Breaking down barriers and kicking goals
Neehal Clements’ path into accounting was anything but ordinary.
Straight out of high school, Neehal Clements was forced into an arranged marriage. Coming from a traditional Lebanese background, Ms Clements didn’t have too much say in the matter. Her path was paved while she was still a little girl and all she could do was to conform.
“My parents didn’t encourage education. I was told that because I was a female, my role was to get married, have kids and that’s it,” says Ms Clements “But I’ve always been the ambitious type.”
Her love for numbers started at her parents’ fruit shop, where Ms Clements was often tasked with keeping track of the takings for the day.
“The first time I served a customer was actually at the age of nine,” Ms Clements recalls. “Because I had that insight into the small business perspective, I always said I wanted to be an accountant, even though I wasn’t great at high school.”
But her life was already mapped out for her, and she had no choice but to bury her accounting dreams to make room for a family. For someone who had always wanted to be a career woman, this was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Instead of graduating with a degree at 21, I had two kids by this stage,” Ms Clements says. “The cultural background and understanding were that the woman’s place was to have the kids, stay at home and raise the family.”
However, Ms Clements’ dreams and ambitions didn’t disappear with the onset of her new responsibilities. She eventually left the marriage and became fixated on doing everything she could to catch-up on her studies.
“Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out. I had a lot of aspirations; his aspirations didn’t quite align. When it dissolved, I went back to TAFE,” Ms Clements recalls.
“I’d been out of the game for quite some time. Even when I had finished high school, I actually got some temporary work with the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, looking at their systems, because they were moving from a manual accounting process to an online system, so I helped with that.
“At the time I also applied for a job at Westpac, because I wanted to get into accounting in that space. I actually passed their assessment with flying colours, and they offered me a job. But that got turned on its head because of the arranged marriage.”
Having finished her accounting diploma, Ms Clements worked in several companies using her financial and operational acumen to climb the corporate ladder before deciding to go into business for herself in 2013. She launched NH&Co Solutions – a management consulting firm focused on providing high-quality service and client satisfaction.
“After the GFC, to try to land a role was very tough. So, I decided to go into business for myself,” Ms Clements recalls.
“My practice covers more of the advisory side of accounting, helping businesses turn their processes around and become more profitable. It’s been quite refreshing for me, but challenging at times in terms of resilience and mental strength, but I think I’ve been prepared for that with my tough upbringing and some of the good values that I’ve been taught over the years, especially in the corporate space.”
She also has numerous other passions, including for sustainability, technology and community, and is currently a director of the board of the Chatswood Chamber of Commerce.
“I try to get the community together. I’m involved with the chamber, I’m also involved with the IPA about bringing that brand recognition and also showing that when we work together and support one another, great things happen,” says Ms Clements.
“Success to me means seeing everyone around you thriving, because that becomes quite contagious. I think everyone has something to bring to the table, they just need to be given that respect and find where their inner strength is.”
And, having tried to talk her out of pursuing her dreams for years, Ms Clements’ parents have finally learnt to celebrate her successes.
“It was a long journey and sometimes quite a lonely journey,” she says. “After trying to get me to live at home so many times, my parents now support me.”
Despite all the hurdles, Ms Clements wouldn’t change a thing.
“I managed to buy my own place and show my children that an education is so important to their future. It’s an acquired skill no one can steal from them,” she concludes.
“Ignorance is not bliss. You are the master of your destiny.”