Around the World to End Up in Canberra: Moazam Shah

By Nina Hendy.

An award-winning CFO who always thought he would end up in medicine has ironically found himself leading a global healthcare company in the middle of a pandemic.

Moazam Shah always thought he’d end up working in the medical field, either as a doctor or a surgeon. But ultimately, he decided to study finance.

Now, he’s in a key leadership role for a global health solutions provider based in Canberra, smack bang in the middle of a pandemic. The irony isn’t lost on him.

“I always thought becoming a doctor would be a challenging and prestigious profession that comes with a lot of responsibility. I knew healthcare creates a difference in the lives of many,” he says.

As it turns out, his role on the finance side has proven far more fulfilling than he could have imagined. He’s the CFO of global health solutions provider Aspen Medical – a diversified global healthcare provider founded in Australia in 2003. The company works across a range of sectors including defence, mining and resources, oil and gas, government, and humanitarian sectors.

Shah is in charge of managing the end-to-end finance function, which consists of almost 18 entities in the US, UK, Middle East and Asia Pacific. There are more than 2,500 employees across the business.

Most recently, he has been working with the Federal Government to shore up personal protective equipment for the national stockpile after Aspen Medical landed multiple government contracts designed to help the country combat the health crisis. Executing these contracts was a particularly complex task involving multiple stakeholders, jurisdictions, and currency transactions, he says.

Who is Moazam Shah?

The softly-spoken CFO grew up in Pakistan in the city of Lahore, studying to be a Chartered Accountant with PwC in the country’s commercial capital of Karachi.

In his mid-twenties, he moved to the UK to finalise his accountancy qualification, before accepting a role at PwC’s global headquarters in New York, where he worked for three years.

He first set his sights on working in Australia in 2008, accepting a role with Deloitte in the Western Australian office. But his arrival coincided with the Global Financial Crisis and after a few months, he was laid off with a raft of others.

Shah admits it was a big blow after an enviable career trajectory that had taken him around the world. “I was living and working in the corporate heart of the world, and I made a conscious decision to leave and experience a new life in Australia. It was overwhelming. I was not expecting to be asked to leave.”

That was the end of the great Australian dream for a while. He accepted a role in Saudi Arabia as a financial reporting manager in his first commercial setting. “At the time, the Middle East was largely insulated from the full force of the GFC given the economy was predominantly linked to oil back then,” he says.

A Baptism of Fire

He worked under a supportive CFO, who helped switch his mindset from consulting to the world of commercial finance. “It was a big change, and I loved the challenge that came with it,” he says.

“I still remember sitting with the CFO one day and discussing the financial statements of the company. I was trying to debate with him on the latest accounting pronouncements and the changes in the international financial reporting framework and all of those technical accounting standards.

“He said to me: ‘Look, you’ve got to decide whether you’re working in a consulting environment, or you’re working in a commercial environment. Because in a commercial environment, the dynamics and the variable that you work around as a finance manager is very different to the way you work as a consultant or audit professional in one of the big four firms,” he recalls.

It was a turning point for him.

“Presenting a meaningful story around financial information for your non-finance audience is an art that financial leaders like myself learn at some point during their careers, in order to thrive in the profession,”

Moazam Shah, CFO | Aspen Medical

In 2012, he stepped into his first CFO role, where he managed a complex SAP implementation and a private equity investor exit the business, among other key challenges.

Three years later, he accepted a CFO role in a large commercial conglomerate, where he remained until 2019. He received multiple awards during his CFO tenure including the Revolutionary CFO of the Year award in 2015, in recognition of his innovative and forward-thinking strategies.

Two years later, he was back on stage among his finance peers after taking home the Best Finance Transformation Award, in recognition of his commitment to digital transformation throughout his career.

“Gone are the days when finance professionals would just survive and live from crunching numbers. Digital transformation and understanding the different technologies and tools to facilitate value creation is vital in the world of finance,” he says.

Returning Down Under

Shah longed to return to Australia, landing in Melbourne with his family and working with Fyber Consulting before accepting a role as global chief financial officer with Aspen Medical, moving to Canberra. He’s enjoying the short commutes to the office and ability to spend extra time with his family and is also active as a speaker on various finance related forums.

The irony of landing in healthcare during a pandemic when he had planned to forge a career as a doctor is not lost on him. “I chose to become an accountant and work in finance and never thought about coming back to or joining healthcare. And yet here I am. In the right place at the right time,” Shah says.