities.”

“Stay connected with people”

Christopher Thorn AM (BCom 1997), a Partner at Ernst and Young, added to Barry’s point about networking.

He has more than 30 years’ experience working across private wealth management, institutional equities, philanthropy and social investment in Melbourne, New York and Brisbane.

One of the young alumni asked Chris what had been the most important thing in his career. Chris said it all comes down to your networks: “I think it’s actually about the people,” he said.

“It’s important to develop your people skills and stay connected with people.

“In some ways this is easier now with LinkedIn. I would encourage people to keep those networks up-to-date.”

Back row (L-R): FBE business leaders Christopher Thorn, William Cowan AM, Barry Vienet and Andrew Bonwick with Simon Bolles, Vice Chair, Business and Economics Alumni Council. Front row (L-R): Chris Smith, Business and Economics Alumni Council member, with business leaders David Shafer, Gloria Goh, Katherine Leong, Alison Conn, Larisa Moran and Christopher Lock.

Along with the alumni mentioned in this article, our thanks goes to (Alison Conn (BA, BCom 2000), Katherine Leong (BCom, BSc 2001), Christopher Lock (Mapp Fin 2010), Larisa Moran (BCom 1994) and David Shafer (BCom, LLB Hons 2005) for sharing their advice with guests and the Business and Economics Alumni Council for supporting the event.

This event is only one way that Faculty of Business and Economics alumni share their time and expertise to support others. Let us know how you are learning from, or sharing your expertise with your alumni community by sending us an email to fbe-alumni@unimelb.edu.au.