Taking challenges in her career has paid off for Spark CFO.

Jolie Hodson's best career moves have come from a leap of faith into the unknown.

The latest was a little more than two years ago, when Hodson, 44, jumped industries, and the Tasman, to take over as chief financial officer at Spark.

It has been one of her biggest career switches since, on the cusp of partnership, Hodson left accounting firm Deloitte to take up a Sydney-based role with brewing giant Lion in 2000.

For Hodson, a Kiwi, the Spark role was not just a return home, but the shift into a dynamic industry also piqued her interest.


Telecom, under new CEO Simon Moutter, was about to re-invent itself as Spark, a digital services business far removed from its landline, toll-calling past.

Hodson says the brand change demonstrated that Spark was prepared to make some big calls and execute at pace.

And, she says, her approach to business is very similar to Moutter's.

"We lay out our intentions and then we execute against those and ask to be measured against that, so I think from a business perspective you can see that business has been able to shift and the things that we've been able to achieve over the last two years has really helped us deliver on those promises.

"We've still got quite a bit to do - we're by no means finished.

"We've really got through the reset phase and now it's really around trying to get into that growth phase."

When Hodson was brought on board, Moutter described her as having a "proven track record at translating strategy into execution".

That reflects the demands on today's accountants - working not only in corporate finance, but also in practice. "If you think about our CFO of the future," says Hodson, "there's going to be a combination of strategy, M&A, business development, performance management, investor relations, stakeholder engagement and a really good commercial lens."


Gathering all this experience on your CV can mean letting go of hierarchical movements in favour of roles that get you out into the business, she says.

For Hodson, a pivotal point in her career came at Lion, just weeks before going on maternity leave with her second child, now 10.

She was approached to take on a commercial role when she returned from maternity leave, which would mean a bigger workload.

Hodson says she considered staying in her existing role, one she knew well, which would be less stressful to return to with two children under two.

"But actually, stepping to the edge of the precipice and looking across and going: OK, I've got the courage to go and take some risks here.

If you aren't prepared to focus on building people around you or your own leadership style, then you won't get very far.

"I learnt exponentially more in that two years, which then set me up really well for a finance director role and eventually a CFO role, than I would have done if I stuck to what I knew.

"So I guess it is about managing your own career and being prepared to take the challenges that are put in front of you."

Hodson says the step up was helped by having a great support network. Husband Gareth managed things on the home front, and she also had an organisation that had backed her to do the role and prepared a pathway back from maternity leave.

"I think it is good too for people to see that there are different models," she says.

"To be able to come into roles, or be announced when they are off on maternity leave, that's good for women who are developing and looking for new roles in business - or any walk of life actually."

Becoming a leader who stepped forward towards a challenge - showed up but not showed off - was an important part of what she gained from that time, Hodson says.

As she has moved from junior, task-focused roles into business leadership, Hodson made sure she equipped herself with the skills to lead.

As well as looking for examples of great leadership among her business peers, she has used business coaches, both inside and outside the business, to help her identify and work on elements of her own leadership style.

But it's a work in progress and she admits it can be easy to slip back into bad habits when the heat comes on, unless you reflect on situations and keep on top of the practice of good leadership.

"It's taking the time to focus on it," says Hodson.

"The day can become very busy but ultimately, actually when you get down to it, it's all about how you and your people shift the dial in the organisation to achieve a goal.

"If you aren't prepared to focus on building people around you or your own leadership style, then you won't get very far I don't think."