At a glance
Bookkeeper to prison chaplain might sound like a major career leap, but for Marilyn Price FCPA, who became a part-time chaplain with Perth’s women’s prisons at the age of 69, her career has been a series of logical steps, underpinned by a philosophy of lifelong learning.
Price’s career began close to five decades earlier, when she started as a bookkeeper at Walton’s department store in Goulburn, New South Wales, after leaving a languages and psychology degree at Sydney University because of an illness.
She loved the role and found she could employ personal traits of precision and logic that had expressed themselves in maths and music at school.
Marriage and moves to New Zealand and then Perth saw Price cement her career as a bookkeeper, and she enrolled in a bachelor of business degree at what is now Curtin University, at a time when academic qualifications were becoming mandatory for accountants.
After a few years working at Weston James & Co., a chartered accounting practice in Perth, which later became part of Ernst & Young, Price made her second big career leap – opening her own private practice and becoming the first female sole practitioner in Western Australia to become a fellow of CPA Australia.
“It was a brave step to open a practice with a zero fee base, but I believed the market was ready for someone with a grassroots attitude,” she says, adding that she spotted a market niche for an accountant who was personally accessible to her clients, providing them with quality services and helping them to financially manage and grow their businesses.
The strategy worked. When Price sold the practice 16 years later, the buyers remarked on how long her clients had been with the firm, including some who had been with her from the outset. The reason Price decided to sell her four-person firm was simple.
“I was burnt out. I wanted to work for someone else and not be the person of last resort with the total responsibility.”
What Price gained from the experience was that it helped her to consolidate her accounting skills and build up her advisory and education expertise, as she assisted her business clients to plan and better manage their enterprises.
Alongside running her practice and juggling her family responsibilities, Price had been studying for a master’s degree in human resource management at Curtin University, to learn facilitation and boost her negotiation and mediation skills.
This set her up for her next role as corporate services manager in the Burswood office of Geraldton Building Co., where she oversaw group finance, accounting, training and human resource management, and undertook the role of company secretary.
After several years in the role, and several more managing a suburban CPA Australia practice, Price moved to a specialist role in succession and estate planning at RSM Bird Cameron. Some years later, she worked as a CFO for a private group of 24 companies.
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Following a calling
This was to be Price’s last accountancy role, which she left in 2014 to care for her terminally ill husband. In that same year, she commenced a newly created degree course, a masters of chaplaincy at Murdoch University, becoming its inaugural graduate two years later.
“It was a calling. I felt a compulsion,” she says.
Her current job, as an ecumenical prison chaplain, required a major change from the problem-solving and solutions-based outcomes associated with the accounting profession.
It was necessary for Price to acquire and develop many new skills, both during the university course and in her subsequent commissioning as a Uniting Church pastor.
“I can listen to people and direct them, I can give some advice, but I cannot change their circumstances, and that’s a huge new learning,” she says. Also, as a very intuitive and quick-acting person, I now need to steady my thought processes and become more patient.”
The listening skills and willingness to help people that Price developed while running her own accountancy practice have proven invaluable. Price also works as a casual educator for Meaningful Ageing Australia, the peak national body for aged care.
Her interest in aged care developed when she undertook a pastoral practicum in that sector during her chaplaincy studies.
In a secular role with this organisation, she writes and delivers seminars and workshops for older members of the public, to guide them in finding meaning and purpose in their lives, and in understanding and dealing with grief and loss.
“I love imparting knowledge, and I love helping people to understand,” she says.
Even in this role Price draws on the skills she developed as an accountant – when using precision and logic to develop her seminars and in encouraging participants to attend to their financial and estate matters.
“No matter where they are in their careers, accountants shouldn’t stop learning and developing new skills,” says Price.
“Go beyond the mandatory professional development. No matter where you are, acquire skills required for your professional work role, as well as a broader portfolio of skills.”
One piece of advice
As you mature in the profession, wherever possible take on teaching, education or mentoring roles in order to help others coming through, whether that’s in the workplace or as a volunteer in a community organisation. That will require you to grow and expand, and keep yourself up to date.