By Alexandra Cain*

Females are a force in credit. Here we talk to three of the most outstanding contributors to the industry about their careers and their advice for other young credit managers.

Sophie Chatz: working with clients for a better outcome

Sophie Chatz, credit and commercial manager at Sheppard Cycles, says there’s two parts to her work that make it so rewarding.

“I love to see the development, promotion and progress of my team. And I love working with customers who have struggled for a long time that have potential. I’m talking about customers in the bicycle industry who have operated a struggling business and who I have worked with to review their financials, their potential and staff, as well as traffic in and out of the store,” says Chatz.

“I like to get them to a point where they’re operating a really successful business and managing cash flow well, which helps my team,” she adds.

When it comes to challenges, Chatz says as she’s passionate and loves what she’s doing, the key is finding a balance between work and life. “Not taking everything on is one of my biggest challenges.”

She says it’s been rewarding seeing the confidence of women in the industry grow over time. “There has been a change and women have been able to take on more positions, be promoted and stand their ground. Internal confidence has been one of the biggest things.”

She praises the AICM for its work promoting women in credit. “Going to events is an opportunity to find young talent, which has helped change the way women are viewed in credit.”

Mentoring has been a feature of Chatz’s career. “I have had the opportunity to work really closely with a sales manager. Being able to visit some of the stores has given me the opportunity to understand different parts of credit. Helping dealers review their financials, business models and metrics has made a huge difference to how I do my job, information I can then take back for my team. He’s been one of the biggest contributors to my learnings in credit.”

She also has another mentor who she can call on who has helped her understand the behavioural and cultural aspect to her role. “He’s another credit manager, and I can pick up the phone to him ask him how he would deal with a particular experience. He has a really good temperament and outlook I can learn from.”

Chatz’s advice for young women in the industry is to always stand back, review and assess the situation and understand the most important task to tackle, otherwise it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Debbie Leo: total customer focus

Debbie Leo, general manager – sales, major accounts, at Veda says one of the best parts of her job is building really strong relationships with customers. “Some of my customers I’ve worked with since I was 18. There has been a long history which builds trust on both sides.”

Leo says her fire was first lit for credit early in her career. “I was told that when I got my first promotion not to expect to be promoted further because I was a woman. I was only 24, and I thought, ‘just watch me’.”

Today, meeting customer expectations is one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. “When people trust your advice it’s a very rewarding feeling. When a customer rings and says, ‘the system has done everything you said it would do,’ that gives you a great deal of satisfaction and pride in the service you provide. I thrive on having customers who are able to do their jobs more effectively because we provide them with a quality service.”

Leo says she has witnessed substantial change in the industry since she started. “There are lot more women in credit management roles. Females manage their customer base and teams really well. They tend to have great attention to detail. I think women doubt themselves more so they try harder. I love seeing a growing number of young women coming through our industry. A career in this space can be challenging and rewarding.

“It’s not just being on the phone and collecting money and it’s not just about opening and reviewing accounts. There’s a whole lot of regulation and compliance that you need to understand. Credit management needs strong communication skills and I think the role deserves more credit – no pun intended – than it gets.”

Leo says having had a number of great bosses, both men and women, has really helped her career. “I’ve had good and not so good bosses. I’ve tried to take the best from them all. If I see someone who is not behaving well or who has not been a strong leader for whatever reason, I have made sure that I learn from that.”

Her message to young women in the industry is to work out what motivates them. “Every job has its tough days. I’ve worked in the industry for 30 years and every day I’m challenged. My advice is to work for companies that will develop you and to find a job that’s interesting. But really, regardless of the job you do, it’s your passion and enthusiasm that will make the difference in how you enjoy your role.”

She says some jobs won’t take you as far as you want to go, but even in this situation it’s important to work hard. “Because I did this I always got tapped on the shoulder to do the next role. Find out what you love and what motivates you. We spend a lot of time at work. You shouldn’t stay in a role if you’re really unhappy. It’s just not worth it.”

Finally, Leo says it makes her happy more young women are coming into the credit industry. “I think it’s an industry that is really suited to females because of the different attributes we have. I really hope young women continue to join and love the industry as much as I do.”

Alison Beythien: all about relationships

Alison Beythien, O2C services manager for Holcim Australia, which supplies aggregates, concrete readymix and concrete pipe and products, says for her, watching people develop is the most rewarding aspect of her career.

“We had a fairly young credit manager join us three years ago, and she is now running projects nationally for me and absolutely thriving in the role. Watching her develop and learn and understand the business is incredible to watch.”

She says what’s highly prized in credit is an ability to be sure of your facts. “It’s about making sure you have as much information as possible so that you’re making the correct decisions.”

Beythien says networking is extremely important. “Working closely with business leaders to understand their strategies and how your team can add value is key. Developing trust with the business and sales teams ensures difficult decisions can be debated with the best outcome achieved for the business.”

She says women have come a long way in credit since she has worked in the industry. “There are more opportunities for women now. My team is 50/50 women and men in the management role, and now it’s certainly a lot easier for women to succeed.”

Working for especially inspiring people early on helped Beythien get her start. “I worked for a manager who spent a lot of time discussing and debating things with me. He wanted me to have a career rather than just a job. He led by example with a lot of encouragement and coaching.”

Working in HR for a few years also helped Beythien develop more depth in people management. “It was a left-field opportunity, which was a really good thing for me.”

Her final advice for women coming into the industry is to listen and learn from your peers. “In the credit world experience is number one, because there are so many things that have the potential to hit you from left-field in credit. So build your relationships with salespeople, your customers and your team to do the best job possible.”

*Alexandra Cain is a freelance finance journalist who has written for many leading Australian and international business publications.

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