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Dec 2010

Case study: Anna Birkin, Alderly FZE

Anna Birkin ACMA, CGMA, as finance manager at Alderly FZE, Dubai, is responsible for the company’s accounting and finance function for the whole of the Middle East.

Her role involves coordinating the department, liaising with banks, and organising the annual audit. She manages a team of six in Dubai plus a management accountant in Saudi Arabia.

After completing a business degree at university, she began her career as an assistant accountant for five years in a small UK company. She worked for CPC packaging for a year as a finance coordinator before later moving to Alderly – a UK based group providing engineering solutions in the oil and gas industry – to work firstly as a management accountant in the UK, then in her current, more senior role in Dubai in 2009. She has recently been appointed as company secretary.

She speaks below about how the CIMA professional qualification has been vital to her successful career path.

Learning from role models

I was really inspired by my boss when I first started work. You could see the MD respected her opinions and I thought that was the kind of role I’d like to take because she was involved in the strategy rather than just being the bean counter and getting on with the sums. 

You see lots of male bosses and you think they do a good job, but she stands out for me probably because she’s a woman. It’s nice to have a female role model.

Role models are important because they illustrate how you want to behave. You see certain behaviour and consciously or subconsciously you pick it up.

Making the most of a challenge

Soon after I first started in the role in England the FD left the company. My boss was then off work with a long-term sickness, so the management accountants were left on our own.

‘It’s nice to have
a female role model’

At this time I found some major irregularities in the accounts. I had to reconcile it all, and tell everyone in the company what was going on. It was quite stressful but all you can do is focus on getting it sorted. It didn’t get fixed overnight but we got there in the end. I do quite enjoy a challenge like that. Rather than just being routine, I like having a problem to solve.

Training and support

I studied for my CIMA qualification while working and have found it a very worthwhile qualification, which is extremely relevant for the technical skills and knowledge required for my job. I wish I’d thought about doing CIMA sooner and got moving up the ladder a bit quicker.

All my employers have been really supportive about studying and have always paid for the exams and given me time off to take them.

I was also really lucky when I first got to Dubai: the MD sent all the senior management team on a management training programme, which took place two days a month for three months. It was brilliant training and came at just the right time for me.

Working with men

Being a woman in a group of men can have distinct advantages for the whole group. On my management training course, I earned the nickname ‘the civiliser’ because the men felt I brought a certain amount of calmness to the group. I think they liked the fact that I was there because they felt less pressure to be macho or to prove anything.

Cultural issues

I can’t get into Saudi Arabia as an unmarried woman so I can’t attend meetings there or meet with bank managers, which should be part of my job. It’s frustrating but the company is very supportive. They don’t hold board meetings there – we have them in Bahrain instead so I can attend.

Management style

I’m quite assertive but I wouldn’t say I was dominant at all. I try to communicate and keep my team in the loop and to ask their opinions on things. I’m quite sensitive to other people’s feelings and always notice in a meeting if something’s affected or upset someone. I don’t think men pick up on those things as much as women do.

‘I’m sensitive to people’s feelings and notice
if something’s affected or upset someone’

Moving into senior management requires different skills and some are hard to learn. Nobody really trains you in handling discipline, for example, and you don’t see other people being disciplined so it’s hard to pick up from observation.

I received some useful advice after I stepped up to become senior finance manager. I had been concentrating on getting the job done rather than on my behaviour and how to act like a leader. My MD suggested that I alter my language slightly to demonstrate my accountability more. For example rather than saying, ‘Prya is looking into that,’ I could say, ‘We’ll look into that and get back to you’. Little things like that make it sound more like teamwork and emphasise that I’m in charge.

I think a good leader needs to have confidence, and be determined, sensitive, sincere and committed. You have to be able to make decisions and you need to have passion and be positive.

Tips for success

If you want to stand out, take every opportunity to get involved in strategy. Don’t shy away from it: give your opinion and don’t be afraid to challenge people in senior roles, as long as you do it diplomatically. Just because they’ve done things one way for years doesn’t mean it’s a good way.

‘It’s important for women to
stand up for themselves’

Getting involved like this shows you have a real passion for the job and makes you stand out from people who are just doing their job. I think it’s particularly important for women not to be submissive and to stand up for themselves.