“To have a successful career in insolvency you must have a desire to help others,” says Newcastle-based Tina Battye. “This is something I didn’t realise I had when I moved into the profession at the ripe old age of 19.” Now, however, the Jirsch Sutherland Principal recognises this is one of her strengths, along with good communication skills.
“For me, the major benefit of working in insolvency is the feeling of satisfaction I get from helping people, especially when I’ve assisted in turning a business around, and as a result, staff have kept their jobs,” she says.
Right place, right time
Tina’s chosen career and move into insolvency was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time. The right place was Crosbie Warren Sinclair accountants in Newcastle, when the firm set up an insolvency division with Sydney-based insolvency firm Star Dean-Willcocks. “I was working as a trainee at the time, and they were looking for staff to join the insolvency division. I was keen, as a role in insolvency seemed quite exciting and involved visiting business premises and being very hands-on in terms of the operations of a business – not just crunching numbers,” Tina says.
Joining Jirsch Sutherland in 2009 was another “right place at the right time” moment for Tina. “I was looking to work for a larger firm with more opportunities, and Jirsch Sutherland was looking for an insolvency specialist at the same time,” she says.
As Principal, Tina’s specialty is corporate insolvency matters. Her 20-plus years in the insolvency industry – 13 of these at Jirsch Sutherland – has led to her working with a range of industries, from nurseries, retail stores, cafés and restaurants to steel fabrication, building and construction, transport, an electricity retailer, courier businesses, fencing, and even a bus manufacturer and basketball team. “I feel I have had some form of experience with most business types,” she says.
Tina found the support from other professionals around her at the time was crucial to her becoming an insolvency practitioner. “When I first went into insolvency, there weren’t really any professional courses you could do to obtain some basic 101 knowledge, such as there are now,” she says. “It was all on-the-job learning. That’s how you gained experience, especially around skills you can’t study for, such as thinking on your feet, dealing with highly stressful situations, and communication and report writing.”
Tina is also Jirsch Sutherland’s National Compliance Executive, a role that involves overseeing statutory compliance, staff training, process and systems improvements, and precedent maintenance and “anything project-related that may pop up from time to time”.
When it comes to women in her chosen profession, Tina is aware that she’s in the minority. “Only about nine per cent of Australia’s insolvency practitioners are women,” she says. “While there has been a huge shift in the number of women in leaderships roles in mainstream accounting firms, this isn’t the case with insolvency. This may be because the role of insolvency expert has not been pushed into the limelight in the same way a traditional role in accounting and, in particular, working in an accounting firm has.”
Tina has plans to become a Registered Liquidator, along with the firm’s fellow female Registered Liquidators, Principal Emma Mos and Partner Melissa Pohbee Lau. She is also happy to talk to professional women who are considering a career in insolvency. “Insolvency can impact people and businesses in many ways, and you feel great when you achieve a good outcome. Even in matters where the business has ceased trading or we wind the business down, sometimes a good outcome is that we have taken a huge weight off the shoulders of the company directors who have likely been navigating stress and worry for sometimes many years,” she says.
Tina cites a Voluntary Administration of a large local business she assisted on during her early years in insolvency as a “great example of a very good outcome”.
“It was one of the Hunter Region’s largest manufacturing firms – and a big local employer,” she explains. “I had just started working in the insolvency industry and it was a real eye opener for me. I had to cross a picket line to get on site each day. The business failure meant around 300 staff would not only lose their jobs but also not be paid their entitlements. However, the Federal Government stepped in to ensure employees received their owed wages and other entitlements by creating a safety net scheme whereby the Federal Government paid the entitlements. This scheme has had numerous name changes over the years but is now known as the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Scheme.”
Tina says this scheme was ground-breaking within the insolvency industry at the time – and it changed the landscape of the payment of entitlement claims in company wind-ups. To this day, the scheme still provides for the payment of certain unpaid entitlements to eligible employees, regardless of what assets or other recoveries are made in an insolvency matter.
“Previously, employees had to hope there would be sufficient funds from the realisation of assets and other recoveries in a winding-up to receive what they were owed,” Tina says. “Now there’s a scheme in place that will cover these amounts owed.”
Using experience to help the community
Tina, who grew up in the Hunter Region and now resides in Stockton just across the harbour from Newcastle, has been involved in her local community for many years through sports clubs and schools. “We’re an active, outdoorsy family,” she says. On weekends, she helps with her two sons’ rugby league club, where her husband is president, and she’s a keen touch footy player.
Meanwhile, back at Jirsch Sutherland, Tina’s focus is on helping businesses recover from the pandemic, floods, staff and product shortages, rising interest rates and petrol prices. “It’s a very different operating landscape these days for business owners and it’s difficult for them to plan and predict future outcomes,” she says. “The sooner directors of a struggling business obtain professional advice, the better chance they have to restructure to ensure the business can continue to operate The longer they leave it, the harder it is to get back on track as your options become limited.”