Expert Spotlight

Connections, Challenges and Continuous Learning: Sissi Arra Discusses Her Professional Journey

Sissi Arra is Director, North America Finance and Accounting for Colliers International.

Throughout her international career, she has taken on the roles of Financial Manager, Corporate Controller and Business Management Consultant within the following industries: real estate, oil and gas, pulp and paper, aviation and IT. Sissi has a proven track record of improving financial performance through efficiency and effectiveness measures; managing large teams of finance professionals; leading extensive reorganization and improvement projects for international companies; and spearheading successful re-engineering of business processes. She also helped many people find their perfect home when she worked in residential real estate.


If you could have dinner with any public figure, who would it be and why?

Christiane Amanpour.  I am still “old school” and enjoy good news coverage on television.  Christiane is one of the correspondents I have followed over the years, as she reported from war zones, through famines and natural disasters.  She also does fantastic interviews with politicians and other leaders in the world.  Her coverage is always insightful and she gets the story behind the story. I think an evening out with her would be incredibly interesting.


What was your first job?

My first permanent role was with Norsk Hydro as the cost controller for an exploration drilling rig (Treasure Seeker).  I went to a conference/seminar in Amsterdam about cost control in the oil and gas industry, and it was me and 44 guys – not a lot of women in the industry at the time.


Who are your role models?

My first role model and mentor was the CFO of Valmet (Pertti Akerberg). He was ahead of his time when it came to process development and quality management. He implemented balanced scorecards in Valmet before the book of Norton and Kaplan was published and became a hit worldwide. Any time he could give his team a chance to grow and take on bigger roles, he would do so and guide us to success.


What advice would you give to someone entering the business?

In every industry, it is important to have a network of people you can work with to succeed. But I think this is more important in commercial real estate compared to any other industry I have worked in. Connect not only with potential clients, but with people who can share their knowledge in areas that may impact the many aspects of real estate clients’ working environment. If you are not in a client-facing role, I recommend just learning as much as you can about your company and industry, so you can bring that, as well as your specific knowledge, to the table.


From your experience, what are some proven ways to drive one’s professional development and career progression?

I believe hard work, willingness to take on new challenges and eagerness to continue learning are essential. All through my career, I have tried to learn more about the business, not just about finance. In my first job, I took classes at the Petroleum University on Reservoir Technique and Drilling Tools. This enabled me to talk with all the engineers with ease and understand their processes. At Colliers, it has served me well that I was a licensed realtor for six years and know the Real Estate Act and industry regulations.


What’s the biggest accomplishment of your career so far?

Building the North American accounting team as part of the North American shared services offering here at Colliers has been one of my favourite projects. I have been fortunate to be able to assemble and work with such a strong team of professionals who take on challenge after challenge, and just make it look so easy.


What are your favourite business books?

How Starbucks Saved My Life. It reads like a novel, but touches on what is important in life and how adaptable people are in general.


What do you see as new industry trends that commercial real estate clients or professionals should be aware of?

These are not necessarily new trends, but ongoing trends. Companies are seeking buildings and locations that fit their brand. The usage of space will continue to evolve as new technology and generations enter the workplace. With housing prices as they are in some of the bigger cities, the pressure on locations around public transportation hubs will continue to increase – people do not want to transfer between different modes of transportation.


What’s your definition of success?

Success for me is coaching and training people to succeed and thrive in their work.


Any words to live by?

Winston Churchill has some of my favourite quotes: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  And “If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided, all will fail.”

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