Lights, camera,
accountant

Incoming CPA Australia president Alex Malley is a passionate
accounting advocate who has worked with groups from not-for-profits
organisations to high-profile Australian sports stars. He tells
Nicholas Moody how accountants can become movie
stars and his plans for changing the profession’s traditional
image.

If accounting were a religion, Alex Malley would be its
evangelist. He was recently appointed president of CPA Australia,
the sixth-largest accounting body in the world, and is on a drive
to energise his profession.
The former university lecturer originally took up accounting thanks
to his older sister. “She told me it was a good idea. When I asked
her what accounting was, she couldn’t tell me but suggested that
everyone she knew that did it was successful so because she was a
dominant force in my early life I became an accountant,” he
jokes.

The Sydneysider says his experience of growing up in Australia in a
family with a strong European flavour (his father was Maltese and
his mother Greek) was another dominant force in his life and helped
shape his world view. “My philosophy is founded on growing up in
Australia and looking at the struggles and challenges of my parents
as European immigrants – what they had given up to come to
Australia for their children. I always felt subliminally that I had
to live my life for more than just myself, for the family and for
the dream,” he says.

Malley says from an early age he felt that he had to push down
walls to see how far he could take himself, and accounting provided
the vehicle to test those limits: “I’ve always stretched boundaries
and I’ve always believed that your whole life is limited by your
own personality and if you open your mind, then anything is
possible. If you add to that the accounting degree and the
accounting discipline then you’re literally unstoppable.”

A global reach

Malley, who is currently the chief executive of the Urological
Society of Australia and New Zealand and former president of the
New South Wales branch of CPA Australia, has more than 20 years of
experience consulting to the private and public sectors. Outgoing
CPA Australia president Paul Meiklejohn says Malley’s experience in
academia, combined with his consulting and management skills, will
be a great asset to a profession whose main challenges include
globalisation and skills shortage.

Malley says he has several goals during his 18-month stint at the
helm, including communicating the global nature of CPA Australia’s
membership. The body boasts 112,000 members in 98 countries, of
whom 20 percent live overseas. It has offices in London and New
Zealand, recently opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai and is
about to open two offices in Vietnam.

“We have to increasingly communicate that we are a microcosm of the
world to our members. I have two deputy presidents. Richard Petty
was born in Sydney and now lives in Hong Kong, and Low Weng Keong
was born in Malaysia and lives in Singapore – so it’s almost like
we are all around the world. I’d like us to see our profession that
way and to start making decisions about our profession on a global
stage,” he says.

Malley wants to reorient people’s thinking so they see accounting
as a way of getting to where they want to be. That means making the
profession more appealing to young people and mid-career workers
looking for a change.
 “I want young people to see accounting as more than just a
sensible and successful career. So rather than tell your parents ‘I
want to be a movie star when I finish school’, go to university,
study accounting and when you complete your degree go and give
advice to movie stars. Before you know it, if you advise them
correctly, I’m sure they will give you a cameo role in a movie,” he
says.

He also wants to change the job description of an accountant from
box ticker to creative strategist. “I respect the pinstripe suit, I
respect the uniform that’s been very good for us, but I also think
there’s a place for us to be a bit more comfortable with showing
our personality and developing our brand. Ultimately, I’d like for
accountants to believe that what they do is valuable and to promote
the profession as being a broad-minded, open, listening, thinking
being,” he says.

There is nothing wrong with conservatism, but he wants the
profession to move in a new direction, Malley adds.
“We are not the bookkeepers, we’re not the quills and the history
of the bookkeeper – that’s where we have come from, but we can’t
afford to be that any more. That is an element of what gets
produced in financial reports, but ultimately we’re moving to
becoming strategists,” he says.

Increasingly, chief executives are being taken from CFO positions
rather than other areas, Malley notes.
He concluded: “We’ve got a destiny that is very strategic; it’s up
to us to live that and to show that is where our destiny
lies.”