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Episode 13, Emma Brown, Finance Director, MedicalDirector

  • Posted 29 Mar 2021
  • Richard Holmes
  • Podcast

Emma Brown is a high energy and resourceful executive who enjoys inspiring others to push the boundaries of what is possible to deliver exceptional commercial results. 

With over 10 years leadership experiences manage broad remit including finance, people and culture, commercial strategy, legal risk and compliance customer insights and it functions starting her journey within the big four in the UK and Australia. She has forged a successful Fast Track career in hydrotherapy, and ASX listed companies and has also gained valuable experience in the nonprofit space. 

Emma was awarded the UN Women NCAA NBA scholarship in recognition of her work in creating career opportunities for women and improving gender diversity through policy and flexibility. She was also selected as a finalist for the 2020 Telstra Business Women's Award.

Transcript Please note that this has been transcribed by AI/Bots so there may be typos and the occasional strange things happening. Richard Holmes 0:02 Welcome to the numbers people podcast in partnership with HPR consulting a leading Sydney executive finance recruitment firm. I'm your host Richard Holmes. Emma Brown is a high energy and resourceful executive who enjoys inspiring others to push the boundaries of what is possible to deliver exceptional commercial results. With over 10 years leadership experiences manage broad remit including finance, people and culture, commercial strategy, legal risk and compliance customer insights and it functions starting her journey within the big four in the UK and Australia. She has forged a successful Fast Track career in hydrotherapy, and ASX listed companies and has also gained valuable experience in the nonprofit space. Emma was awarded the UN Women NCAA NBA scholarship in recognition of her work in creating career opportunities for women and improving gender diversity through policy and flexibility. She was also selected as a finalist for the 2020 Telstra Business Women's Award. Emma, good to see you. How are you? Emma Brown 1:11 Thanks, Richard. Good to see you today. Richard Holmes 1:13 Excellent. And I've known me for a while now. And I've seen him progress through Korea. And I think she's got a really interesting and brilliant story. Would you like to tell us? Well? Emma Brown 1:22 Yeah, sure. So Hi, everyone. I'm Emma. I started my career journey at KPMG. In the UK. I had aspirations to come to Australia from sort of an early age, I went backpacking, when I was 18. stayed with a friend in Coogee Beach and like fell in love with it and thought, right, I need to go home and get a career which is going to allow me to come back to Sydney. And so that's where becoming an accountant came from really. So yeah, I trained with KPMG. In the UK, I did my ACA, which is the equivalent to the Australian ca. And once I was qualified, I came over here and joined video. And the reason for that was they were actually quite actively recruiting accountants from the UK at that time. And it just seemed like a really great cultural fit. There are a lot of us experts joining at that time. So I was able to, you know, make a little family of other people doing the same things in their lives. I really enjoyed working there, I worked on some sort of medium sized to large sized clients in Sydney, and really diverse range of industries. And I was able to learn a lot about about different businesses and how they operated. So I was in the audit division, which isn't, you know, the sexiest one to be in. But it does give you that really good broad base in terms of learning about different businesses. So I got, I guess, I got to the assistant manager level, and I sort of reassessed my career and I thought, you know, am I going to aspire to be an audit partner? Or am I going to do something different, and I wasn't quite sure. And so I decided to actually join Ei in their audit practice just to give the Big Four in Sydney a go see if that was what I was missing out on, or whether it was just that I'd sort of run my course with audit, and I stayed there for just under a year. And then I did decide, yeah, I want to go into commerce. And I want to use my skills to really help a business grow. So rather than being on the sidelines, and just telling them, you know, what adjustments they need to make the last year, I decided that I wanted to get stuck into the operational side of the business. And I'd had an interest in technology, my dad actually had his own technology company. And so I'd always really enjoyed working on our technology clients. And so I joined our team, which was an ASX listed tech company. And they're a really, really interesting company. They started, I think, in the 90s in Tasmania, and they're sort of Australian born and bred. But they're now a large global company. And they've done really, really well. And so it was really nice to share in a small part of that success story as the group finance manager. So once I'd been there for sort of a year or so