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More than taxes: How I transformed my accounting career


From Kmart retail assistant to heading up a research business, Michael Johnson shows how a commitment to lifelong learning helped him progress quickly in his professional career.

By Reporter 11 minute read

Where did you start your working life and where are you at now?

I started working in retail, the well-loved Kmart — actually working at one of the most busiest stores in the country, so it really kept me on my toes. I moved into a leadership position there and started to craft my people skills — a skill, I think, is absolutely critical working in the job I’m in today.

I started my professional career as an absolute junior. My title was “accounts clerk” and my job was simply data entry and invoices. I took the job while I was still at uni and I saw it as a great opportunity to get my foot in the door. But the energy, ingenuity and fast-paced nature of my previous life pushed me to start moving outside of these boundaries to take on more and more initiatives.


After moving up the ranks through the finance team and receiving my CA qualification, I’ve now moved into a role where I now head up the company’s research business, combining my passion for helping people with my foundation of strategic business planning and management.

Is your education background useful in your current role?

Extremely. My CA, in particular, is extremely valuable, from the initial, “Oh, you’re a CA? Wow, great, that’s impressive!” to helping large financial institutions how to best understand, digest and apply our research insights to their complex businesses. I’m a strong believer that experience will outweigh academics, but having both, that’s where you can really make a difference.

What do your friends think you do and how do they perceive it?

Accounting is such a broad profession. However, I’ve had the common party conversation, “Oh, so you can do my taxes then?” but, for me, once I explain what I actually do day to day, they often say, “How’s that related to accounting?”. They fail to see the fundamental analysis and business skills that are translated through the profession.

Does your job look like what you expected it to?

Not at all! During my time at university, I expected to move into a mid-tier or big four consulting firm, but now I work in direct competition and collaboration with them; it’s a strange world.

What advice would you give your graduate self?

Dig deeper, what are your real skill sets? Don’t expect to follow the same path as every other accountant, the professional world is changing, be prepared to learn technology and how to influence people. Also, try and remember those Excel formulas because they definitely come in handy down the line.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

Time! Balancing commitments, managing my work day and wearing many hats. Each day I’m presented with a range of challenges and opportunities across a range of issues, as I’m sure many people are. My job is not to be able to accomplish all of these tasks immediately, but my job is to prioritise them in a way that meets deadlines, expectations and objectives — that is definitely my biggest challenge.

If you could change one thing about the accounting profession, what would it be?

I think the accounting profession is one of the most successful and respected professions in Australia, with many trying to replicate its level of trust with Australian consumers. I don’t think I would change anything!

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