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Changing job roles can prove a challenge but embracing the new opportunities that come with them may pay off in ways you never expected.
This is exactly how Anna Lee CA approached her career transition from the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to Chief Operating Officer (COO) at leading online fashion retailer, The ICONIC.
"Being in finance for over 20 years, I was always commercially and operationally minded. I think that has helped me in my career as I haven't just stuck to numbers but have developed my skill set and expanded upon my interests," Anna says.
We speak to Anna about transitioning between the roles, why the numbers still matter in operations and the skills you need to do both jobs well.
Understanding the numbers
With online retail constantly evolving as new trends and technologies arise, Anna knows first-hand that the CFO at The ICONIC is always busy keeping up.
"Being an online retailer, you need to be ahead of technology and pushing out new and fun features to connect with your customer base who are digital natives. I work in an industry that is exciting and not slowing down. It pushes us to always be innovative and disruptive," Anna says.
Looking back on her journey and achievements as the CFO at The ICONIC, Anna believes she would not have developed a deep understanding of the business without the lessons and opportunities she was given.
"As the CFO, you have an understanding of the intricacies of the business which gives you a good understanding of how the operation areas function by default. Having a finance background provides you with a strong understanding of important metrics like productivity and efficiency."
Experiencing the business at a different level
In her former role as the CFO of The ICONIC, Anna played the role of the 'trusted advisor' and gained the credibility and trust from the board and investors. When the COO opportunity came about, Anna didn't hesitate to put up her hand.
"It was an opportunity that arose as the business continued to grow and my CEO knew I was keen for new challenges. I had enjoyed being in finance for many years, over 20 in fact and knew this role would be both an opportunity to capitalise on my financial and commercial acumen as well as being a steep learning curve. It seemed like a very natural progression," Anna says.
Being commercially and operationally minded assisted Anna to explore a new career path where she is able to build on her leadership skills.
"Every year, every day and every minute, you are learning something new. Learning how to apply that information helps you understand where it fits into the big picture."
"In my role as COO, about 60-70% is looking after the operations at The ICONIC. Operations is a vast array of functions within the business, primarily customer service, marketplace, production, vendor management and some projects as well. It's important to regularly check in with the team to see if there's any concerns that they might have for the week and ensure that we have transparency on what all the different areas we are working on. This gives us the ability to ask questions, align and collaborate further," Anna explains.
Now managing a team of 600 people with a focus on performance and customer implications, Anna knew she'd need to complement her commercial and financial business acumen with efforts to develop strong relationships with her staff.
"I think it is really important to support your team and appreciate the work that they do because they really are our frontline to our customers. I spent time shadowing our customer service and fulfilment team to get hands-on experience in handling customer enquiries and resolving issues."
"I recall a customer contacting us to find out if a particular dress was going to be restocked in her size. Unfortunately, one of our team members discovered that we were not going to get any more stock, but rather than just saying no, our team member proceeded to search our site to find similar styled items in our customer's size to recommend to her. The customer was delighted and blown away by the proactive response. She ended up buying one of the styles recommended and left a 5-star review for our team member."
With a new role also comes a new way of working, and Anna initially found herself challenged by the responsibilities and processes that come with being COO.
"There's no cookie cutter COO role, it's really what you make of it. I had my strengths in understanding the numbers and the mechanics of how things worked but operationally, there were a lot of processes that I wasn't so familiar with. I relied heavily on my willingness and commitment to learn what was happening."
The best of both roles
When it comes to understanding the changes in her role and responsibilities at The ICONIC, Anna says she regularly draws on her previous role as CFO.
"I have been able to use my financial knowledge and skill set to provide insight to stakeholders on what is happening in the business, and how we deal with business units and departments within the business," Anna explains.
"I have developed the COO role into something that is more than what we would call the operations person. This role has pushed me to bring the support that the teams need, whether it be from cross-functional areas or board support on investments, or to lead and encourage collaboration."
While Anna's determination and passion for fashion has seen her transition into a new role, she credits the CA Program for teaching her the skills she needed to respond and act in times where there might be change.
"The process that you have to go through with the CA Program teaches you a lot around having that discipline on how to learn. Every year, every day and every minute, you are learning something new. Learning how to apply that information helps you understand where it fits into the big picture," Anna says.
"At the end of the day, your career is driven by you and how willing you are to work on improving yourself. It is about being the best version of yourself that you can be. In order to be considered for really great roles and opportunities early in your career, you can't afford to not have an edge on people, and I do think that having the CA qualification definitely adds to that."
Note: Since this story was first published, Anna has moved onto a new position as the Chief Executive Officer at Flybuys (Loyalty Pacific).