I've done a half year, I've done a year and I decided to do something completely different. I wanted really like a more operationally focused role. And I also wanted to do something which really sort of sparked a passion for me. And so I joined Cerebral Palsy Alliance, which is a large not for profit, which works in providing services and accommodation, and also doing research into cerebral palsy. And I joined there as the finance manager, but my mandate was really around commercializing, and not for profit business, to in order for it to be successful under the NDA is which was a scheme whereby funding was given to the person with a disability rather than funding given to the NGO and the organization upfront. And that meant that we had to then as an organization provide services and therapies that the participant actually wanted rather than the participant being told by the government, this is what you're going to get. So it's a fantastic change in the disability sector, but it was really, really challenging for disability organizations to be able to actually, you know, ride that wave and to be successful under those new circumstances. So part of my Roll was really the digital transformation of the business, Emma Brown 5:04 changing all of the systems to cope with the different funding structure, as well as thinking about customer segmentation, different pricing and marketing to our new kind of customer segments, rather than people who were just directed to us by the government. So that was really interesting. And again, I went through a really successful period with that organization. And we actually grew the business almost twofold, thanks to the government actually exiting from provision of the services and sort of privatizing that. So Cerebral Palsy Alliance, were able to acquire some more accommodation services, which was the most profitable part of the business. And that then allows them to redirect funds into research and providing some of those other services. So again, that was really exciting to be a part of. But I decided, I think that once I came to the end of that kind of transformation project that I wanted to go and push myself and do something that scared me. And so I joined medical director, which is where I currently am, and I joined as the financial controller. And the reason that that scared me, I suppose, is because they're private equity owned, and I'd always kind of heard about, you know, investment bankers, private equity, it's all, you know, really scary. And they're really demanding. And it's a really difficult place to work. And they have very, very high expectations, but I thought, you know, what, I think I'm up to it, I'm going to go and join this private equity business. And the thing that really attracted me again, was that transformation piece. So they had recently acquired medical director, they wanted to grow it, you know, change it, make it more profitable, and then exit in three to five years. And I thought, great, I want to be a part of that journey. And so I'm still here today, I've been promoted, since I joined to finance director. And that's really a reflection of the breadth of my role. So I look after the Strategy Team, the customer insights team, the finance team, and I also partner with very closely with the gems of the various different business units and the head of sales. And so it's a really broad role, I have a lot of dealings with the private equity board, which has been a really great learning curve for me. And we have grown the business, you know, we've doubled EBIT da since I joined, which, you know, I like to take some responsibility for although obviously, it's been a team effort on the part of everybody in medical director. And but we've also, I've also been able to really take part in shaping the culture. So when I joined, it was a spin out of a large listed business, which is hilarious. And now it's really a company in its own right with his very unique culture, and way of doing things. And I've been a part of shaping something really positive there. So that's basically brought you up to date. Richard Holmes 7:38 That's, that's actually in a nutshell. Yeah, I'll just listen to you there. It's just it's a good story. It's a great story, isn't it? Yeah. progress from from spinning audit. Yeah, that's where you know, and what what advice would you would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career a career Leo's, Emma Brown 7:54 I think, you know, when I set out, I was quite structured, I wanted to train in the Big Four and get that on my CV, as I really sort of felt that that was like a springboard to other opportunities. But since then, I haven't really had a very definite plan. And I've let my heart lead my decisions as much as my head. But I think that what I've always kept in mind, and this is advice that I would give to other people, you know, at any stage in their career journey, really, to be looking to the next sort of 12 to 24 months, and thinking about what you want to achieve and where you want to be. And that will be a combination of personal and professional goals. And then I always