Kate Williams is navigating a career within a multinational business and bringing some of the world’s biggest infrastructure projects to life.
Life’s a fast-paced ride for a Senior Corporate Finance Associate and Kate went from ambitious Townsville high school student to London-based career woman in eight short years.
Kate shares her insights on moving across the globe for work, building a professional network and using work experience as a ‘try before you buy’ policy.
Madeleine: Kate Williams, thanks for chatting with us! Let’s dive right in! For those unfamiliar with the finance world (me!) what does your job in Corporate Finance actually entail?
Kate: I get that question quite a lot! I work in a ‘government and infrastructure’ focused team inside a Corporate Finance department. Basically I help deliver and transact infrastructure projects to solve economic problems like congestion and renewable energy production.
My role focuses on valuing projects and structuring transactions in a way that optimises their ability to raise finance and funding. In a nutshell I help to value and finance big infrastructure projects.
Madeleine: So what does that type of work look like? Do you have a normal day in the office?
Kate: My day changes dramatically depending on what kind of project I’m currently working on.
Big infrastructure projects usually call for large project teams that interface with the different government departments and private companies who are delivering the work. I’m constantly in meetings with specialist advisors who provide insight on different technical aspects of the job.
I really enjoy it because I’m always learning so much more than just Corporate Finance. One day I’m sitting down with hydrogen gas specialists and the next day I’m at a table with transport modellers
In terms of the actual work, one of the main things we do is develop financial models for different projects. We figure out how much the project will cost, when the money will be needed etc. and then we go out and ‘raise’ the money.
There’s a lot of researching and compiling presentations, followed up by a lot of strategy development.
Madeleine: It sounds like really in-depth work. Was a career in Corporate Finance something you always wanted to do?
Kate: Yes, it actually was! I was always drawn to Corporate Finance because it’s such a forward-looking and pro-active space and it’s so driven by strategy and entrepreneurialism.
I also like that it’s international in nature. It’s enabled me to move to London and experience living on the other side of the world.
In terms of working in the infrastructure side of Corporate Finance, that was definitely less intentional. I kind of fell into that space. But I do really enjoy the ‘greater good’ aspect that comes with working on infrastructure projects that impact society as a whole.
Madeleine: What was your path into Corporate Finance? Was it something that you can study at university?
Kate: There’s actually quite a few pathways into Corporate Finance. But for me, I studied a Bachelor of Commence and Economics at university and then went on to complete my Chartered Accountancy.
As a side note, I think accounting is a great complement to any career path because it gives you financial literacy. You don’t necessarily need it to work in Corporate Finance but I’ve found it really useful.
If there’s anyone currently studying Commerce right now who wants to be a Chartered Accountant, I’d recommend majoring in accounting! I did and it allowed me to skip the bridging course you need before you can start studying to be a Chartered Accountant.
Madeleine: Did you do any work experience to set you up for this type of work?
Kate: Yes, I did a lot of work experience while I was at uni. In my opinion work experience is so important for any career path. It basically allows you to ‘try before you buy’ and gives you the ability to try multiple things out and tailor your final years of study to suit.
I did a few internships in professional services, worked part-time in a restructuring role and did an international internship in recruiting in Singapore. It was great to test out different company cultures and the different teams. It meant I could make an informed decision about what I wanted to do when I began applying for graduate roles.
Madeleine: What was your experience getting your chartered accountancy accreditation?
Kate: I completed it while I was working full time so it was sometimes tricky to ‘have it all’ (social life, work life and study life). But it’s definitely doable!
The accreditation consists of 5 modules – all with a major exam. Exam time was always a bit of a juggle, but work provided excellent support and times flies! Definitely worth doing.
Madeleine: What are you career highlights to date?
Kate: Working on the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games was really cool. And coming to London!
Madeleine: How did you go about organising your transfer from the Brisbane to London office?
Kate: I am currently on secondment in London for two years. One of the benefits of working at a larger company is the ability to continue your career whilst being able to work overseas. It was definitely something that attracted me to the company I work for in the first place and I was committed to making it happen once I had been with the company for the required amount of time.
The company I work for has a really good international program however it can take quite a long time to organise a relocation (around 12 to 18 months). It is also highly dependent on being in the right place at the right time. You’ll only get transferred if it works for both offices.
It usually requires A LOT of patience but I managed to arrange mine in just three months. I reached out directly to the team in the UK that were recruiting. It was great because I was able to find out more about the people I was going to be working for before starting the long-winded internal process of applying to relocate. It also gave me confidence that I liked the sound of the new job and was going to enjoy working with my new team.
Madeleine: What has relocating to London taught you?
Kate: Not to take your networks for granted! Growing up in Queensland, Australia everyone is really interconnected. It’s quite easy to find a mutual connection in a related field that can help you solve a business or personal problem. But once you move, you’re essentially starting over and you lose a lot of those long term connections you take for granted at home.
I actually really wanted to relocate to the New York or Hong Kong but ended up in London! And the city has really surprised me. It’s so diverse and there’s always so much do to.
From a work perspective, the opportunities here are amazing. The scale of projects are now in the £billions (not £millions) and London really sets the example for the rest of the world in terms of large scale infrastructure.
Madeleine: London is an awesome city. But its very ‘go-go-go’. What does work/life balance mean to you?
Kate: I am a bit of a freak in that I do love being busy and working to tight deadlines (adrenaline!). However I do need time to catch up with friends, travel, exercise etc.
I’m happy to work hard as long as there is flexibility. For example being able to leave work at 5pm to catch up with a friend and then jump online again later if there’s still work to do.
Madeleine: What has your experience been like working for a major global company?
Kate: It’s a fantastic maze! There are so many people and opportunities you can access. But the experience really relies on initiative and seeking out the opportunities and experiences that you want.
It’s impossible to know what everyone in the firm is working on, let alone how it might complement what you’re doing in your industry or for your clients. You’ve got to get out and explore and work out what you’d like to be involved in. Basically, the more you put in, the more you get out.
Madeleine: Do you have any work-related mentors?
Kate: I don’t like the word mentor but I have more senior work friends that have invested in me for sure! I think it’s a two way street though – I am extremely loyal to the people that invest in me. I’m more than happy to work hard supporting their success too.
Madeleine: What has your experience as a young woman in the workforce been like?
Kate: I have been very fortunate and had a really positive experience. I’ve even had extra opportunities presented to me. My firm is very conscious of diversity and encourages diverse teams at every event or meeting.
However I appreciate that as I get older I’ll begin to be challenged with the real sacrifices. From my view, the gender pay gap is largely a motherhood gap. I know that right now I would find it extremely difficult to balance a family on top of my work. It requires a really disciplined approach to your time and priorities.
Madeleine: How have you built professional connections and networks in your industry?
Kate: In Australia I found it’s super easy to leverage university connections because it’s a much smaller market. I also like to get involved in things at work and I’ve been involved with industry committees out of work too. This way you get exposure to ‘first class’ speakers and hear about current topics in your industry.
Madeleine: What advice would you give to other young women just starting out in their careers?
Kate: Get involved and be keen! Put your hand up for anything and everything (within reason). It means you’ll be brought along to meetings and put on difficult projects.
Exposure inside and outside the firm is super important in terms of learning to understand what you want to do. And also having access to the right people that can help shape and invest in your career.
Shout out to Kate Williams for sharing her experience with us all.
Want more career interviews with real women? Check out Meet Naomi Lean, 26, Founder of L’Elu Skincare and Meet Sophie Morgan-Short: Paid Media Manager, London.
Until next time,