Diversity in demand
The 2019 UDIA Queensland Women in Leadership winner, and Pradella Property Ventures Chief Financial Officer, Elaine Opferkuch shares what this diversity award means for her and how she hopes to change perceptions of ‘behind the scenes’ leadership.
Dogged, driven and determined to stick to her word no matter what.
For Elaine Opferkuch, hearing the words “You can’t” is like waving a red flag at a bull.
“My biggest achievements career-wise have been the ones that started out as the biggest challenges,” she says.
“When I started at Pradella, I was advised by many that funding the 414-lot Seachange Arundel project in the middle of the GFC was impossible. Well, those were the wrong words to the wrong person! Certainly, I had my fair share of unsuccessful attempts where the answer was ‘we are not funding SEQ’ or the amount offered was insufficient. But I ended up securing funding with a bank that believed in us and our ability to deliver. We kept our word, we delivered as promised and they are one of our current funding pillars.
Dogged, driven and determined to stick to her word no matter what––these are attributes that have seen Elaine achieve the unachievable time and time again throughout her career.
“My father owned a caravan park when I was growing up, so I saw him develop it from the ground up into a thriving community. I’m also a renovator myself, so I think these practical traits have given me the ability to sit at the boardroom table and negotiate pricing and terms based on actual experience,” she explains.
Elaine’s career has encompassed stints with various building and development companies, fixing their accounting and finance departments and managing tight cashflow and bank negotiations whilst facing financial obstacles. The diverse scope of work gave her an in-depth understanding of all facets of the development and building industry.
“Many of these firms had out dated accounting systems requiring replacement and implementation. The job costing and estimating wouldn’t integrate with general ledger, and cashflow and budgeting required management. I assessed the problems, implemented the solution and managed the outcome, and only when problems converted to maintaining the system would I move on to the next challenge,” Elaine says.
“After working for Berela Ltd, where we were taken over by another development company, I thought I would try something different to see if my skills could be transferable to another industry.
“I took up a position at Ipswich Grammar school as Secretary to the Board and Commercial Manager. The school was going through a rough cashflow patch. It took three years to turn it around. I was able to negotiate a $4 million grant from the Federal Government via utilising changes in school categorisation policy (being innovative), which bought money into the school’s operational account. For the building fund, I initiated and had approval to do a greenfield development at Brassall whereby I project managed the development, which proved successful. I negotiated a grant and external funding to build the new junior school building and complex, and bought and sold houses––all bringing money into the building fund. Happy days!”
Adding to her impressive track record, Elaine has also been a financial controller, secretary to the board of public, private and not- for-profit organisations and CFO for both public and private entities.
She has been chief financial officer and a member of the board of Pradella Property Ventures (PPV) for more than 10 years, and says she works with an amazing team and workplace culture.
“It’s great being part of the history of the organisation and its decision-making processes,” Elaine says.
“Above everything, Pradella is a positive influence in this industry, being innovative and a role model for other development firms. Lenders know we are 100 per cent true to our word and will deliver what we promise every single time. Customers know we will go above and beyond to listen to their needs and deliver community-driven outcomes.”
Asked what winning the 2019 Women in Leadership Award meant to her, Elaine says the recognition has encouraged her to use her experience and voice to inspire and encourage young people, particularly women, to see the importance in “behind the scenes roles” and give back to the building and construction industry.
“Often, finance and accounting teams sit in the shadows in our industry,” Elaine laughs.
“But without us, these projects wouldn’t get off the ground. I want this award to inspire other women in particular to keep pressing forward being the best they can be. You have a voice and you should feel valued. It has built my confidence not only knowing my contribution matters but that others also believe in me too.
“Also, because of this award, I have been able to successfully nominate as a member of the UDIA finance and taxation policy committee, which I’m thrilled about.”
Elaine has sage advice for those starting out in development or looking to pursue a career in the industry.
“To be truly successful, I believe you need to be true to your own core values and have passion in what you do,” she explains.
“My core values are honesty, integrity, professionalism and respect. Understand your own values and stay true to them. Be keen to learn and listen. And remember, leadership is less about yourself and more about the people around you. When we genuinely care about the wellbeing of people around us in business and life, amazing things happen. The more you invest in them, the more they invest in you.”