Podcast Episode 7: Secondments - DHG's Window to the World

Did you know that DHG offers work exchange opportunities around the world? Through our alliance of accounting firms, Praxity, our people can expand their international knowledge and experience different cultures. In this podcast, Sara Watson, DHG Senior Associate, shares insights from her Australian adventure.


AGH: Hello everyone, and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast Series. I'm Alice Grey Harrison, your host and I really love this venue because I get to talk to our people about the things that matter the most to them, flexibility, careers, and people. Today I have with me Sara Watson and we are going to be talking about secondments. Sara joined the firm in 2011 and she's currently a Senior Associate in our Birmingham, Alabama Assurance practice and she primarily focuses on healthcare. She's very plugged in to the Birmingham office, she serves on the fun committee and she's been a two-time Count the Cans chair and she's also very active with our local recruiting team. Welcome Sara.

SW: Thank you.

AGH: We're super excited to have you here. So let's begin, for those out there who aren't familiar with the term "secondment," what exactly is a secondment?

SW: I guess in its simplest form it's a work exchange between two different Praxity firms. The length of stay probably varies from firm to firm based on what their needs are, but for me personally, I went to Melbourne, Australia to work with a firm called William Buck, which is one of our Praxity alliance members. I was there for about three and a half months, mid-July through the end of October, which is their busy season. But as far as its purpose, it's really meant to provide our employees with professional and cultural enrichment opportunities.

AGH: That's really awesome. So I'm familiar with William Buck through Praxity and have had a chance to get to know some of their professionals and they seem to be a lot like us, but Australian. Is that true?

SW: It is true. They are structured a little bit differently than DHG, which is something I learned when I got there. I think they have about six or seven offices scattered across Australia and New Zealand, but each one operates independently of each other. So it's not like DHG where we may share staff or resources, or have trainings together or things like that. They do share a national technical team, which is basically like our PSG. But other than that they're pretty independent of each other. So I worked with William Buck, Victoria. Victoria is the state in which Melbourne's located in the southern part of the country. Their Melbourne practice is split into two office; they have a city office and one in the suburbs. They're combined, maybe 125 or so people, but they have service lines that are pretty similar to DHG. Like a wealth advisory, a business advisory, corporate advisory, and then a tax and audit practice. So they are structured somewhat differently, but culturally seems pretty similar.

AGH: Yeah. So you live in Birmingham, which is not a huge city, much like Greenville where I live. So what was it like to be in this really huge metropolitan city?

SW: It was pretty great. It was, again, much different than what I'm used to here. There was, I think about 4 million people that live there, and far fewer than that that live in Birmingham. They had me living in an apartment in the city, which was pretty great. I actually didn't drive the entire time I was there, which was probably for the best to not be driving on the left-hand side of the road. I would surely have caused an accident. But they have really great public transport, which was not something I had really ever been accustomed to; trains and trams and buses. And I was in the city, so you can just walk everywhere. I'd heard before I went that Melbourne was the world's most livable city for something like five years running. I think it won that title again in 2015 when I was there. It was sort of hard to understand what that meant before I went and to be honest, not really sure I can put into words what the means now that I'm home. But it was just, again, really easy to get around. There was always a new restaurant, a coffee shop on every corner, it's the sporting capital of Australia I think. So they're home to the Australian Open, they have Australian football, which was a fairly new experience. It's something sort of like our football, which a little bit of basketball with maybe some ruby. It's soccer, it's just kind of a really cool different sport to get to see. So it was just a whole slew of new experiences that I really hadn't ever gotten to do before, so that was pretty cool.

AGH: Very cool. So of all the things that you experienced while you were there, what do you value the most of your experience?

SW: I'd say the people I met and the friends I made were probably the most valuable part of the experience. Obviously the technical and work related experiences and the lessons I learned were a key component, but it was mainly the people that made the experience what it was. I stayed in touch with so many people from that team and when I got there they paired me up with a buddy sort of to kind of help me out and show me around the city and the office and kind of help me figure out the first few weeks that I was there. But the girl they paired me up with was from Canada and she had moved to Australia about a year before that. So we got to share sort of that North American bond, and it was just nice to have someone that sort of understood what life was like back home. Not that it was all that different, I mean, but it was just sort of a good relationship to build. And so I made friends with her and some of her other friends there and they were all in Canada over New Year's and I got to go meet up with them since they were so close, which ended up being really cool. And I have no doubt I'll be back in Australia before too long to catch up with the rest of them.

AGH: That's awesome.

SW: So yeah, it was the people that were the best part.

AGH: I mean now you have friends all over the world. That's super cool. So in terms of your work experience, how does it translate to what you're doing here in the US?

SW: Based on what I heard from past secondees I was expecting the audit methodology and kind of overall work life balance to be a lot different than what I was used to, but it ended up being far more similar than what I could have predicted. So I quickly encountered far different industries and client basis than what I'm used to working on here. Like one of the first ones I worked on was an insurance brokerage firm, and then some mining and exploration, and then some other startup companies. A lot of them have foreign parents and subsidiaries and a whole range of audit issues I wouldn't have ever encountered here, particularly working on their listed entities since I didn't work on any public clients.

SW: Technical things like performance rights options for a currency translation reserve, stuff like that and even if I don't ever encounter those audit issues now that I'm home, it was just the experience of sort of like independent learning and having to figure it out for myself that I think was beneficial to me from a work perspective.

AGH: That's a really interesting perspective. So I know you had a little bit of fun while you were there, what would you say was your favorite fun experience? Something that you might not normally do here in the US that you were able to experience there?

Sara Watson secondmentSW: Beyond just like the day to day living in Melbourne, which was really great. I really love the chance I had to travel. So Australia's a pretty big country, and not quite like being in Europe where you can just take weekend trips to all these different countries, but I did get away for a few weekends. I went to Sydney twice, and I think there's that moment of walking into Sydney and seeing the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House and just sort of that iconic Australia that you see in like the movies and stuff like that, that was really neat. But I also got to go to Tasmania for a weekend.

AGH: Wow.

SW: Actually traveled around New Zealand before I started, and then went to Queensland before I went home. So I got to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef and do those bucket list activities that you think of when you think of Australia.

AGH: Wow. It sounds like an amazing experience. So you mentioned you made some really great friends, what else is something that you really miss about Australia?

SW: I think I just sort of miss the living in a big city. Just like anything I need was within a two minute's walk, or a train ride. You can get food delivered from any type of restaurant, any time of day. There's always something new going on. So you pair that with the friendships that I made while I was there, and it just made it pretty difficult to leave.

AGH: Very cool. So for someone out there who's listening who thinks, "Hmm, that sounds like something I'd really enjoy doing." What advice would you give to someone who might be considering a secondment?

SW: First I'd just say, "Apply." And then if you have the chance to actually participate, jump on it. I can imagine, because I've been there, it's really scary to think about leaving your friends and your family for that long, especially for someone like me who started my career at DHG, it's leaving and basically taking a new job. But it's also really worth it. My favorite restaurant, shops, car — the comforts of home, they'll always be there but these experiences come around, for most of us, once in a life time. So professionally and personally, I would honestly be shocked if anyone didn't look back on a secondment as one of the best decisions they ever made.

AGH: Wow, that's pretty powerful advice. Well Sara thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to be with us.

SW: Thanks for having me.

AGH: And thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you've just heard, we hope you'll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our life beyond numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.  

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