At a glance
By Johanna Leggatt
Sonia Kammel FCPA grew up determined to be financially independent, a value passed on to her by her socially progressive father.
“I had two sisters and a brother, and dad encouraged the girls to be really independent,” she reflects.
“I always had an ambition to do something I was passionate about. I can’t sit in a job I’m bored in.”
After she left school, Kammel went into an entry-level accountancy role at French merchant bank Société Générale.
She decided to study her bachelor of business (accounting), followed by the CPA Program, while she was steadily moving through the ranks of the bank.
“My boss actually mentioned that I needed to get a degree and a CPA [designation] to progress in this industry, so I did,” Kammel says.
“The CPA also helps with building that professional network, especially if you need professional assistance and to leverage skills later in your career.”
In 2000, Kammel took up a role with Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), where she stayed for eight years working within the global markets business, before taking a leap of faith and accepting a job as CFO of a privately owned financial services start-up.
“This was really a risk as I was on a good career trajectory at CBA, but I thought it was time to challenge myself,” she says. “A lot of my career has been seeing the opportunity and taking that risk.”
Her tenure at the start-up gave Kammel an appreciation for agility – both mentally and financially.
“Start-ups are difficult because you have to manage capital so carefully, while trying to grow the business,” she says.
“It also gave me that exposure to technology, and for accountants these days having that technology know-how is very important.”
Kammel took three years of maternity leave, and thought long and hard about what her next career move would be.
In 2014, she decided to move into government, and was hired as CFO at New South Wales Treasury.
She has since progressed to deputy secretary, corporate services where she holds responsibility for finance, technology, legal, risk, audit, compliance, media/communications, procurement, projects, facilities and executive ministerial services.
“There was a big reform agenda on the cards [in government] and that was appealing,” she says.
“There is this perception of government as this slow machine that takes forever for things to happen, but that hasn’t been my experience at all.”
Kammel was also attracted to government because of the impact she could make.
“I enjoyed the sense of community,” she says. “Previously my roles have been about shareholder value and return on investment, but here you will make a decision based not solely on financial value, but also on the social and economic value.”
Her role is also full of complex challenges. Kammel sits across 10 different disciplines, which she describes as “almost running a business within a business”.
“You need to be able to think on your feet and apply strategic thinking across everything you do,” she says.
Seizing opportunity has been a hallmark of Kammel’s career.
“Sometimes you are asked to do certain roles that you don’t necessarily have all the skills required, so you don’t take it on,” she says.
“Women in particular think like this, but I think it’s important to back yourself.”
Kammel also recommends continually assessing your career to ensure you are still passionate about your work.
“We work for 30 or 40 years, so feeling passionate about what you do is really important. Having led teams, I know that a happy team is a productive team.”
One piece of advice
“You have to take ownership of your own career and take risks. You can’t just expect that someone will tap you on the shoulder. Sometimes you have to make those opportunities come about by using the networks you have built.”
Sonia Kammel has recently left the NSW Treasury.