Lessons #1 & 2
It was February, 1989 … I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was a senior manager of business services for Pannell Kerr Forster in Sydney. I just turned 28 years old. At that time there were around 25 partners and over 200 staff.
It was 7.00pm in the evening when I left my nice new office for a walk around the building (PKF occupied a few floors in the building). I cannot remember why I left my office at that moment, but as I walked around something hit me like switching on a light in a dark room.
The only people left in the office at that time were the Partners! The other thing I noticed is that they were older than me, mostly grey haired (or in many cases almost no hair!) and working hard late into the evening. “The purpose of business is to create life”. Yeah, sure!
At that moment I said to myself … “if I keep going down this path, this is my future”. OMG! I was looking at a mirror image of myself in 20-30 years’ time, and I didn’t like what I saw.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Marc Bruce, and Australian accountant born in Sydney, now living in Asia.
I created this Blog series to reveal some lessons I learned in growing my Practice from nothing to over $6 million of revenues in just over 5 years.
Sometimes when accountants listen to me speak, they are offended as they think I’m denigrating the Profession. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m proud to be an accountant. It’s just that I see the accounting world slightly differently and always have.
Looking back, I respect the Partners’ work ethic and dedication. I’m also grateful as they sent me to the London office the following month to gain corporate advisory (M&A) experience which I will never forget. However, I did not want their job or lifestyle.
Upon my return to Sydney in January 1990, I handed in my resignation letter. I still have a copy of that letter dated 19th January 1990 and here are a couple of extracts:
So funny to read back over this letter today. Basically I was saying that in a traditional sense, the accounting profession sucks!
I think this history is important as it demonstrates my motivation for change. I wanted to create something different.
So before we unleash the ‘secrets’ to how I grew my own Practice, I think it’s worthwhile saying that you need a reason to change. Without a doubt, most of the thousands of practising accountants I have met are strongly dissatisfied. However, not many will make change. Why?
It’s worth taking a few minutes to explain why that might be happening. I could skip over this, and cut to the chase, but I know full well that providing you with a list of the ‘secrets’ wont, by themselves, be the catalyst for you to change.
So, in fact, I have provided you with Secret #1 (“Lesson #1”). Find a compelling reason to change.
Return the Child
If you have ever attended one of my events, I usually tell this story …
In an experiment, scientists placed a number of fleas in a glass jar. The fleas quickly jumped out. They put the fleas back into the jar and placed a lid over the top. The fleas began jumping and hitting the lid, falling back down into the jar. After a while, the fleas, conditioned to the presence of the lid, began jumping slightly below the level of lid so as not to hit it. The scientists then removed the lid as it was no longer needed to keep the fleas in the jar. The fleas had learned to limit themselves and now conditioned to the fact that they cannot escape from the jar.
The fleas still had the physical ability to jump out, but mentally they had been reprogramed. Unwittingly, humans are conditioned from birth to dampen their curiosity. “Don’t touch that, it’s hot”. “Be careful of this and that”. Then we put our kids into school. Rules, bells, lines, and you must put up your hand to even speak. As they grow up, thanks to the media, they are bombarded with news stories of death and disaster enough to frighten most people. It’s little wonder we become risk averse as we grow older, and in poor shape to make a positive contribution to society. The lid is firmly screwed onto the jar.
To break free, we need to become more like a child – curious and willing to take risks. Remove the lid and break loose from negative conditioning.
Now perhaps you will appreciate the ‘Man in the Jar’ image. Yes, it’s me in the jar and a good metaphor representing my feelings back in the early 90’s. Over the following years I managed to break out, and in this blog series I will reveal my story.
Meat in the Sandwich
Whilst I have not been in public practice for many years, I try to stay in touch with the profession. I was chatting to a Singapore Chartered Accountant a few weeks back. I asked him how things were going and without taking a breath, he went on for 30 minutes about the regulatory burdens being placed on Singapore accountants. Beyond the usual tax deadlines, now there are KYC and AML requirements. Yes, public accountants, like bankers, now have responsibilities to help protect the country from money laundering and terrorism!
The Govt and Accounting Bodies continue to thrust new regulations and standards upon practising accountants, who must then act as intermediary for clients who want nothing to do with compliance regulations and bureaucracy. Do clients want to pay for this? Absolutely not. The accountant is the meat in the sandwich and they are being squeezed on all sides.
