At a glance
Managing customer complaints in a telco contact centre was not the way Manish Gera CPA had intended to launch his finance career.
The son of a professionally accredited accountant, Gera shared his father’s passion for numbers and came to Australia with a bachelor of commerce from India’s prestigious University of Delhi, dedicated to obtaining a masters of accountancy degree through the Australian Catholic University.
However, landing his first finance job came with its challenges for the shy international student, who was without a professional network, experience or familiarity with the Australian working culture. Answering telephones was not part of the plan, but, in hindsight, those phone calls presented some important life lessons, Gera says.
As someone who found it difficult talking to new people face-to-face, Gera learned to converse from behind the safety of a telephone line. He says the call centre job allowed him to hone his communication skills and gave him enough confidence – and the determination – to step outside his comfort zone and network.
“I’m a big believer in people skills,” says Gera. “In finance, our role is to make sure we do due diligence and ensure whatever the business is doing is done right and has the right outcomes for the company. But you need to have the voice to articulate the complex into simple terms, so it drives results.
“Looking back, I didn’t want to be in that contact centre, but now I really appreciate what I have learned from it. Any role you do will add value to your skill set.”
While waiting for a finance job opportunity, Gera threw himself into networking and, after a year and a half, landed a finance analyst job within Telstra.
Over the next nine years, he continued to build relationships inside and outside the company, while taking on a variety of different roles within the business. Gera has driven operational efficiencies in teams and across the organisation, managed the implementation of the IFRS15 revenue accounting standard and, while senior lead mobiles for consumer and small business, catered to 5.9 million customers with revenue in excess of A$5 billion.
These days, Gera is senior finance manager within Telstra’s InfraCo team – a separate business unit launched in mid-2020 and accountable for all of Telstra’s infrastructure, including 250,000km of fibre optic cable, 360,000km of ducts, 8000 mobile towers, masts and poles, 5000 exchanges, two data centres and access to 400,000km of subsea cables.
His contribution to setting up the infrastructure arm and getting it ready to operate independently contributed to Gera being recognised, alongside other colleagues, with a 2020 Telstra Excellence Award – no easy feat in a company of 30,000 employees.
Gera says that, early in his career, he was so fixated on securing a job in finance that he did not stop to consider other steps he could take to get there. While goals are important, says Gera, they require planning – talk to people, listen to advice, get experience in a corporate environment and embrace opportunities.
“Don’t be in a rush to be a CFO,” he says. “There may be other key skill sets you need first. Any role you do is important. Go out, meet new people – learning from others is key.”
Gera believes business and personal networks can be pivotal. Push yourself to go to events and challenge yourself to talk to at least three people while you are there. When having discussions with people in your team or with business partners, don’t just talk about work – get to know the person behind the role, Gera says.
“Reach out,” he says. “There is no harm in talking to people. The more people you talk to, the more you have in your network, because you don’t know where the opportunities may come from.”
He also recommends a minimum of one catch-up with someone every month. “Start with one,” says Gera. “It can be anyone. That’s how you start making connections.”
Gera says that, while it is possible for people to learn from their own mistakes, having a mentor to guide you and seek advice from can be just the support you need when faced with difficult decisions.
He still seeks the opinions of his wife and his mentors – internal and external – whenever a challenge or opportunity arises.
The title of CFO is not one of Gera’s personal aspirations. His dream is to set up his own accounting practice, so he can help others succeed in business. Gera remembers the struggle of his early years and wants to offer a graduate program as part of his business.
Back when he relied on others to help him find his way in finance, Gera made a promise to himself that, whatever he did, he would make sure he also helped others.
Gera finds personal satisfaction in being a mentor through the CPA program and Telstra. He says that, despite the challenge of spending much of 2020 working from home while looking after his two young children, he relishes his role as senior finance manger and the knowledge it has given him. Gera is also someone who gets satisfaction from looking back.
“Sometimes people can be too much into their profession. They don’t stop to think about what they have already achieved and what they’ve done to get to where they are now.”
One piece of advice
“Any role you do it important. Go out, meet new people – learning from others is key.” Manish Gera CPA