do a sort of a bit of a health check every few months or so, is what I'm doing now putting me on the path to where I want to be in that 12 to 24 months. And that might be you know, the role that you're in, or it might just be the things that you're working on within your role, or you're adding those items or experiences that are going to add value to you in your career in the future. And I think that's a way of taking some of the overwhelm out of not knowing where your career is going at any particular point in time. And also, if you do feel that you're getting a bit stuck in a certain role, just seeing whether there's other things that you can be doing within that role, or externally, such as other educational opportunities or other strings to your bow you can be adding it can take some of that pressure off, you know, trying to search for the next the next thing all the time. So that would be my main piece of advice. Richard Holmes 9:21 That is great advice, Omar. I think having that kind of two-year plan is good advice for anyone not just people in finance, it's always good to know where you're heading. You touched on when you were given us your snapshot cerebral palsy and where you are now in private equity and the challenges you face but what hurdles did you personally face and how did you overcome Emma Brown 9:44 them? I think one of the hurdles that I've always felt a little bit of being in Sydney is that I'm not from Australia. Originally. I'm not from Sydney originally. I came over here in 2013. And I knew nobody and building that network and building those relations. shifts, which become increasingly important as you progress your career. So when you get up to the kind of pointy end, you know, CFO, executive roles, a lot of it comes down from personal recommendations, referrals and who you know, as well as what you know, of course. But, you know, I think that there's that relationship piece is really important. And I was quite conscious of that when I came over here in 2013. And what I did to sort of overcome that, and what I'm still doing is really just looking for opportunities. Never say no to an opportunity. So even if it's scary, like being asked to speak today, I think it's a great way of putting yourself out there and showing people who you are and what you've got to offer. The other thing I did is I've, I'm just about to finish an MBA, so I had a fantastic opportunity. Through the UN Women, they awarded me a scholarship to undertake the MBA at the University of Sydney. And that has been an amazing way to meet people. But it's actually been really, really purposeful about those relationships. So when I'm in a team with somebody with some people working on an MBA project, it's keeping that relationship afterwards, it's not just a one-time thing to do that, that assignment, it's then a relationship for life. And asking those people to do me a favour, that's usually a good way of building trust. And then you know, you can keep that relationship going into the future, I think it's really important to not burn any bridges. So it's like, you know, recruiters that you deal with along the way, keeping that relationship going, even if you don't have necessarily like a need for recruitment services right now, you never know when you're going to need to lean on that person in the future, and finding people that are aligned with your values that you really enjoy working with, and just being really conscious of protecting and nurturing those relationships. And I think personal brand is another one, I know that it's not just me coming from the UK to Australia, who struggles with this, I think, in the age of social media, where there's so much about you available online, it's actually, you know, quite tricky to manage that personal brand. And I would say, you know, another piece of advice to others would be to be very purposeful about that. And think about what you want to project and what your customers are, like potential employers in the future are going to value and how you can sort of communicate that to the market in the best way. Richard Holmes 12:16 No, that's, that's brilliant. I mean, so with with you arriving here in Australia, seven years ago, you touch on networking. What advice would you give around networking, because networking, working in the recruitment industry, people that are networking is too hard for someone like yourself brand new to the country? What advice would you give us, Emma Brown 12:36 I think you can turn anything into a networking opportunity. So I have a young family, I'm not going to be going to you know, drinks parties every night to try and meet people. And also I find that really, actually quite hard. And I tend to drink too much in English. And but I have a lot of hobbies. So you know, I love running, I love mountain biking, I've actually met some fantastic business context through running. So I started running, when I moved to Australia in the UK, running is not a great hobby is called stone rock running in Australia is fantastic. I started by doing my commute from the Northern Beaches to the city. And so that was a great