A Time for Change
Recently I’ve exchanged emails with a couple of accounting colleagues. I will keep the names anonymous. The first story is from North America, an accountant I met in 1999:
The problem with our firm is now and always has been the 2 senior partners. We have been joined at the hip since college and one is a minder/grinder the other could be a finder (that’s me) but really and truly finds accounting work distasteful and boring.
So my partner doesn’t want to go get work, and the finder (me) doesn’t want to find more work.
My interest in building a better firm has never waned…it is just that I’m not that guy. We are looking at a merger. If we are able to put that together, that will free me up to pursue other things. One of those things is being a business development guy for that new firm with little or no actual compliance responsibility. Now that seems interesting to me. Just so I don’t have to eat what I kill.
That new direction is why I have been looking at your stuff. I appreciate you … and find you inspirational because you look at the accounting world differently from other accountants. And you have done a good job of follow up. You’re like the Winston Churchill of the accounting profession. That business consulting stuff really gets me excited. I so much prefer it to preparing tax schedules.
It makes me think about the future. I want to contribute and be useful all my life. For myself, I think, “What can I do with the wealth of knowledge and wisdom I’ve acquired about small business that will make a difference in people’s lives?” Wouldn’t it be a shame to just go off and do gardening for the next 20 years?
I do believe that in some way we either accept the future people lay out for us or we invent our own.
Here’s to inventing the future!
The pleasing aspect of this story to me is the optimism, the ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel. I look forward to working with them. Here is another recent accountant story from ‘down-under’:
We are basically an audit firm (over 50% of revenue and growing). Tax has continued to shrink under [name of partner #2].
I have created a Business Services division under [name of partner #3] who looks after all my tax clients.
I think outsourcing is the answer and I like the Philippines therefore we try and outsource as much work as we can.
[Partner #2] wishes to sell his 50% to the highest bidder but he controls less than 10% of the clients! I am giving my 50% to the staff.
Due to the above the firm is slowly dying.
My life has become very simple. I only do directorship, audit reviews and special work. I prefer to pass control to the staff.
I know these firms are not alone.
Changing the direction of your Practice and your life is a bit like a New Year’s resolution to give up smoking or weight loss. It cannot be done unless you are fully committed. No excuses. That takes time, it takes discipline, and … having good reasons for change.
It’s vital to make a long term commitment. Share your goals with others who will support you in a positive way. Create new habits. And, pleeeease stop blaming others for your circumstances. “If it is to be, it’s up to me”.
My starting point for change was frustration and unhappiness with compliance work. The most important step that I took next was changing my reading habits. In the early 90’s I embarked upon my unofficial “MBA” course. I changed my reading habits to expand my skills beyond finance, audit and tax. I read biographies of business leaders. I read books about successful business principles. I learned about strategy and marketing. Most of the books I read in those early days are listed on our web site. Lesson #2, change your reading habits. Work on yourself. See the 4 D’s below.
The 4 D’s (attributes to affect change)
If you are a sole practitioner, you don’t have too many excuses (only one decision maker!). If you have partners, then yes, there will certainly be bigger challenges. Fortunately, I do have a solution for that, which leads me to Lesson #3 …
I will share Lesson # 3 with you in the next part of this blog series. I will also share with you some confidential facts and figures about my own Practice during the growth period.
I know you have great potential, and I also know that as an accountant you can make a difference in the world. Thanks for reading.
By all means share this article with your partners and make comments (members only). You can print a PDF version by clicking this link: Lessons #1 & 2.
To check out my personal profile click here.
Have a great day!
Marc R. Bruce
21 October 2015
Suggested Plan of Action
- Lesson #1 – Find a compelling reason to change. Be prepared to commit to the 4 D’s.
- Talk to your partners (spouse and business partners) about the need for change, your state of happiness, the future. Open up the discussion by creating awareness and a constructive debate. Draw out the underlying issues, aspirations and frustrations.
- Lesson #2 – Develop new reading habits beyond tax and compliance. Work on yourself. For some ideas, visit the TNG eBook List: https://tng-global.com/ebooks/
- Join our free subscriber list to receive more practice improvement strategies and information (see links at the bottom of this page). Better still, become a member of TNG Global. Click here to Join TNG.