Switching from one career to another is a bold and daring move, but one that Brazilian Alexandra de Paiva has made with conviction. Just half-way through her chemical engineering degree, she realised she was more interested in the financial side of the business rather than the technical side. Two years after finishing her degree, she decided to branch out into finance and complete an MBA.
“After relocating to Australia to work with BHP, I learned the importance of CPA (Certified Practising Accountants) in the Australian workplace and decided to start the journey to become one,” she says. “It started with a Master of Accountancy at Curtin for graduates in another discipline.”
But the journey was not easy for de Paiva, as she grappled with the dilemma of changing careers and starting anew so far away from her home in Brazil. She initially chose to study online so she could hold down her job with BHP at the same time.
“It was a challenge to study and work full-time and even more challenging to study something I was not familiar with. I nearly gave up during the second semester,” she recalls. “It required strong commitment over the weekends, sacrificing my social life to invest in my qualification, but the course was fundamental to enable me to change career.”
The practical nature of the degree gave de Paiva the ability to apply knowledge from the classroom to her job. After graduating in 2007, she proceeded to CPA qualification, a move that enabled her to take on a number of financial roles in resources companies, including Senior Business Analyst at Paladin Energy Ltd and Manager of Commercial Supply Chain and Administration at Mirabela Nickel Ltd.
She was involved in spearheading cost analysis and management accounting on-site in Brazil, Malawi and at Head Office in Perth, and improving internal reporting, performance management, savings and integrating forecasting and budgeting processes. Going from strength to strength, de Paiva won a company award for assisting technicians in managing to forecast maintenance costs.
De Paiva currently works as a Senior Finance Manager/Controller at Norsk Hydro where she develops new business cases and engages with multiple stakeholders – procurement, legal, operations and finance – to solve complex problems.
“The most challenging part of the job is reconciling the different views in a single succinct memo, so senior management can make informed decisions,” she says.
She is keen to stress the importance of sustainability in the workplace, and ensure her places of work have progressive and supportive policies in sustainability, ethics and human rights.
“In natural resources companies, the environmental aspect becomes more relevant. It is important that businesses contribute to improve the local community, working to leave it self-sustainable, once the natural resources are depleted,” she says.
When she’s not at work, de Paiva spends her time reading, catching up with friends and family, and maintaining a happy lifestyle. She also enjoys mentoring and guiding young professionals to navigate the corporate world.
“I like watching people grow and develop as professionals and human beings. Mentoring other people to progress in their lives personally and professionally is rewarding.”
But while de Paiva has found her true calling, her continual thirst for learning is still driving her to greater heights.
“Continuous learning is the key to keeping abreast of what is happening in the professional world outside our companies,” she says. “We need to learn more about different areas of the company to become even better in what we do.”