Pouring passion into finance: A Q&A with Kayla Saunders, Finance Director ANZ, Accolade Wines

March 4, 2024
By Cindy Panzera

Kayla Saunders is the Finance Director for Accolade Wines across Asia Pacific. Kayla’s successful career trajectory is a testament to her determination and willingness to forge her own path.

Leaving her small Tasmanian hometown at the age of 18, she moved interstate to attend University.

Early in her career as a Chartered Accountant, Kayla discovered her passion while managing a family-owned wine business client. She instantly fell in love with the wine industry, which overshadowed her previous engagements in financial services, property and manufacturing.

For the past 8.5 years, Kayla has continued to grow her career in the drinks industry, working in various commercial finance roles across two companies.

Last month, Kayla generously agreed to take part in a filming day in Sydney for the Drinks Association’s upcoming International Women’s Day luncheon.

We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her fascinating career in drinks.

How long have you been with Accolade and what do you do there?
I’ve been with Accolade for 2.5 years as the Finance Director for the ANZ region. I am the Business Partner to our ANZ Managing Director and oversee commercial finance, regional financial planning and reporting and revenue management.

What’s been your career trajectory to date?
I am an accountant, spending the first 7.5 years of my career at KPMG. While working there, I had a wine client, which gave me a small insight into the exciting industry which is drinks. I then joined Treasury Wine Estates, where I spent 6.5 years in a variety of finance roles. I joined Accolade as a Commercial Manager for our Coles business, also looking after Endeavour Drinks for periods, before I was promoted to the Finance Director role in July 2023.

What do you love most about your job?
I love the people and the industry. We have a high-performing team. We work hard, but we also know how to have fun, enjoy a laugh together and maintain perspective. I am a people person – connection and relationships are core values of mine and important in how I lead our team. In commercial finance, we are business partners; therefore relationships and communication underpin what we do every day and provide the platform for us to partner effectively and influence decision-making and direction.

What do you find the most challenging?
Maintaining strong team connectivity. I know the Commercial Business Partners in my team often feel like they belong more to their respective sales team rather than the finance team. I’ve been quite focused on this, and we’ve made inroads over the last six months in building cohesiveness and a strong team culture, but it’s an inherent challenge of commercial finance.

We are based between Melbourne and Sydney. Most of my team are in Sydney, and I am Melbourne-based, so I am super conscious of being accessible and present for them given they can’t always wander over to my desk or grab me in the kitchen for a chat.

What support has been offered/given to you by Accolade to juggle the demands of your role and that of your young family?
The biggest support that Accolade Wines and the leaders I business partner with have given me is trust and flexibility.

I do school pick up and/or drop off, I take my children to swimming on Thursday afternoon, I prioritise school assemblies and concerts, but I am accountable. I do what I say I’m going to do and I fully appreciate that trust is a two-way street. For me, this means 5-7pm are a mad couple of hours in my house, but I catch up later in the evening or early the next morning.

This works for me and my family, and the flexibility offered to me is key. My children are young (6 and 4) and the time is flying.

What advice would you give to women who have a passion for the drinks industry and want to pursue a career in finance?
What are you waiting for? Jump in! I am a big believer in no regrets – you can always take learnings from things that don’t quite go to plan, but you will never know if you don’t try.

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