Why did you become an accountant?
From when I was very young, I was always in and around our family businesses. My parents would always go and see their accountant, he was completely connected to everything they did. My parents always used to say “listen to your accountant, he knows your business better than you”. Plus, as a small kid, I used to think “this guy is killing it”, because his office was in one of the few buildings we’d been to on the Sunshine Coast which had an elevator.
Overall, that accountant made an impression on me, as a person who was always linked to running a business. Business was always at the heart of it.
As I was going through school, my mum always stressed the importance of numbers to me in everything you do, and that followed through to later. I studied accounting and did subjects like tax and public practice and immediately thought — accountants get to solve problems. They make business opportunities happen. They meet people. I came home after those classes and thought “this is me. This is what I want to do”.
You were quick to progress to running a firm. What did that ladder look like for you?
Yes. I was an associate partner of a boutique firm, but I didn’t own underlying shares, and had the responsibility of a partner. I was negotiating my buy-in — it was always going to happen — but I couldn’t justify the purchase price of goodwill in a boutique practice. They are great people, have a great firm and I’m still good friends with them but something was missing in my mind.
This was a turning point for me. I was always focused on buy in. I thought that was the only outcome. When I did my own due diligence at that point, just like I would for a client, I tested the concept of starting my own firm. I thought about what that would look and feel like and if it was plausible.
I started going down my own path, and realised — very quickly — it was the right decision for me. Challenging myself, and doing something a bit different, was the right decision. I chose my happiness.
Once I took the plunge, it again reaffirmed to me that everything we do already as accountants and business advisers are the skills we need to apply to our own work. You remove the emotion and expectation, and come back to the core skill sets and facts. That’s how you identify opportunities.
Accounting has given me the confidence to apply these skills to a variety of opportunities that I have since conquered.
You talk a lot about inspiring the next generation of accountants and business leaders. How do you share this story and message with them?
I share my path and my journey for that reason, I am so passionate about inspiring and helping business.
The impact we can have as accountants with our business minds extends into so many opportunities for us, and for small business in Australia.
I do a lot of work with business communities, particularly in Queensland, to showcase what we can all achieve in business together.
For example, I am volunteer president of the Gold Coast Junior Chamber of Commerce, which is for young professionals, the age is capped at 35. It promotes the interests of small business, and advocates in their best interest. It is all about building community, and having influence and advocacy through those channels. I also work with Griffith University, both presenting and mentoring students. I also regularly jump in front of the mic, and get my views out through our own channels, or others like Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.
What I always come back to is my passion for enabling business opportunity, and for happiness. As accountants, we can, and do, achieve that with our skill sets, and we should focus on it more. The easy route, the expected route, for so many accountants is to buy in to a firm to achieve that. With technology, with our connections to business, with everything we know — there are other ways to scale and achieve.
One of your businesses is a crowd-funding platform. Would you have been able to launch this if you weren’t an accountant?
Absolutely not. And that’s the point I often make to the younger kids — there is so much you can do with your skill set and experience.
With my firm, Whitehouse, we work in a lot of high-growth industries. In those industries, you meet lots of start-ups, and those start-ups need funds.
It was a client in May 2017, who was looking to do a cryptocurrency raise, which first got me thinking. I instantly recognised an opportunity to help Australian businesses to raise much needed capital, and I knew I could effectively create a team, structure and process that could make it work.
When you have the skill set of an accountant, you know what you need to do to set up a business. Further to that, you know what’s important to your clients, more than most do.
For us now with the platform, some legislation passed in January 2018, and we were issued an AFSL in September 2018. Now it’s just about finding the best opportunities for Australians to invest in. A crowd funding platform has two sides — investors willing to invest, and good deal flow. I’m entrenched in the start-up community, so deal flow has been consistent. It’s still in its infancy, but we are expecting an exciting few weeks.
All of this is because of accounting. I would never been anywhere near this without my work with business, or have conceptualised this opportunity in the market. I also wouldn’t have been able to grow a business and scale it without these ingrained skills.
Our opportunities are exponential, the opportunity is for accountants to solve problems. For me, so much of what I do still comes back to that core desire.
I want to share who I am and what I’ve done to unlock a willingness in accountant to seize the day, and help accountants understand the versatility of an accounting skill set.
You were nominated as a finalist for Young Australian of the Year in Queensland. How is your work as an accountant linked to that?
A heavy focus of those awards is community. You have to demonstrate high community spirit. For me, that comes from mine and my firm’s work with small business — I am a passionate small business advocate, and help create successful small businesses in my work.
Also, there’s my work with the Chamber of Commerce which I mentioned, we’ve grown that substantially. Also, with the crowdfunding platform, that idea came out of community, and there’s nothing like it in the market.
What is your vision for the accounting profession?
Community. That means we don’t limit our scope. We are approachable beyond everything. We unlock conversation, we conceptualise opportunity, we stimulate dialogue. We have the ability to interpret situations, assess risk, provide advice and facilitate connections. We create a natural harmony. We are united in helping business, helping Australians.
You seem to have, intentionally, avoided building your own personal online profile and brand. How does that fit in to your “community” framework?
You are absolutely right. All of my social media presence in particular is limited in terms of the information about me personally — it is largely business focused. I see myself as the supporter, the facilitator of community. I don’t do that by beating my chest, I have chosen other avenues to influence, like we’ve spoken about.
I think there is more power in community. There is opportunity and influence in community — you think about the crowdfunding platform. I’ve facilitated links between investors and investment, and it’s that link which is powerful. My face doesn’t need to be on it, but I can facilitate it.
In saying that, the media — beyond social media — isn’t something to be scared of. It’s not cumbersome or unapproachable. And it’s a great way of reaching bigger communities. I often provide commentary on accounting or small business issues… showcasing there’s more to an accountant than what most expect. We are on the coalface with really cool people doing really cool things.
You appeared entirely shell-shocked with your win. Why?
It was the significance of the people on that list, in that category. My lack of preparation is attributed to the respect I have for the other nominees. It was real, genuine shock.
You’re shocked you won, but you entered for a reason. Why did you want to be this year’s Thought Leader?
I was such a shock to everyone, and I think a lot of it is because I do things differently. For me, I want accountants to see outside themselves more, and to be more. I want my story to help that.
I want to use this difference and my story to stimulate a conversation that is bigger than me.
What do you think of the state of thought leadership in accounting?
I think accounting thought leadership often follows the same outdated stereotype of what an accountant is. It creates fear to an industry that is historically conservative. Then, it offers solutions to that. It monetises fear.
I also see tall poppy syndrome — often people find it easier to poke holes than celebrate holistic growth.
Where to from here?
I want to continue to communicate to any accountant that they can find their happiness, and they can create a business that enables them to fulfil whatever that means. We get stuck in tradition and expectation, and we don’t need to.
This ivory tower notion is so outdated. This next generation don’t care about the prestige or the flashy email signature. They are much more self aware and they are much more comfortable that they want to do, not what they are told to do.
This next generation is so much more willing to get stuck in compared to a fear of breaking something. We can all learn from that kind of thinking outside the box.