In The Black: The truth about following your father's career footsteps - Michelle Gibbings

Thank you to Megan Breen and In The Black for the opportunity for Michelle to share her insights on how family can influence your career choices. 

Debate surrounds the influence of family on our career choices and success, particularly our siblings.

Theories abound on the relationships between leadership and birth order, the impact of gender and age gaps, and the effects of having siblings or not.

It’s difficult to determine exactly what role family plays, but it does appear it is a driving force behind certain behaviours and choices.

“One of the biggest things, aside from education, is the socialisation and the influence that you get from your parents.

“As humans we are born with a personality, but we are socialised into a certain way of being and often to see what our opportunities are,” says Michelle Gibbings, workplace expert.

“But there are too many variables to point to just one aspect as the reason for a career choice, or behaviour in a workplace,” she adds.

Family influence on career choices

Anna Urnova, executive coach at INSEAD, says that families subconsciously and consciously shape a lot of our choices in life, including career choices.

Research conducted by Urnova in 2012-2013 with a group of executives revealed several interesting findings, she says.

“I observed clear parallels between our family of origin experience and our preferences and ability to succeed in certain types of roles, team and work dynamics.

“My research also found that 80 per cent of participants didn’t notice parallels between their family and work experience.

“Which caused them to derail at least once in their senior executive roles, while not being able to understand the reason for their personal ineffectiveness.”

Gibbings also highlights how family can influence expectations.

“There is a balance between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘coulds’. There’s a whole heap of things that we’re told that we should do.

“One of the key things in really growing your own career so it works for you is to really focus on what you could do,” Gibbings says.

Father “always believed” in my accounting career

Dato’ Mohammad Azlan Abdullah FCPA is CEO of Prolintas and deputy president of CPA Australia’s Malaysia division.

His son Megat Emir Imran studied accounting and now works as a financial program analyst at AmBank Group.

Imran: “My interest in accounting started when I was in high school when my friends and I tried to finalise a balance sheet – I had a lot of fun doing it.

“My interest just grew from there, and I finally decided accounting was what I wanted to study at university. It wasn’t something my father pushed me to do.

“He’s very good to go to for career advice but he wasn’t trying to get me to follow in his footsteps at all.

“I was scared though. Everyone told me how hard it was, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t want to fail and take the wrong step.

“When I told my father, he said: ‘If you are too scared to try something in case you fail, then what’s the point of living?’

“I thought, that’s true and I haven’t regretted my decision to study accounting for one second. It’s the best decision I have made.

“I think my father is happy that at least one of us studied accounting like he did.

“I am beyond grateful that he supported me and always believed in me to do things in my own way.”

Azlan: “To tell the truth, there was a time when I thought I could get all my children to follow in my footsteps! But that didn’t happen, which is OK.

“I have tried to help guide each of my children to do what they are interested in, rather than tell them what to do.

“Imran made the decision to study accounting and, of course, that pleases me.

“But I have four other children who all have professional qualifications in other areas, and I am very proud of them all.

In fact, my passion for encouraging young people to gain a professional qualification is not just limited to my children.

“If my wife sees me at a gathering talking quietly in the corner with a young person, she knows the ‘career talk’ has started.

“I didn’t have any kind of guidance when I was young, so I am very keen to help others to make the right choice for themselves.

“Imran took a while to decide what he wanted to do, and it was good to be able to help him. We are quite close, and it is good to share my experience with him as he starts out in his career.

Daughter charting her own career course

Stephen Lee is a retired EY partner and was the 2001 Divisional President of Greater China, CPA Australia.

His daughter Irene Lee is a partner at KPMG in Hong Kong and Divisional Councillor, CPA Australia.

Stephen: “I may not look like it, but I am a pretty open-minded father. I didn’t tell my daughter to follow my footsteps or what her career should be – there was nothing like that.

“If there was any influence from the family, I would say it was that we just expected Irene to finish her university education, whether that was in Hong Kong or overseas.

“In fact, she chose the same university that I went to, so in addition to both being CPA Australia members, we are also alumni of the same university.

“Irene has been asked many times why she is not working at EY  ̶  considering I was a partner there – and she was always very clear that she didn’t want to live under her father’s shadow and rightly wanted to build her career on her own.

“I believe the fact that Irene and I ended up in the same profession has more to do with the attraction of the accountancy profession itself than family influence or expectation.

Irene: “To be very honest, when I was at university, accounting was not my favourite subject.

“But while I was at university I did two internships with EY, which is where my father worked, and I came to see how interesting accounting was and the opportunities it offered.

“He’s retired now, but it was good to have my father working in the same industry.

“He often told me that being a partner in one of the Big Four is much more than crunching numbers.

“It is more like sales and marketing where you are promoting your professional expertise and demonstrating how you can identify solutions for clients, which he said suited my personality.

“It’s not like he would sit my brother and me down and give us a whole career speech, but during our upbringing he would tell us what his job and others were like so we could make our own choice.

“I think that definitely influenced my brother and me, and that’s why we chose different professions.”

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