talking point with other people that I met actually on that commute, but also co workers, you know, coworkers in different departments that I might not necessarily talk to you, they saw me with my running backpack on, it was a great way to start up conversations. And I then joined a running club, and I met loads of people at the running club who, you know, what professionals worked in the city, lots of different backgrounds. And so I saw that then as an opportunity to network professionally in something that I was doing, you know, on a Saturday morning. So I didn't have to go out of my way to network, but in what you're doing anyway, just always thinking about that as an opportunity. And I suppose just when you do make a new contact or a new relationship, just looking after it, because it's hard to make to meet new people and say, when you do, you know, look after them and nurture them, nurture them. Yeah, that's true, isn't it? Yeah. Richard Holmes 13:59 I think we meet a lot of people all along the way. And we just three, three business we kind of forget about it exactly. For longer. I spoke to a guy the other day. And he said he was in a role for a few years. And he was scared to reach out to the people that he knew because he'd lost contact. And I was just like, like, just go for it. Call him up. And he's like, Emma Brown 14:18 people love to do you a favor. Honestly, it makes you know, utility as a human need like to feel useful is really great. And, you know, you always know that you go home with a great feeling when you feel like you've done something for somebody else. So don't be scared to reach out because just think about how you would feel if somebody asked you Richard Holmes 14:35 not so that's great. So working for a software business now. And you've obviously seen a lot in your career. What do you think the future of finance looks like? Yeah, so Emma Brown 14:46 I think in my last couple of roles, it's definitely been about this automation piece. And so at both the record the Alliance and here you know, there's limited resources, private equity want you to do everything for us. And so that can come through digital transformation. And it doesn't necessarily mean cutting heads, which I think is what people get scared about when they hear about, you know, replacing these bu tasks with automation. And what it actually means is be able being able to scale without adding more people, I suppose. And so that's how I've always seen it. And so I think the increasingly the future of finance is going to be increasing reliance on the finance systems, but also the integration of those finance systems into the broader business systems. So the integration with things like you know, your CRM, or your Salesforce, and other products, where we can really manage the whole lock organization through this ecosystem of systems. I also think that finance is increasingly being seen as a business enabler, and it is a business enabler. And I think that education piece that's been going on in the market for a few years is starting to gain some traction. So instead of being in a back off function, that sort of backward-looking and all about, you know, fairly inward metrics, it's becoming increasingly outward-looking and forward focus there, you see now teams of business partners, and I tend to structure my finance teams to have business partners that then work with the business, but are also looking externally at what's happening in the business, sorry, outside of the business that is going to impact us. So that is really important for the future of finance, I think, you know, I finance and strategy sits really closely in the past, they've probably been quite separate. And I think bringing that together, as well as with, you know, customer insight functions is really important to ensure that financer adding the most value to businesses, you know, in the future, Richard Holmes 16:45 I'd agree with that. It's, it's an exciting time for finances. Emma Brown 16:49 I mean, it's a lot more interesting to, you know, look at what our customers are up to, than to sort of look at a balance sheet. But so well, I think it is anyway, Richard Holmes 16:57 I think that the image of the stereotypical accountant finance person is is far gone. Emma Brown 17:03 Yeah, I think there's still you know, there's still a place for a diverse range of skillset in finance. But I think that if we can use automation really intelligently, and then you can free up people to really fulfil their potential, then that's, that's where it gets really exciting. It's, Richard Holmes 17:23 it's good. And you touched on your MBA, what a great tool, not only for a qualification but for the network. Apart from the MBA, how do you continue to stay on top of, of learning? Yeah, so Emma Brown 17:38 I think social media is a great one for that. I mean, you know, there's a lot of nonsense on so you have to be quite selective, but there are some great resources as well. And I actually, you know, in the COVID era, with us working from home, I actually really miss my commute, because that was where I used to catch up on articles on