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The career path of a GM of Commercial

​Donya Van Pampus is the GM of Commercial for the retail division at Bapcor Automotive, working with our Director of Melbourne, Kylie Blackwell. Donya has shared some informative advice and insight into her career progression and leadership within the financial and commercial space.

Where it started

As a child, Donya wished to be an interior designer, which isn’t quite where she ended up today. Her first job was at a supermarket at the age of 14. At the time, Donya was studying at high school and noticed her strong suits were in economics, business management and maths, leading her to study Banking and Finance.

At the age of 21, aspiring to buy a house, she applied for a full-time role at her head office in Finance. This was a significant moment as it formed the beginning of her career in Finance.

Donya’s first career-based role was as a data analyst, being a less common entry-level finance/accounting role. However, it was a foot in the door allowing her to forge a path into other areas within the industry.


A week in the life

In Donya’s role, there isn’t normally an average week. Like any finance role, there is of course the average monthly cycle, going through month-end results and everything that happens in between that. However, her role is more around having your finger on the pulse of any financial matters that are happening and stakeholder engagement. This of course factors in being a strong leader throughout engagement with the team and stakeholders.


Maintaining the career path momentum

Throughout a career path, it is vital that you are moving into roles that boost your passion for the job and excite you to try new things and develop your skill set.

Donya has recently started a new role in the retail segment of her Bapcor, previously looking after wholesale. For Donya, this is a brand new role with a brand new team, which she thrives on. This gives her a renewed energy that motivates her to get stuck in and learn new things.

Currently, Bapcor is in a growth stage of its business lifecycle, meaning there's a lot going on. It's busy, with multiple projects in play but this allows Donya to learn something every day by being there and getting involved in new areas.


What makes me desirable as a candidate?

It is important to take your time and really work hard at what you want to do. There is a lot to learn along the way and you don't necessarily need to know it all straight away.

In your Finance career, try not to get so hung up on whether you should start in the Big 4 or industry because the skills you are going to learn are so transferable and can be used in so many different roles.

A major part of what Donya looks for in recruiting for her team is diversity in background and qualifications. A real mix of different kinds of people with different backgrounds and different educations is important because they complement each other, bringing different skills and perspectives to the table.


Qualifications for commercial leadership roles

A few routes can be taken to move into a commercial leadership role. The obvious is the CA & CPA qualifications, however, Donya followed a different path, completing her MBA to develop her skills and advance in her career.

“I definitely feel like it's made me more polished as a leader to have done that qualification.”

For certain commercial roles, however, it may not be as needed. It’s important to have strong business acumen and awareness of what goes on. Donya iterates some of the skills that are needed as well as qualifications to grow in the leadership and influential space:

  • challenge the status quo

  • be able to influence people

  • drive yourself and others

  • implement change

However, it’s also important to note that you don't need to necessarily be the master of everything. You just need to know where to go when you need to, and what you can do. Anyone wanting to move out of a traditional accounting role into a more commercial area will need to be more involved in the business operations and seek to gain an understanding of how the whole business runs.


Mentorship and role models 

Donya has experienced working with a number of mentors throughout her career, those being genuinely good people that were interested in her career and helped her to get to where she is today.

The most notable mentor was a strong female leader, who had such an impact, as at the time it was uncommon to see females in higher-level and executive roles.

This particular mentor instilled the value of a strong culture in business. There was a positive culture shift in the room when she was present, being such an impressive leader that you wanted to work for her. To this day, Donya still admires her leadership style.


Becoming a leader

Donya’s first leadership role was around 15 years ago. Over time, she herself has worked with many different leaders, allowing her to understand what people respond to well and what is less effective. From this, Donya is able to be aware of the type of leader she aspires to and how she wants others to see her. A great sense of self-awareness has really helped Donya in this space.

As a leader, you need to guide, coach and influence but to Donya, there’s one particular aspect that is particularly important:

“I want to give my team their opportunity to shine. I think that's how you get the best out of the people around you.”


Looking to the future

The career path and aspirations don’t end once you achieve a leadership role within your career. For Donya, the long-term goal is to be on a board. Having such a passion for finance, this type of role is ideal as it provides exposure to so much of the overall business. Being on a board adds to this with other elements that may not be as financially centric, including:

  • Higher-level decision making

  • Compliance

  • Strategy

  • ESG

Pursuing topics including and beyond finance is of great interest to Donya.

If you are looking for further advice on your career or career progression, reach out to the team here for a confidential conversation.

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