The love boat
Love led the way for Chris Williams FIPA, whose illustrious 40-year career saw him become CEO at Tasmanian health insurer St.LukesHealth.
The road to success for Chris Williams, while rooted in accounting, started off on an entirely different foot.
Initially, Mr Williams pursued an electronic engineering degree. Part way through completing his studies, Mr Williams’ life and career took a drastic turn when he fell in love.
“I met the lady who is my wife!” he says. “She was doing an education course and when she graduated she was hired by the education department in Tasmania.
“My career as an engineer was going to take me up to NSW to work and I thought, ‘Nope, I’m not going to leave this lady.’ So, I had to start again and reinvent myself in some respects.”
Following the love of his life to Tasmania meant that Mr Williams had to go back to square one in his studies. It was then that Mr Williams’ beginnings with the IPA played a pivotal role in his profession switch.
“Once I graduated, I had a really good understanding of accounting and I was able to go into work and apply those principles early on in my career,” he says.
Why he chose the IPA over other accounting accreditations, Mr Williams adds, was because of its pertinence to real-life employment.
“I spent almost four years studying for my degree in electronic engineering, and it was a lecture type of thing that was quite impersonal,” he says.
“Whereas the IPA course felt there was a genuine engagement between the teachers and students, it was very grassroots and relevant to what I needed.”
After completing his course, Mr William’s qualification paved the way for his future career.
“The IPA and the course I did was ideal and I was lucky enough to get a job at St.LukesHealth. I started off as an accountant and worked my way through the company,” he says.
Front desk to corner office
Mr Williams’ successful 40 years at Tasmania’s leading not-for-profit health provider St.LukesHealth began with a humble ground-level job at the front counter.
“I was there with all the customer-facing staff, and customers would come in and I would look after whatever needs and enquiries they had,” he says.
When Mr Williams finished his public accountant course, he was offered a role as group accountant at St.LukesHealth. His foundational studies at the IPA proved useful in arming Mr Williams with the skills needed to excel at the job.
“I think my IPA grounding, my membership, was absolutely ideal for me,” he says. “It gave me the knowledge and expertise that led me into that group accountant role.”
From there, Mr Williams advanced progressively upwards, to general manager, and company secretary and eventually, in January 2014 he was appointed CEO of St.LukesHealth.
His progression throughout the organisation and health industry is something that Mr Williams prides in his time at St.LukesHealth.
“I wasn’t one of these guys that’d come in as the new CEO without an understanding of the issues that everybody in the organisation was facing. I had good industry knowledge,” he says. “I think that built a great culture within the organisation.”
Weathering the storms
Across an astonishing four decades at St.LukesHealth, Mr Williams has experienced first hand the major changes to the accounting and health industry.
On the health side, Mr Williams has played a role in pioneering the way insurance providers look at medical care.
“There was a transition in the vision of the organisation away from what I would call an indemnity-type arrangement, where people would come in, pay some money, they’d come in with a pain, we’d pay them back,” he says.
“That’s not the future of health.”
The prospects of health insurers like St.LukesHealth, in Mr Williams’ vision, is working with members on their healthcare needs, around matters like preventative care.
“That’s how St.LukesHealth, as an organisation, was focused on being in my career, helping our members stay healthy, live well and live better,” he adds.
Keeping up his IPA membership from the very beginning of his career and still continuing it now, Mr Williams has also been privy to the substantial changes to the accounting industry.
“It’s become a lot more complex,” he says. “The accounting role when I took over was quite a simple role. Reporting requirements weren’t anywhere as onerous as what they are now,” he explains.
“Accountants are more conscious of the regulatory environment than I was when I first started in my role at St.LukesHealth,” he says.
Mr Williams has also supported the IPA’s development over the years to become Australia’s leading industry body for public accountants.
In Tasmania, Mr Williams has been a major supporter of the annual congress for 16 consecutive years.
“I’ve seen the IPA develop really good relationships with regulators and the government who are influencing accounting policy. That to me has added value to my membership,” he says.
“My status as an IPA person is really up there with any other institute that I could be involved with,” describes Mr Williams.
“I’m a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australian Institute of Management, but the one that I value very much is my fellowship with the IPA.”
Sailing into the sunset
After having stepped down as CEO in mid-2017, Mr Williams is now enjoying his well-deserved retirement years. With more time on his hands, he’s had the opportunity to look back on his impressive career.
“Since I’ve left work I now reflect on a lot of things that I’ve done,” he ruminates. “Whilst I’m proud of 99 per cent of the things, there are some things where I think, ‘You could have done that a little bit better Chris.’”
For Mr Williams, the main thing that struck him in hindsight was work/life balance.
“I’ve been too passionate about my work at times, so I’ve probably put too higher focus on work to the detriment of my family,” he candidly admits.
“You bring work home and you never sort of leave it.”
The IPA are advocates of wellbeing in the workplace which Mr Williams resonates with. The ethos of “working to live, not living to work,” is one that Mr Williams encourages other accountants to be mindful of.
When asked whether he believed he would have reached CEO of St.LukesHealth if he had spent less time at work, he is confident that he would still have achieved the same goals.
“The board sat down with me in August 2013 and gave me the opportunity to apply for the [CEO position]. I spoke from the heart, openly and honestly based on my beliefs and they gave me the job,” Mr Williams describes.
By the end of his first term as CEO, Mr Williams knew in his heart that he wanted to reprioritise his time to focus on his family.
“I knew in early 2017 that I wasn’t going to renew my contract,” he explains. “I have a granddaughter, I wanted to spend time her, and I wanted to spend time with my wife who was also retiring.”
“I don’t have any regrets about my time at St.LukesHealth. It’s been 40 great years that I’ve worked for the company and I’ve been really lucky.
“I’ve served on a large number of boards in Tasmania and those have arisen because of the opportunities that St.LukesHealth gave me.”
You’ve got a friend
Mr Williams is celebrating over 35 years as an IPA member. Throughout his career, the IPA has proven to be more worthwhile than just an accreditation.
“The course was two-fold: one, it gave me some qualifications and knowledge,” he explains.
“Two, it gave me the relationships with other business people and members of the community that created a good foundation for the rest of my career,” he said.
Mr Williams has been awarded IPA Tasmanian Accountant of the Year twice, once in 2003 and again in 2016. He’s very proud of his achievements, but even more so, he treasures the networks that he has developed through the IPA.
“Being a member of the IPA, I formed a lot of close relationships with other similar-minded people in terms of their love of accounting and management,” he says.
“I developed great relationships with my fellow classmates, my teachers and those relationships still exist today.”
While there are many ways that the IPA has helped throughout his career, it’s the camaraderie that stands out the most for Mr Williams.
“I think the relationships that I have with my fellow IPA members is the best thing for me personally.”