LinkedIn, and podcasts, and things like that. And so I have to be quite intentional now about making time in my day to make sure that I'm still doing, you know, my extra curricular readings. Because I think it's really helpful to keep that sort of broad mindset. And we can get really, really focused on what we're doing and get sort of sucked down rabbit holes, and we don't keep a bigger picture of you. And so, I do really try and maintain some time in the day to do that. And lying in bed at night is a great time to listen to podcasts, I find that that's a that's a really relaxing thing to do just before I go to sleep. And so that's, that's really useful. But just generally, in your day to day life, I think, you know, I'm naturally a very curious person. And I think just staying curious and being open to new ideas like, I, I don't ever really think that I know very much. And I that's not like a lack of confidence. That's just that I think that there's so much more out there to know. And there's so many people with great expertise in areas that you know, I've never ever come across. And so that's really interesting. And just keeping your ears open and your mind open to new things means that you can really learn something, you know, pretty much every time that you interact with somebody. Richard Holmes 19:01 It's, it's it's true. It's nothing we talked earlier about that, as you go through your career, you can arguably get more curious. Yes. Learn everyday, don't you? Exactly. Knowing you and you're a passionate, enthusiastic, happy person. What's your favorite thing about your career? Yeah, so Emma Brown 19:20 I think my favorite thing for sure has been in recent times, I've been able to combine a successful career with doing something that I'm passionate about an I think makes a difference to society. So both at Cerebral Palsy Alliance, which was you know, assisting people with complex disabilities, and that medical director where we're in the GP software space, and we're really at the forefront of the technology advancement in that space. So interconnectedness in healthcare, but also some really interesting projects around AI and data driven insights that are improving healthcare and really creating more proactive and preventative measures. Rather than just sort of reactive medicine, and so I've been able to combine in, in my career aspirations to continue to be promoted, and to get to a certain, you know, level and you know, I'm not stopping yet, but keep going with, you know, these roles where I'm making a difference to society. And I think that's, that's what I really love. Richard Holmes 20:22 That's, that's great, isn't it? It's, it's, it's good to chat with people who are who are in roles, where they are passionate about it where you are, Emma Brown 20:29 you know, and I'm not I'm not a martyr by any means. I think you have to be honest with yourself about your aspirations. And I am driven by, you know, status and financial reward. And so I'm not going to take, you know, a pay cut to work necessarily in a business where it's just sort of driven by passion, but because I've been able to combine the two, I really feel like that's been a huge success for me. Yeah, Richard Holmes 20:51 definitely a winning combination. Yeah. You touched on on your running before. Yeah, you're a big runner. And when you again, you come across as calm and collected and chill. But when when you do get overwhelmed, what what do you do? Do you go for a run? or? Emma Brown 21:07 Yeah, I do. I think like, that's been a real great outlet. For me, I find it quite meditative. And I think people who don't aren't into running, can't really get that because it probably just feels horrible. But once you push past that point of feeling horrible and get into a rhythm, it's a great place to clear your mind and to digest. You know, what's happened in the day or plan for the day if you're going in the morning. And it's that sort of third space between home and work. And I think, during COVID, actually, again, getting back to that, it's been really difficult to keep that up. Because it's too tempting to just sit at your desk for 12 hours and think I'll just get this done. I'll just get that done. And then I'll just sort of roll upstairs and have dinner and then roll into bed. So yeah, and I think that that has caused me to definitely feel more overwhelmed during the last, you know, nine months or so since we've all been working from home. And I've had to be, again, really intentional about actually putting in my diary times to go for a run and really valuing that and recognizing that that's what I need to do to stay, you know, mentally healthy. And to get that bit of thinking space as well. But yeah, so again, like you know, and this is where I'm going to speak into my team's about the challenges of working from home. And I've been encouraging them to really find that third space, whatever it is for them, so that they can have that delineation between work and home life and put something that you enjoy in your calendar every day. Richard Holmes 22:26 Yeah, it's it's interesting is that I think since we've