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4 Tips on Making It From Accountant to CFO

See what helped Magdalena Kosior-Molloy make it from assistant accountant to CFO.

People   |   Chelsea Wise   |   Jan 24, 2022

Magdalena Kosior-Molloy is the Chief Financial Officer at Holman Webb Lawyers (HW), a national legal firm with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide. Although well into her journey as an award-winning CFO, Magdalena’s path to the CFO role is anything but traditional. She was actually working in hospitality when she was headhunted by a customer who saw her potential for an assistant accountant role.

Fast forward to today. With more than 15 years of financial management experience and expertise, Magdalena is widely recognized for her thought leadership and strategic business counsel. In her eight years at Holman Webb Lawyers, she’s transformed the finance function into one that not only serves an advisory role to the business, but also builds, motivates, and manages high-performing teams.

Determined to apply her deep finance experience with an operational lens, Magdalena stepped into the CFO role in 2015 and as joint CFO/COO in 2020. See what four pieces of advice she has to share about succeeding in finance.


Tip #1: Just Get Your Foot in the Door (And Help Others Do the Same Too)

When I first arrived in Australia 19 years ago, I had zero connections — just a suitcase and a desire to get my foot in the door in a finance role. While I dreamed of building a career in finance and had overseas qualifications, I lacked local work experience. I didn’t have a network.

My goal back then was simple — find any finance role and never take the first opportunity for granted.

I was fortunate to meet a wonderful woman, who become both a dear mentor and someone who was willing to take a chance on me, Lynda Bradley. She gave me my first accounting role, assistant accountant. It really was a breakthrough moment that helped me launch my career!

This shaped me so much that I promised I would do anything possible to help anyone facing difficulties entering the finance industry. I was committed to helping them get the first job. I’m so fortunate that in my current role and previous organizations, I’ve been able to support both those starting out and those looking to become first-time leaders.

Getting the first opportunity — whether it’s your very first finance job or your first CFO position — that’s often the hardest part.


Tip #2: Find a Mentor (Or Two)

This is important as you progress in your career. Let’s assume that the quality of your work is unquestionable, but you lack the confidence to speak to your boss about career growth or require structure to plan your professional growth.

A good mentor will be able to sit down with you and tell you the truth.

Within the organization, look for someone who can be your champion — a sponsor to advocate for you and say “Look, I think she’s ready.” Outside the organization, you’re looking for clarity and perspective — someone who objectively advises you whether you’re ready for the next role, and if so, helps plan out a path to get there.


Tip #3: Invest in Your Personal Brand

This is much deeper than merely updating your LinkedIn profile. By this, I mean being able to answer the question “What do you stand for?”

With every interview or every conversation you have, there’s an opportunity to showcase what you stand for. What drives you, what your message is, and what your values are. This doesn’t just apply when interviewing for a new role, but for anyone wanting to step up, particularly in a field like finance where the function can be perceived as back office.

While you can’t control what others think, you can absolutely invest in your personal brand, starting with truly knowing what you stand for, what amazing work inspires you, and how you contribute to the broader mission every day.

Remember you don’t need a title to be a leader. Anyone can influence and drive change. Knowing yourself, what motivates you, and how this aligns with the organization’s purpose is so critical.

Tip #4: Find the Courage to Say “I Want to Be CFO”

Convincing someone that you’re ready to become a CFO is scary. But you’ll never have the opportunity to pitch yourself if you haven’t mustered up the courage to share your goal in the first place.

Coming from Poland, I was brought up with the belief that if you work hard, someone will tap you on the shoulder and say “Well done, here’s your promotion.” Coming to Australia, I soon learned that wasn’t the case.

In addition to the hard work, you have to sell yourself. You have to be able to articulate why you’re good for the job, role, or promotion. And why the time is now.

Putting yourself out there and finding the courage to say ‘I’m ready’ is scary. That’s why I like sharing my story because it took me so long to find the courage to say to my boss “I want to be a CFO.”

When I was a financial controller, the natural progression was CFO, and although I discussed career goals with my boss, I made the mistake of not sharing when I wanted to reach this goal. He indeed supported me, but because we never spoke of a timeline, I kept thinking “Why doesn’t he think I’m ready now?” The reality was that he never knew the time frame I was working towards.

I worked up the courage to tell him I was ready to be CFO and I’m glad I did. He thought I was ready too.

The person I am today isn’t the same person that I was six years ago in that meeting, and I’m certainly not the same as I was 19 years ago first arriving in Australia. I’ve continued to grow, evolve, and develop the courage to speak up and advocate for myself.

So, my advice here is to know it takes courage to have certain conversations. It can be scary. But if you want to take on more responsibility, it’s essential to put yourself out there.



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