Climbing the career ladder in finance and accounting requires a willingness to take on new, difficult challenges, acquiring varied experience and clear, long-term goals. No one knows this better than Grzegorz Mączyński FCCA, finance director and member of the board of Alstom Konstal, Alstom Transport’s branch in Poland.
In the last 15 years he has developed his career by doing what he could to gain a diverse skillset and finding ways to differentiate himself. He says ACCA has played a big role in helping him achieve those goals.
Now he is the CFO of one of the most advanced rolling stock and rail infrastructure companies in Poland, where he has built a finance and accounting structure from scratch. His work has contributed to the success of the company, which has gone from around PLN300m (US$82m) to PLN400m (US$110m) in sales when he joined the France-based global corporation in 2012 to around PLN900m (US$247m) this year.
The road to this personal success, however, has not been easy; in fact, at times, Mączyński intentionally took the more difficult path, knowing it would benefit him in the long run. He credits his upbringing under the last years of Poland’s communist government – where the economy was a basket case and even the most basic goods were scarce – for his mental toughness and his desire to work as hard as possible to advance.
‘I was 10 years old in 1989,’ he says. ‘I remember the empty shelves in stores. People my age, they remember all of this and they work harder.’ He believes younger professionals with little or no memory of those difficult times are sometimes less willing to put their noses to the grindstone.
One instance was when Mączyński took on a difficult challenge during his first finance job at a small auditing firm. Mączyński was thrown in the deep end when Portuguese construction firm Mota-Engil asked his company to provide someone to take over the responsibilities of their chief accountant in Poland, who was on maternity leave. Mączyński was assigned to the task. ‘I was so green that I had to learn everything invoice by invoice,’ he says, adding that the experience gave him an excellent foundation on which to build his career.
Mączyński decided to begin taking ACCA courses at that time. While his friends were out having fun on the weekends, Mączyński took courses or studied. To pay for this, he had to sell some treasured diving equipment: ‘No pain, no gain,’ he quips.
He was soon hired by Ernst & Young, which was another hard slog. ‘It was really tough because working on the weekends was typical. But you learn as much in one year [at the big accountancy firms] than you could learn in three years [somewhere else],’ says Mączyński, pointing out that such a workload is something younger professionals are less willing to take on these days. ‘If you don’t develop then you are stuck in one place,’ he says, adding that his early career choices acted like a ‘trampoline’ that propelled him higher.
Within a few years, he had become deputy finance director of steelmaker and scrap-metal dealer CELSA, handling billions of zloty in sales. After the company completed a series of takeovers, Mączyński was required to fly from its headquarters in south-central Poland to Warsaw and Gdansk every week for two years. ‘Everyone at the firm had a good laugh because I earned a lot of frequent flyer miles on domestic flights,’ he says. ‘It was a change, but a good change. If you want to go further, then you have to take on tough projects. You can only improve when you take on new challenges, new risks.’
Mączyński developed a clear, long-term plan to become a finance executive. ACCA was part of this. While some colleagues attended Polish certification programmes, Mączyński realised that the international perspective and English-language qualifications of the ACCA programme would be an advantage. He now encourages subordinates to embrace the courses.
‘I know that ACCA has a very strict syllabus. If you want to pass the ACCA exams, then you have to cover the material,’ he says. ‘If they are in ACCA, then I know that they have had to learn.’ And learn they do. Last year, one of his team members passed the ACCA exams with the best score out of 25,000 students worldwide.
Of the 16 people working under Mączyński today, two will finish the ACCA programme this year. One more is currently in the programme and he intends for another two or three to start next year. Mączyński’s goal is to have up to five ACCA members on his team within four years.
What he finds particularly advantageous is ACCA’s cooperation with Polish universities. In these programmes, the universities include ACCA material in their courses. When a student finishes this programme, he or she is already considered to have passed the first nine ACCA exams (with five remaining). ‘If I am able to bring on someone who comes out of this programme, I know they’re probably good, because they know English and have passed those nine exams,’ says Mączyński. ‘The condition is that if I take someone from the programme, I can hire them later, but I have to pay for the last five exams. It’s a good deal, because there is a much higher probability that I will find someone good.’
Spreading the net
Another advantage of the ACCA system is the wide network of professionals it provides. ‘If you need to contact a company, then you can find a member in ACCA. It is very good for contacts,’ says Mączyński. ‘ACCA members are in the biggest companies worldwide.’
He also believes the entrance of ACCA into the Polish market has meant that Polish associations have had to step up their game. As a result, the training and mentoring environment for finance professionals in the country has improved overall.
Not before time either, according to Mączyński, since the regulations and tax requirements in Poland seem to get more burdensome by the year. ‘One of the biggest problems is surviving in the Polish tax system,’ he says. For that reason, one of the most productive reforms the government could implement would be a simplification of its tax regime, he argues.
‘Business should focus on doing business, rather than fighting with financial regulations and taxes,’ he says, adding that as a legacy of the communist system, the Polish tax office tends to treat taxpayers as if they are guilty of breaking the rules, until they are proven innocent. ‘Other tax offices in Europe are the opposite,’ he notes.
Other challenges in the Polish financial professional market include finding talented employees (something ACCA programmes help greatly with) and obtaining financing from the country’s cautious banks and investors, he says.
He also worries about recent accounting deregulation in Poland, which has opened up the market to uncertified accountants to provide services for some companies. ‘I don’t think that’s good,’ he says. ‘I understand that it’s more flexible for the market, but then it puts more risk on small and micro companies that have to use such solutions to file with the tax office.’
Having a well-rounded background in business provides a strong foundation and understanding to help deal with the challenges of the Polish market, and Ma˛czyn´ski argues that he has benefited from working for a diverse array of companies; from a construction firm to a windscreen maker, and a Big Four consulting company to a steelmaker.
‘If you want to be a financial professional, you have to understand the business you are working for – where your company earns its money,’ he says. A diverse array of experience in the various fields of accounting serves professionals well, too. ‘The best finance guys are the ones who start in the accounting department. Accounting is always the base – you can gain a better understanding of the business.’ Professionals should supplement that experience with audit and site controlling, he says. ‘Then you have the full picture.’
Mączyński integrates the need for a holistic view into his management style. ‘When I work with my team, I always try to explain the situation and the environment,’ he says. ‘If people understand what the company wants to do, then they can make the right decision about what they should do and why. You give them the chance to be responsible.’
Andrew Kureth, journalist based in Warsaw.
This article was first published in the International edition of Accounting and Business magazine in April 2015.