worked from home, we've exercised, probably less. I know, it's crazy, isn't it? I actually read an article. And it was about these people who commute to their own house, so they actually physically get dressed. go for a drive at any time. Just kind of do a few laps around the block. You know, maybe I should do. Which I just think he's a bit bonkers, isn't it? But I mean, I guess it's the headspace thing, isn't it? Emma Brown 22:51 Yeah, I think it is. And you know, we're creatures of habit and routine. Yeah. And I think you know, you need that. I mean, just like casing point this week. The first one I've done is this morning, and it's the one day that I'm in the office. So where I've had the least amount of time. Richard Holmes 23:06 It's interesting. It's, uh, it'll be interesting to see when we look back in it in a year or so. Yeah. How the dynamics change on it. So ttell me something not many people know about you? Oh, Emma Brown 23:19 good question. There are a few things I think about one that's relevant to finance though now. So yeah, so this is quite funny. My husband always finds this quite funny. So when I was at school, I was absolutely terrible at and hated maths. So people can't believe that when they hear in accounting, because they think, oh, you're just you know, stuck to your calculator all the time. But yeah, I hated it. And I also hated it. So when I was at school, so this is 20 odd years ago, now. I it was like, the first time that they'd started doing it lessons. And I can remember sitting there in front of a computer thinking this is never gonna catch on, you know, looking at Excel thinking, no one's ever gonna use Excel, like, This isn't good, this stuff isn't gonna catch on. And here I am now time and accounting. And I also work in technology. So that just didn't marry up, you know, to what I to my sort of thoughts and feelings when I was at school. But I guess you know, what that sort of tells me is that you never really know where life's gonna take you. And you never know what you're capable of, I think part of my hatred for you know, maths, and it was probably like a confidence thing. I didn't think I was particularly good at either of those subjects. But actually, you know, you just don't know where, where you're going to be and what you can teach yourself and what you can learn along the way. And so I'll just say to everyone, you know, don't underestimate what you're capable of. It's, Richard Holmes 24:35 it's, it's, you know, it's quite fascinating with that answer because I think when we're young as well, we don't really know, where we want to go the direction I think a lot of lost people. That's right. When you're in those college, uni dice, thin majority, my friends why 80% who went to uni didn't do anything in relation to, to the cost at a university. It's quite fascinating and So knowing what you know, know, what advice would you give to yourself? Emma Brown 25:04 Yeah, so I think when I was starting out, I was just touching back to what you were just saying I was quite kind of stressed about how we were going to work out. I especially couldn't see how it was all going to work out to have a career and have a family. And that was something that was that kept me up at night when I was in my early 20s, even though it was something that was quite far off, I was definitely looking forward-thinking I just don't see how this is going to work. But what has happened over the last sort of 10 years, you know, this what that wasn't a problem unique to me, like a lot of people couldn't see how that was going to work. And so hence, the world has changed a lot in the last 10 years about how we view, you know, working parents, and the provisions that are put in place for mums and dads, you know, to have successful careers and have families. So I think, I guess my my advice would be sort of trust that the way you're feeling isn't, you're not alone, would be the first one. Trust that, you know, positive change can happen from how you're feeling. And you can make that change and be part of that change, because I was actually the catalyst for medical director adopting, you know, really generous parental leave policy, which is, you know, 18 weeks for moms and dads, whereas previously, they had nothing and so believe that you can be part of the change that needs to happen, I think is his advice that I would give. And also, yeah, just have that loose 12 to 24 month plan. And past that you really can't control it. So just focus on what you can control. Yeah. Richard Holmes 26:26 That's, that's brilliant advice on that. I think. We can learn a lot from that. Yeah. But that's, that's great. Well, thanks for being part of the podcast. I think you've been a great guest. very insightful. It's always good to hear your story. And look, look from where you've been to where you are now. It's I think you've achieved a lot. Thank you. Excellent. And hopefully, we'll have you on the podcast again Emma Brown 26:50 soon. Yeah. Great. Thanks, Richard. Richard Holmes 26:52 Thanks so much. EB Emma Brown 26:52 Thank you.
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