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Your Journey, Your Way - CFO Lessons Learned - Kate Jorgensen, KiwiRail

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Welcome back to our Beyond Recruitment Women in Leadership series, where we speak to some of the country’s top women in leadership.

This week we spoke to Kate Jorgensen, CFO of KiwiRail, to discuss her career progression and what she’s learned along the way. 

Early career

It was the influence of some senior women early in Kate’s career that set the scene for her swift rise to Chief Financial officer. After completing her degree in accountancy at Auckland University of Technology, Kate joined KPMG as a graduate, quickly working her way to a role as a Senior Audit Manager. It was, she says, a very positive environment.

“There were three very senior women, who all ultimately became partners, who all did it a different way. I probably didn’t realise at the time how progressive it actually was,” Kate says. While one of the senior women juggled children and fulltime work, another took time off to spend with her children and a third worked part time.

“I think it probably helped shape the idea that there’s no ‘right way’ to do it; you’ve just got to find your own path and find great mentors who support you.”

Kate continues to value the role of mentorship in the workplace, both for herself and for all women looking to succeed. Often, she says, it can just happen naturally.

“Put your best foot forward, and as a consequence of that you’ll find people will naturally mentor you. If they can see you’re giving 100%, people want to help.”

Next Steps

After 11 years at KPMG, Kate was recruited into a Group Accounting Manager role with one of her clients, Fletcher Building, before becoming the Divisional CFO of the Fletcher Infrastructure Products division. As with her current role at KiwiRail, Fletchers was an historically male dominated workplace but in both Kate says she has only ever been judged on her ability.

“I think the key to being successful is about presenting your argument calmly and rationally, using logic and being open to other ideas. That’s what makes people successful, and it’s all about collaborating with people – particularly in the CFO role,” says Kate.

Kate is proud to work for KiwiRail, an organisation with a wide variety of varied backgrounds at the executive level, even if she is the only woman.

“We have people who grew up on the tools, people who have had consulting backgrounds, people who are from different countries and people of different ages – and people’s values are very different. There’s a bigger conversation about what diversity looks like, and it’s always about diversity of thought.”

Success, says Kate, often comes down to attitude and approach. “If people believe that you’re going to listen and you’re willing to learn, then opportunities come up. I’m a really big believer that you’ve just got to do what you say you’re going to do. It sounds so simple but there are a lot of people who perhaps don’t always follow through, and then others lose confidence.”

Helping KiwiRail Stay On Track

As CFO at KiwiRail, Kate’s role oversees a wide range of functions, including Finance, Property, IT, Strategy, Sustainability and Government Relations. One of her key objectives has been to bring those different functions closer together and increase the strength of the business.

“KiwiRail was keen for an inclusive leader, someone who was going to be able to sit around the table and debate constructively, and someone who had a can-do attitude,” says Kate. “This is part of our One KiwiRail strategy, bringing the business together to harness our strengths.”

Life as a Leader

That same isolation is also often experienced by business leaders. The higher up you go in business, the less peers you tend to have. Kate believes that having a strong network is key to staying grounded and continuing to be successful.

“It’s true for everyone that the more senior you get, your relationships change in the company. I think it’s important for me to have a network around me of people I’ve worked with previously or peers from other companies. It’s really important to have those sounding boards. It’s certainly very helpful to keep you grounded and share what’s going on.”

However, there’s nothing more grounding than having two young children, who Kate says are the key to her maintaining a healthy work/life balance. “Anyone who’s got young children will tell you, you switch off pretty quick! Prioritising my family time is really important. That act of switching off, and your kids seeing that you’re not on your phone all the time, I actually think that’s really important to them – making that commitment that ‘when I’m there, I’m there’.

Looking to the Future

There are challenges ahead for many workplaces in terms of diversity and the changing nature of work, says Kate. Flexibility is the key to adapting to the changes.

“What I do think is that with the ageing workforce we have, labour is going to become increasingly scarce, and that’s going to require us to think about how we can encourage as many people as we can into the workforce. That will come through flexible workplace policies, good childcare policies, and I think that economic demand will create a lot of the flexibility that both men and women need today.”

Closing Thoughts

On what the future holds for Kate, her goal is simple. “All I really want to do is work for companies I believe in with talented and smart people.”

That’s a mantra we can all agree with!

We’d like to thank Kate for joining us and sharing her amazing career journey with us, and for being such a great example of what it’s possible to achieve as a woman in leadership.

Watch this space for the next edition of the Women in Leadership blog series, and if you have a great story you’d like to share, then feel free to get in touch.