For Myriam Madden, finance director and president of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), there was awareness even before she left school of the opportunities that the corporate world could offer.
As well as wanting to travel,she says “I did have that curiosity about business, and decided I wanted to learn more about what makes a business successful”.
Madden’s career has enabled her to achieve both of these ambitions, visiting companies around the world and getting a cross-section view of how they operate.
Her CV includes roles leading change programmes and finance functions at organisations including Hewlett Packard, HBOS, the Scottish Arts Council, the NHS and Historic Scotland.
She says her desire to make a contribution in the corporate world was reinforced when studying for a business degree, and when she looked at the work by CIMA she noted that it looked to influence a company’s key decision-makers such as chief executives and chief financial officers.
The organisation is the world’s largest professional body of management accountants, seeking to help people and businesses in both the public and private sectors.
On graduating, Madden joined Hewlett Packard in Edinburgh when the technology giant was looking for graduates with a business background, “so that played very much to what I wanted to do”.
She stayed with the firm from 1987 to 2002, working for its telecommunications spin-off Agilent Technologies in roles including acquisition manager for a US deal, European internal consultant based in London and business support manager.
She remains an Edinburgh resident to this day, having clocked up travel further afield, including assignments in the US and Europe.
While there are clearly differences in business culture around the world, the CIMA president believes that ultimately the challenges businesses all face are very similar, and management accountants can address these to “power up business success” regardless of a firm’s location.
She was appointed 2015-16 president of CIMA in the summer and says that it has been a “terrific” experience so far, leading an organisation with more than 227,000 members and students in more than 170 countries.
One of her aims, she says, has been to shake off some of the “baggage” that can come with being a professional organisation. “One of my motivations was to really draw attention to CIMA as being very modern, very dynamic, and meeting the needs of business,” Madden adds.
She also highlights ethics and integrity as a key priority and “something that we ingrain in all our students from the outset and our members as they go through their careers.”
Specialising in financial and operational transformation, she has led change programmes at organisations with varying needs and business cultures.
Such projects can be “very challenging,” she admits. “Quite often the obstacles can be people buying into the change that needs to be made.”
Madden says it is necessary to work out how to “bring people along on that journey... how do you put a framework around it to make it more easily understood?”
Having worked in both the private and public sectors, her CV includes being part of HBOS between 2002 and 2004, where she project-managed the development of a reporting tool for finance and operational departments. She later joined the Scottish Arts Council, to drive financial performance in a period of change and to simplify legal structures in preparation for a merger. And from May 2012 she was director of finance for Historic Scotland.
She says that her varied experience has stood her in good stead, saying: “I would encourage anyone starting their career to try as many things as you can. It broadens your experience and then equally you find your own niche.”
And Madden, perhaps unsurprisingly, is far from shy about recommending the world of finance and business to young people looking around for a career path.
“I think having a management accounting background gives you a fantastic start - it just gives you that view across the entire business,” she says.
“Money makes the world go round, and actually you need to understand how it makes the world go round.”
Job: President, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
Born: Cork city, Ireland
Education: University College Cork
First job: A Saturday job on a cosmetics counter in the local department store
What car do you drive: My bike is a Boardman
Favourite mode of transport: Cycling
Music: Strong, soulful women... Adele, Mary J Blige, Nina Simone
Kindle or book: Book
Reading material: Thrillers. Just finished Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer — my best read of the year
Favourite film: Blue Velvet
Favourite actor/actress: Helen Mirren
Can’t live without: Tea and exercise. I’m addicted to tea and there is nothing better than a good cycle or workout.
What makes you angry: Men who only talk to men, for example bank managers who talk to the man rather than to the woman in a couple
What inspires you: Chat and banter from everyone from cabbies to business leaders
Favourite place: Cities with attitude... London, New York, Barcelona, Vancouver
Best thing about your job: Getting first-hand experience of different cultures around the globe