There’s a lot of luck in career outcomes. Right place, right time; we’ve all heard the stories.
For Caroline Rawlinson it was an interview for a graduate position at PwC where, by pure chance, two of the partners on the interview panel where regulars at a suburban bar which she was managing at the time. Despite a lack of accounting papers in her degree but clearly demonstrating she could think on her feet and having an academic record to prove it, it created a connection and she was hired.
“It was a great way to start my career. It exposed me to lots of different clients and I was able to work on a wide variety of projects. I also came to realise very early in my career that it’s your ability to interact with others that ultimately gets you ahead.”
Leaving school with no specific career plans, other than knowing it would involve university; Caroline admits it didn’t take long to figure out what was going to be her best option.
Opting to enrol in a B.Com/LLB, figuring she had enjoyed economics at school and doing law would help develop her critical thinking skills, her grades soon provided a clue where her future destiny lay.
“I was getting straight As for my commerce subjects and working twice as hard to get Bs in my law papers so I figured I should stick with what I was good at and as it turned out, that has stood me in good stead. It’s the strategy side of business that I enjoyed the most.”
After three years at PwC, it was off to Sealord to take on the role of Strategy Manager. It was a role Carline says was perfectly suited to her talents allowing her to be involved in everything from high level board consultations to figuring how to attribute costs to by-catch on the factory floor.
But there is one memorable experience from her time at Sealord that still haunts her.
“I was offered the opportunity to go out on one of the fresh fishing trawlers for 36 hours. I’d spent plenty of time on boats so I figured I’d be able to handle the experience okay. But sitting in the middle of Cook Straight in these enormous swells it quickly became the worst 36 hours of my life and, much to the amusement of the crew, I spent most of my time leaning over the side confirming everything they thought about management.”
From Sealord it was on to Fletcher Building, first as Group Strategy and Corporate Development Manager and then on to her first high level leadership role as CFO of Fletcher Building’s troubled Formica Asia division based in Shanghai.
“The China operation was bleeding money with a new factory almost empty and had previously been run by a local management team; it seemed everywhere we looked there were problems and improving governance and controls was critical. Those first nine months were the hardest nine months of my life. They say don’t change everything at once but I did. New job, new business, new country and I’d just had my first child.”
Things eventually settled down, performance began to improve and in August last year opportunity beckoned once more.
“I was approached on LinkedIn to consider the CFO role at Trade Me based in Wellington. The role appealed to me as I hadn’t previously been exposed to the technology sector and there was the opportunity to be part of the senior leadership team at a listed company - with everything that involves.”
Reflecting on her career to date, Caroline says success is often little about your personal technical expertise - especially as you become more senior within organisations. It is about how you think, how you make decisions and most importantly how you lead.
“Being of above average intelligence is just the ticket to play the game. After that the work ethic, emotional intelligence, resilience and being a fundamental good and decent person concerned about others are really the key determinants to success.”