Sarah Alcock - Foleys

What is your background?

I was bought up in Tapanui, a small farming and forestry community, attended the local high school Blue Mountain College.  It was a great place to grow up and my social life was based around sport.  I captained the school first eleven, represented Eastern Southland and Eastern for hockey.  I also played tennis, basketball, and volleyball.  The people were down to earth and hardworking.  Although I am a city girl now, I have fond memories growing up in a small community.  The majority of my summers have been spent camping and water skiing at Glendhu Bay.

I am a director and shareholder of Foleys.  Foleys is a plumbing, drain laying, gas fitting, mechanical services, and electrical company.  When I started with the company we employed approximately 20 staff in Dunedin and are now close to 200 and have branches in Wanaka, Queenstown, Alexandra, Ranfurly, Twizel, Balclutha, Oamaru, Christchurch and the Head Office in Dunedin.  I am a Chartered Accountant and the Financial and Commercial Manager at Foleys.

I am married to Warren and we have two daughters Hannah and Emma who have both left home, studying at Otago University. Both our girls have grown up to be intelligent and independent young women.  Being a mum is a very special role and I loved watching and supporting both Emma and Hannah in all their sports and interests.  Although they have both been very successful in their schooling, sports and dance it is the hours of effort they put in to achieve the results and what they give back to their sport by way of coaching that makes me most proud.

In my spare time, I enjoy yoga, walking, reading, travelling, and socialising with friends and family. 

What has been your career path?

Maths and Accounting were my strong subjects at school so I had made up my mind I was going to be an accountant pretty early on.  It was then just a matter of following the path to get me there. I studied at Otago University gaining my Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting.  My first accounting job was an auditor with Cooper & Lybrand in Dunedin.  I loved this role, going out to all the different businesses meeting the people and getting an understanding of the purpose of the company, how they operated, assessing their risks, looking at the suitability of their systems and processes.

A couple of years later I took up the opportunity to do a four-month sabbatical with my colleague and girlfriend Rachel, with Coopers & Lybrand in Vancouver, Canada. This was an amazing opportunity and I worked on some interesting companies in different industries to what I had experienced in Dunedin.  Vancouver was a stunning city and got me curious about traveling.

Feeling unsettled when I came back and wanting a change, I started applying for Company Accounting positions.  There is a natural progression from auditing to go into Company Accounting.  I had several interviews lined up but only attended the first one with Foleys.  Brian Foley, Craig Foley, and Chris Sutherland, the owners at the time, won me over and I knew I would enjoy working with them.  When I was younger I wouldn't have seen myself working at a plumbing company.  That is one of the things that was great about auditing you realise quickly that there is always more to businesses that what you think.  No matter what industry you are in there are always challenges that make it interesting and these constantly change with the environment and growth. 

When Foleys formalised their governance process, adding two independent directors, and meeting bi-monthly, I attended a series of Company Director courses, with the Institute of Directors.  This reinforced the skills and thinking necessary for our board meetings.

What drives you?

Financial independence.

Knowing my contribution makes a difference so that the Board of Directors and Management can make good business decisions.

The people I work with - the company has grown and that is a testament to all our different skills from the trade staff, admin, management and directors. Knowing how much effort everyone puts in keeps me focused on putting my best foot forward.

Do you have some advice for young women launching their careers?

To choose a career that you are interested in and think you will enjoy. 

Lead by example, have a strong work ethic and take individual responsibility for your role and support your team where you can.

Make the most of opportunities that come your way.

Loose the guilt - whether you are a housewife, mother, work part-time, or full-time do what works for you and your family and accept that is the right decision not what other people think you should be doing.

Try to keep a good work/life balance and look after your health.

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

International Women's day is at time to acknowledge how far women have come and in particular remember those women that carved the way for women to have the choices we have today.

It is also a time to celebrate successful women in whatever contribution they make. In Dunedin, there is a function held at the town hall called 'Women you can Bank on' and it never ceases to amaze me what some of the women who speak at these functions have achieved.  The women presenting have been different ages, from different cultures, achieving different goals but have all been highly successful and truly inspiring.

Most of my career has been male-dominated but everyone I have worked with saw me as another colleague.  I never felt my gender was an issue but I do realise that this is not always the case in society, which is sad, as it really should always be about who is the best person for the job and they should be paid on their level of skills, contribution and behaviours.

During my career I have seen an increase in women entering accounting.  In my early days women made up 20% of the professional development courses I attended and now they make up at least 50% of the class. We currently have one registered female plumber at Foleys and two female apprentices, 15 years ago we didn't have any. So even in highly dominated male roles you are seeing females coming through and being successful.

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