Back to school
After taking time away from the office, Bridget Murray has set out to achieve a big goal – one that involves hitting the books.
Bridget Murray was in the middle of a career break when she decided she would do something kind of scary. She went back to school. For an accomplished executive leader with 15-plus years’ experience in corporate finance, this would seem like a surprising move.
But Ms Murray isn’t going for just any degree. She’s enrolled in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program being offered by the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) in partnership with Deakin University. She decided to embark on this new journey after a career break allowed her to deeply reflect on what she wanted for the future.
“I had taken a bit of time off just to spend time with my daughter before she started school. I feel like I jumped off the hamster wheel for a little while and I’ve had the chance to reflect on where I am and where I want to be,” she says.
“I think sometimes when you’ve got little ones and you work fulltime, you run from childcare to work and back and you never have time to think about where you’re really heading. I’ve had a bit of time to sort of reflect on where do I want to go from here? How do I leverage my existing skill base, which is comprehensively mostly corporate finance? How do I do that with the right type of study?
“I think the MBA is perfect for that because, clearly, my financial acumen is strong. But embracing strategy, marketing, and the other components in the MBA will really help forward my skillset.”
Her journey, however, hasn’t always been easy.
As a single mum to a five-year-old, Ms Murray has had to learn how to balance home life with study. She also finds some parts of the MBA to be more challenging than others.
“I’ve got my hands full. My skillset is more numbers and not the wordy. And, [the MBA] has a lot of assignments,” Ms Murray says. “I anticipate that I am probably going to be challenged and that’s good. It’s a good sign that I’m learning something.”
Moving up the ladder
Ms Murray grew up in rural west Queensland on what she calls a “massive” cattle station. To launch herself from that, she attended boarding school for 12 years before starting at Southern Cross University, where she earned a bachelor of business degree in accounting.
It was while working at a public accounting practice where Ms Murray realised she required a different kind of business environment.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy it,” Ms Murray admits. “I found it a bit stuffy. I’m a very open and vibrant person and it didn’t, at the time, fit with who I am as a person. But it’s not like that anymore. Accountants aren’t stuffy, boring people. We’re really fun and outgoing.”
Ms Murray’s first corporate job was as a financial accountant at Oracle. Since then, she’s held roles as a financial controller for Clear Channel Media in London and Tom Saunders Construction and IDP Education in Sydney. Most recently, Ms Murray was the CFO, director and company secretary at Human Synergistics for six years until 2016.
Having worked across different industries, such as IT, construction and education, Ms Murray says her next step will be to consolidate all of her experience into something wholesome. With an MBA, she also hopes to one day take up a CEO or board position.
“I’m hoping that eventually I’ll be able to leverage out of finance and into a more senior, general manager or CEO role, long-term. I’m hoping that [the MBA] will also help me long-term to gain a position on a board because it gives me such a broader outlook than a straight finance or accounting background,” she says.
“My short-term goal at this point is to complete [the MBA] and go back into a senior leadership role. It’s easier to work in high-level leadership positions if you have a really good understanding of where people in those other senior positions are coming from. It’s not that I don’t have those skills. But I think I’ll be better skilled at dealing with it in the future, having completed my MBA.”
As for the industry she’d like to work in, Ms Murray says she’s better suited these days to the SME environment.
“Because you end up getting a broader role there. I like that. I would hope that I’m going to stay in an SME or even a start-up environment,” she says. “I would be really keen to jump on a startup and be involved in that.”
Starting a new trend
The IPA program is made up of two stages, which, upon completion, culminates in an MBA from Deakin University. The first stage includes six units that are designed to refine accounting and finance skills, such as applied business finance, accounting standards and practice, strategic management accounting, and assurance and audit services.
The subjects in the second stage are strategic in nature and geared towards enhancing communication skills. These units include marketing management, people management, principles of leadership, business process management, and managing growth for SMEs.
The program also offers the opportunity to complete some of the MBA units in just five days through Deakin’s residential MBA classroom workshops based in Geelong, Victoria.
IPA members (MIPA) and fellows (FIPA) can join stage two of the MBA program directly, as Deakin has approved them to qualify for 50 per cent recognition of prior learning. New or associate IPA members who complete the six units as part of the IPA Professional Program (alongside required work experience) will also be eligible to commence the second stage.
Ms Murray expects she will enjoy the residential component of the program the most.
“One of the things I really liked about the program is that you can do these residentials in five days and finish a subject. That makes it easier for busy people to go down to Melbourne, have a residential and complete one subject, instead of doing it over a 12-week course online, which is more assignment based,” she says.
“That learning environment is my preference. I think I will probably struggle more with the assignments online. My natural learning style is more group motivated, so I think I’ll enjoy the residentials a bit more.”
For anyone considering enrolling in the MBA program, Ms Murray suggests it would be best suited to those with some life and work experience.
“There’s a trend for people to go straight from university into master’s and they don’t have the life skills nor the business skills to know how to apply what they’re learning,” she says.
“I actually think people are better suited for these types of programs once they’ve got a good few years under their belts and they really do understand how a business works. I find it really hard to see how an MBA, in particular, would be suited to someone just graduated from university. I think you really need to have a good background to make the most of it.”
Ms Murray also believes the program would be a great tool for any mum who took a career break and is now looking to rejoin the industry. It also sends a great message to daughters.
“I know women who take a bit of time off and find it hard to re-enter the market. I’m having my break because my daughter is four turning five, which is unusual because I worked from the time she was born. So, this might be a really helpful tool for mums returning to work to able to have this on their CV,” she says.
“You want to be sending the message of independence, rather than having drive. That’s probably handy for a young woman to see. As the economy is changing in countries, it’s more and more likely that both parents will work.
“It’s actually really important for young women to see their mums working and seeing them be able to do that and still have time for their kids.”