5 Minutes with Jason Aquilina

By December 10, 2018 5 minutes with...

What is your current position?

I am the Chief Financial Officer at Cabrini Health. My responsibilities involve the full finance function, including accounting, payroll, accounts receivables, health funds, patient accounts and health information services.

What made you gravitate toward working with Cabrini Health?

I worked for a company called Australian Air Express for almost 20 years. The organisation towards the end of my tenure experienced a corporate split, which is when I started to look at new opportunities. In 2011 a role at Cabrini as Financial Controller became available. The CFO at the time took a punt on me in terms of not having a health background, and she gave me an opportunity.

What was your first job out of University and how did it shape your future career path?

My first serious job was at a company that no longer exists; the State Bank of Victoria. I started in banking at the age of 17 and was in Banking for seven years doing various tasks including administration. I didn’t get the chance to go to university, because as an immigrant whilst I did my HSC I needed to help support my family. In my early twenties, I found myself in between jobs, which is when I was hired casually by Australian Air Express.

The organisation had just started, and someone there saw something in me and gave me an administration job. I was then approached to be an assistant accountant and worked my way up to an accountant role. Eventually I applied for the Finance Manager position and the CFO at the time said, quite bluntly, “there is not chance in the world I’m going to give you that job unless you are qualified”. Despite being so blunt, he offered to fund my schooling and got me into a course at Monash University where I did a Bachelor of Business.  Once I finished my degree, he funded my CPA, and years later with a few promotions in between, I was fully qualified and worked my way up to be part of the senior finance team, as a National Finance Manager.

 Who has inspired you most in your career?

There are two people. The first is the CFO I started working for at Australian Air Express, because he really helped me with my studies and gave me the opportunities to grow my career. He was pivotal in my career.

The current CEO at Cabrini would be the second, because he finds a real balance ensuring the organisation is sustainable, as well as maintaining our culture and focus on our mission.  This is a balance that a Finance Professional in a NFP organisation also needs to embrace.

 What is the most rewarding part of your current role?

The fact that we deal with people and patients, and we positively affect people’s lives. Even though I specialise in a finance role; ensuring we keep all our regulatory/statutory requirements and keeping management informed of all financial matters, it is also balanced out with the fact that we are doing good for people. We deal with vulnerable people who come to hospital for urgent care, or who are going through the final days of their life in palliative care and need serious care and attention. Even though we make a margin, a lot of that margin is filtered through to charitable services including a refugee health hub, outreach services into areas such as the aboriginal community, just to name a few. That is the most satisfying part really, it’s not just dealing with customers here, it’s changing people’s lives, and my aim is to make sure at Cabrini that it is long-term sustainable from a financial point of view.

How do you and your team work to help motivate your employees?

We make sure that there is good communication. We want to ensure that everyone understands what our goals and objectives are, and we do that with respect. There’s a fair degree of empathy required and promoting team work and synergy in our department is critical. We are a service department in finance and we want to ensure we are servicing the organisation and our patients and customers appropriately.

What do you think will be the challenges and opportunities for Cabrini Health over the next 5 years?

The challenges that we face today are clearly similar to other private health care organisations. There is a good public health service in this country, and therefore the private health system and private insurance proposition is not as valuable as it used to be in the past – it really is something that all private health organisations need to come to terms with. There are challenges to ensure that our patients, or customers’ experience is beyond expectation, thus creating a differentiation point between us, the public health system and our competitors. Also ensuring the affordability for our patients, and minimum out-of-pocket expenses.

We are currently putting up a new wing at the Malvern hospital (the Gandel Wing), it is going to be a terrific looking building and on the inside will hopefully set a standard in the industry in terms of technology, comfort and patient experience. These are the sorts of opportunities we need to be embracing; being a differentiator in the industry and looking for ways to improve the patient experience.

 What were the benefits of working with an executive recruiter to secure this opportunity?

It was fantastic in terms of preparations, the interviews and dealing with people who have experience. I felt that I was working with someone who was assisting the cause, explaining the process and always a good sounding board. Obviously, I hadn’t been to a lot of CFO interviews, so it was good to be able to speak to someone who had the experience when applying for these types of senior roles.

 How has your experience been with Ccentric?

I had a terrific experience. The process was quite lengthy as it was such a long search with both external and internal candidates. Ccentric gave me the opportunity to be as well prepared as any external applicant.

What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t working?

I really enjoy running and spending time outdoors. I love spending time with my family and kids of course and on top of that, I love soccer and enjoy the AFL. I’m an Essendon die-hard.

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