At a glance
Life is not one straight line, says Michelle Wigglesworth CPA, but unexpected challenges can make life more interesting and help build resilience.
Based out of Sydney, Wigglesworth is an investor and senior equities analyst at Australian Ethical Investment.
“I’m not one of these straight success stories where I suddenly got my dream job the next day,” she admits. Rather, Wigglesworth’s long, fulfilling career has been built piece by piece, following a path of twists and turns.
Fortune favours the bold
Wigglesworth began her accounting career in 1995 at Macquarie Bank. Three years later, she followed many of her fellow expats to London and, upon her return, joined the equities floor at Citigroup.
In 2002, Wigglesworth faced her first career curveball – redundancy. This was undoubtedly a challenge, but she did not let the experience discourage her. Instead, she began “cold calling” firms to try to find another job.
She soon landed a role doing finance and equities research with a small stockbroking firm, but she wasn’t there for long. “One of the senior analysts there actually said they didn’t think I was cut out for the industry,” she recalls.
“I was absolutely devastated. I had to dig in deep and go, ‘Do I believe this person, or do I still try to pursue my dream of getting into equities investing?’.”
Wigglesworth persevered, striking gold with a phone call to her mentor, Scott Webster. He offered her a contract with global financial firm UBS.
“I’ll never forget that time in my career – when I was down, and there was someone who said, ‘I believe in you. I believe that you do good work’,” Wigglesworth says.
After a year with UBS, Wigglesworth placed another fruitful call to the managing director of investment firm Milton Corporation Limited, Frank Gooch. The conversation led to her joining the firm as a junior analyst. The pair worked together for the next 13 years.
The redundancy experience and the proactive job searches that followed were transformational for Wigglesworth.
“It just fits into my story about persisting and creating your own luck,” she says.
The latest pivotal moment in Wigglesworth’s career came in February 2023, when she joined Australian Ethical Investment. The company’s vision is to “create a world where money is a force for good”.
The company achieves this by seeking out investment opportunities based on ethics and sustainability as well as profitability.
“Australian Ethical has been doing this for a very long time and really believes that you can invest in companies that are climate friendly and also make a profit,” she says.
Wigglesworth has always been drawn to investing. She began in the early 1990s, as soon as she had her first full-time job, and has not stopped since.
Investing comes with its fair share of ups and downs, as any investor will attest, Wigglesworth says. She recalls one particular “down”, when she offered her boyfriend some investment advice amid the tech crash of 2000.
“He ended up losing A$8000 of his own money,” Wigglesworth says. “Thankfully, he forgave me, and he’s now my husband.”
Strategy-wise, the investor who most resonates with her is legendary American business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett.
“What strikes me about Buffett is his earlier career, when he would just purchase entire businesses and let the owners run them,” she says.
“He genuinely didn’t try to replace them with new CEOs. He was looking for passionate owners. I do like founder-based companies to invest in.”
How to come back from career failure
Invest in yourself
Keenly aware of how others have supported her during her career, Wigglesworth is also a firm believer in the power of mentoring. She credits another director at Milton, Ian Pollard, for inspiring her to become a mentor.
For Wigglesworth, mentoring is not always formal. “I will have coffee with young people if they approach me and want me to be a sounding board,” she says.
Wigglesworth participates in two annual CFA Societies Australia mentor programs – the CFA Institute Research Challenge and the CFA Societies Australia Mentor Program.
In 2022, Wigglesworth was a mentor in the F3 program, founded by funds management professional Camilla Love.
The program encourages women to start a financial services career, giving them a taste of what it is like to work for a financial organisation.
Wigglesworth is also president of a Rostrum public speaking club and helps run the Rostrum national public speaking competition for high school students.
When she considers her career so far, Wigglesworth advises to look beyond the short term, to the overall trajectory. “Don’t give up,” she says. “Keep going.”
One piece of advice
"Once you achieve your postgraduate qualification – in whatever career path that is – attend the professional learning events that the organisation offers to stay on top of things. The world is rapidly changing, and it is important to keep learning, keep fresh and keep relevant."