Gemma Acton studied a Bachelor of Arts in European Social and Political Thought before completing an MBA, and a Masters in International Studies. Her education and career have seen her at institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, PIMCO, the Lauder Institute at the Wharton School and UCL. She currently works as Network Finance Editor at Channel 7.
What did you study and what inspired you to pursue this path?
I studied European Social & Political Thought for my BA which was a mix of Italian, Politics, Philosophy, Political Philosophy and History. I loved the variety – literature, law, historical events & the Italian language itself. I lived in Milan for a year which was very eye-opening and mind-expanding. I then studied an MBA majoring in Finance at Wharton in the U.S. and simultaneously did an MA in International Studies focusing on History of Art, in particular Pictorial Photography…I loved the rich & evocative language art historians used to describe and interpret what could initially seem dry and dull photographs. The MBA had some interesting classes – such as entrepreneurship and real estate – but I realised I was better at learning skills such as banking or accounting practically on the job than theoretically in a classroom…had trouble keeping my eyes open!
What is your current occupation?
Network Finance Editor for Channel 7.
What aspects of your role do you enjoy the most?
I love the variety. I cover any finance, business or economics story that could be relevant to the daily lives of our Australian viewers. I have to take what can often be a complex or detailed story and communicate it to our audiences in a way that they can understand and feel matters to their own lives. I also love meeting so many people each day – in a given day I could spend time with the Prime Minister or a single Mum with six children who works two jobs to make ends meet. I firmly believe everyone has a story to tell and something to teach you if you just ask the right questions and make them feel comfortable in opening up to you. TV is also fun and exciting…there’s a lot of long hours, time spent in the rain or stifling heat, rushing around…but there’s still an element of glamour in having your hair and make-up done and the exciting pressure of doing live reporting in front of 1 million plus people.
Thinking back, what was a highlight of your time at university?
Spending a year in Milan was incredible. It’s much easier to learn a language on the ground…and not just the language but a culture and why people do things the way they do. While Italy can be quite chaotic compared to the structure of Australia, and I at times found that frustrating, there was a lot to learn from their appreciation of the beauty and richness of what life can offer and the reverence for the family. To live in a country with such a fascinating history and lots of buildings, paintings etc from centuries ago was also alluring as much of Australia is comparatively so modern.
Were there any co-curricular activities you found particularly valuable while at university?
At business school I tried to balance my interests. I was President of the Sales & Trading club but also Treasurer of the Ski Club. I played in the Womens’ Rugby team and was a devoted member of the Whisky club. For me it was all about balance and meeting different people who had different interests.
How do you think your humanities education has shaped you personally and professionally?
It’s spurred my curiosity. I found studying History of Art helped me to realise there are many ways to skin a cat. We would be shown a photo and asked to write about it and every class member saw something different and defended their interpretation with passion. Learning another language was interesting as some words don’t exist in other languages as the concept doesn’t exist. For example, my Italian colleagues couldn’t immediately think of a perfect word for ‘hangover’ – which was astonishing to me but taught me about their (more restrained) drinking culture! History is always useful to study as you realise situations often repeat and you can recognise some warning signs if you’ve seen them before – it helps you understand the intractable elements of the human condition.
What career advice would you give to current students or recent graduates?
Work really hard. I had the luxury of studying humanities topics I was really passionate about then walking straight into a plum investment banking job upon graduation – mostly because I worked full-time whilst doing my degree in a financial markets-related role (at CNBC) to learn about finance on the side. While you’ve got energy and passion, throw yourself at opportunities, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and keep pushing – people love to see genuine enthusiasm and they’ll find it hard to say ‘no’ if they see that you want to work with them and help them and you care about what they do. Find a great mentor or leader and pin yourself to them – you’ll learn and they’ll help push you.
Tell us about a book you read recently that truly captured your attention?
I loved The Magus by John Fowles. I was tricked at every turn and never knew what was coming next. A thriller without a murder or crime!
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