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In December 2017, Mike Bellemore landed in Toronto wearing the same winter coat that his father wore when he was starting his career in Canada back in 1985.
Bursting with stories about ski trips, hockey games and lifelong friendships, Mike credits his Canadian secondment with teaching him a lot about accounting - and a lot about himself.
After being promoted to Senior Consultant at PwC, Mike was feeling comfortable with his team and with his new position. However, when the chance to take a secondment to Canada presented itself, he didn't think twice.
"The great thing about accounting is that accounting standards are very similar globally," Mike explains. "So your knowledge and skills transfer easily to other regions like the Americas, Europe and Asia."
The work that Mike does, primarily in audit, isn't a nine-to-five desk job every day of the year - it's seasonal. To help manage fluctuating workloads effectively, PwC has a global "employee swapping" program where secondments are timed to cover busy periods.
In Toronto, Mike worked with clients including specialists in calculating and processing the complex paychecks for TV and movie stars, a company in the manufacturing industry, and a large distributor of video games in North America.
"What was really interesting for me is that a lot of these companies have subsidiaries across Latin America including Peru, Panama, Colombia and Chile and Mexico," Mike says. "Working with our PwC counterparts in the Latin American countries - and sometimes needing translators to speak Spanish - that was a totally different experience."
Having worked within the same team for the last six years back at home, he has become accustomed to the leadership styles of his managers and partners. Mike credits his secondment with giving him the opportunity branch out and advance his professional development.
"In Canada, it was great to work with three different partners, and five different managers, and having to adapt to their style," he says. "It's a really valuable professional skill to have."
Mike's time overseas also provided him with the opportunity to grow as a person. Being pushed outside of his comfort zone, living alone for the first time in an unfamiliar city and having to engage with a whole new team were not without their challenges.
"I taught myself to cook - well, I knew a few things. But my mum gave me this cookbook for Christmas, so I took it over with me, and I ended up cooking as many dishes as I could, so that I could come home and impress my partner, friends and housemates with my new culinary skills," Mike recalls.
As a travel enthusiast, Mike took advantage of the chance to explore the world around him as often as he could - while ensuring his Instagram was up-to-date for his friends back home to enjoy.
"I had eleven weekends in total, and I was able to make it to about eight different cities," Mike recalls. "A lot of my friends back home were pretty jealous, and started wondering if I was doing any work at all because my Instagram feed was full of different, beautiful locations!"
Another benefit of heading north for a few months was gaining a glimpse into the future.
"The US and Canadian PwC offices are generally the early adopters of new audit methodology and technology," Mike explains. "So it was really beneficial to have the opportunity to put these into practice in Canada now that we're starting to implement these tools back home in Australia."
During his first week back at work on Australian soil, his team at PwC began introducing some of the new practices Mike had spent three months working with overseas. This meant that he could assist with the implementation of the changes and attest to their benefits.
"I was actually able to tell my team, 'Hey, guys, I know this is a new way of working and sometimes it can be a bit scary but I've seen it in action, and there's certainly a return on investment coming," Mike says. "Straight away people had a bit more confidence in the new processes that we were introducing."
Additionally, Mike's Canadian audit teams were larger than the teams he leads back home, giving him the opportunity to work on his mentorship skills. He was responsible for three different teams, and ensured that each team member set and achieved goals in line with their professional and personal development. Every Friday, the team convened to share feedback with one another, and set objectives for the upcoming week.
"I saw a massive improvement in my junior team members' performance and the quality of their work, just in a period of four to six weeks, so that's really rewarding for me," Mike says. But he couldn't have done it without the CA Program, which he graduated from in 2017.
"The Canadian firm were paying for someone to come over, and they want someone who they know will have a certain level of expertise," he explains. "Having the CA designation means that they have all the confidence that they can assign a portfolio of clients to me before I'm even there, knowing that I'll be able to deliver each engagement without any issues."
For those considering a secondment Mike advises to: "Get some experience under your belt, get qualified, and work hard to make it happen."
"You can always start with a short secondment of a few months, and then consider a longer one in the future," he shares. "But I absolutely think it's one of the best things you can do, both for your personal development and for your professional development. It looks really good on your CV to have that international experience - it's something that I would definitely recommend to everyone."
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