Why it's an exciting time to be working in PwC Private

Partner, Chelsie Harris, chats about her time in industry as CFO of Jimmy Choo, what drew her back to PwC, and shares some advice for young professional women.

Chelsie Harris has created a career in professional services that many young people aspire to. Now a Partner within our PwC Private practice, she started out as a Vacationer with Coopers & Lybrand mere months before we merged with Price Waterhouse to become PwC.

After five years of work she took on a two-year secondment to the London office. And like many secondees, this all too easily “turned into seven years” abroad. From here, Chelsie’s career took a particularly interesting turn when she was presented with a unique opportunity to work in industry as an interim CFO for luxury goods retailer Jimmy Choo.

“It was one of those unusual situations where I completed a couple of deals with Jimmy Choo and had got to know the CFO really well. Six months after the deal was completed she gave me a call to say ‘out of all the people I met through the transaction you were the only one who didn’t annoy me!’ before asking if I would be interested in taking on her parental leave cover.”

Chelsie’s response to the offer? “Of course I jumped at the opportunity! I was also very fortunate to have had a Partner mentor who was supportive”. She went on to spend 15 months in the role where she gained a deeper understanding of the client side. But despite enjoying the change and being asked to stay on permanently, Chelsie couldn’t bring herself to “give up the people at PwC and the variety of the work”.

“At PwC, I think you can take for granted the infrastructure around you, particularly the support and resources you have access to. If you don’t know the answer to a question you can easily go ask your team or your colleagues and someone will always be there to support you. Even when you leave PwC you don’t lose that network. I was still able to utilise my former colleagues as a sounding board and able to keep those connections close during my time away.”

After returning to the Melbourne office in 2012 and being named a Partner at the end of 2016, Chelsie works within PwC Private to provide financial due diligence to Australian businesses, corporates and private equity. Working across both the buy and sell sides, she describes it as an “exciting time” to be working with the team as it holds such a “strong stable of amazing private business clients”.

As for the most rewarding aspect to her day-to-day job? Being able to create meaningful change for family businesses, helping them to create and preserve value.

“One of the biggest trends in Deals today is intergenerational wealth transfer. In Australia, we have a population of baby boomers who have built their family businesses either from scratch or have had them passed down, and they’re getting to the stage where they need to make decisions about the future of their business. What we’re finding is that instead of passing down to the next generation they’re often choosing to exit the business altogether.”
“The work we do helps families to preserve the wealth they’ve worked so hard to create over the past 50 plus years, and ensures that the valuation is as full as it can be.”

Reflecting on her road to Partnership, Chelsie says it was one that was reasonably ‘organic’ as she never had a specific end goal in mind when she first started. She attributes her success to maintaining a strong interest in both “learning and new experiences” throughout her career.

“When you continue to take on new challenges and embrace different types of work, that career progression happens naturally… The opportunities at PwC are there if you really want them.”

However, navigating any male-dominated industry brings with it a set of unique challenges. Chelsie’s advice to all young women creating a similar path to hers is to persevere and use your difference to your advantage.

“Early in my career I thought that I had to model myself on my male colleagues in order to be successful.  Over time, though, I’ve learned you have to find your own style. I passionately believe that to succeed you have to be true to yourself.”

She also expresses the importance of surrounding yourself with strong female mentors who you can identify with. For Chelsie, this was a female Partner, Lisa Hooker, from the London office who she describes as “nailing it” and providing her with the confidence that she could do it too. Now herself a mentor, Chelsie’s set on paying the message forward.

“The saying ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ really drives me each day. I want young women coming up through the Firm now to be able to see me balancing having a demanding career with working part-time (four days a week) and having with two young children and a family.”

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