Can switching industries help your career?

An Interview with Edward Slack

Over the last couple of months, one of the most obvious shifts has been the slowdown in some industries and growth of others. For many, lockdown may have been a time to survey the job market and re-evaluate their options based on the existing opportunities. For employers, perhaps it was a time to think about what skills are absolutely essential for their organisation.

Someone who knows the benefits of diving into new industries and thinking outside the box when evaluating talent is Edward Slack. He’s currently Chief Financial Officer of a tech company, but he’s also worked across several industries throughout the last few decades. He has some great insights about both the rewards and challenges.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I work for GB Group – it’s an international technology company focused on identity verification, location and fraud. I’ve been with GBG for two years, since they acquired the company I was working for, Vix Verify. I was with Vix 5 years prior to that.

I’m the ANZ CFO and my department has a wide range of responsibilities. At the moment it’s more orientated to the financial management side of things. So we’re involved in revenue forecasting, financial accounts, budgeting, negotiations with vendors and some UK governance requirements for the UK parent in regards to company management and legal agreements. We also get involved in government initiatives such as R&D and export claims, plus trademarks and their renewals.

What kind of work does GBG do?

With technology continually changing, companies have different challenges in determining how they should comply with increasing legislation and risk around fraud. This means we’re in a situation where a number of companies haven’t got that interpretation quite right, they’ve been caught out. So we provide an advisory role, showing how our solutions can assist companies in meeting regulation. 

What causes companies not to get it right?

Fraud and privacy challenges are increasing and solutions are changing too. The regulations mean they need to change and invest in their processes from a technology point of view, as well as a financial resource point of view. So there can be an element of resistance, not so much in terms of compliance, but operationally in getting there. Most companies want to comply and they realise it’s a challenge they won’t be able to meet straight away.

How did you find yourself working in this space?

I was CFO of the commercialisation arm of University of New South Wales. That came to an end for the organisation and a number of people in it. Then I moved to be CFO of Vix Verify. I’ve switched industries several times in my career to also include medical products, building products and publishing.

What has made you decide to switch industries?

For me it wasn’t always a choice. Usually the reason for wanting to move away from an industry was that there weren’t many opportunities. 

Also, I was often in one of the leading companies so I would have had to go to a secondary competitor. This wasn’t something that was attractive. I always kept my mind open to opportunities around roles in other industries and was fortunate enough to find openings I was able to pursue.

What are the challenges of switching industries?

There’s often a large amount of resistance in companies, and sometimes recruiting companies, to bringing people in who are changing industries. 

There’s a tendency to say, ‘I want someone who has been in the same job in the same industry for the last 5 years.’ This is largely because they want someone who has knowledge and experience. It’s also risk management for the recruiter to go with a ‘safe’ option. 

You can get resistance from other people too, they may see you as a magpie in someone else’s nest. There can be a sense of, ‘Why have you joined our industry? What do you think you can contribute?’ People can get very protective about their roles and the way things are done, they can feel threatened by new things. But on the flip side, there are times when people embrace it. They’re looking for something new, or to have a fresh look.

So I was initially swimming against the tide quite often. It was my own personal drive that had to overcome that. There were people that were more open to it and would recognise the extra value of experience in different industries and what it could bring. Once people saw the results, things became the new normal.

While you might have a greater learning curve initially, the chances are you have the ability to progress down that learning curve faster and bring more to the organisation than someone who has been doing the same thing for years. 

What are some of the things that switching industries has taught you?

You should rely on the people around you and have confidence in them. You don’t necessarily have all the answers yourself. This is critical. 

There’s always a reason why a business has got to a certain point and you want to find out more about that. But at the same time, anticipate that people have probably forgotten some of the reasons why it got to that point and things have become routine. Having an inquisitive mind is really very valuable.

I’ve often been able to bring the experience from different roles and different industries to say, ‘Well, let’s look at things a little differently. We don’t have to do things the same way.’ 

That’s been valuable to help me make a contribution over and above what people have expected. People recruiting at a management level have expectations of what someone is going to be able to do. This is partly because of their experience and partly because of the way they’ve seen that role performed before. Coming with a different skill set means you can exceed expectations and you’ll then have other opportunities given to you.

What should people who are thinking about switching industries look for?

Whenever I’ve joined a company it’s been in a growth phase. So opening up new needs for the organisation and supporting it always created an extra interest for me. That’s something I’ve always found really enjoyable and have naturally gravitated towards.


If you’d like to have a confidential discussion about how to find the right people who can bring a fresh perspective from different industries, contact Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group 0404 803 609 or phil.davis@qconsultinggroup.com.au