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Why I ditched suits and ties for a beard and dreams of a whisky bar

The 2018 Australian Accounting Awards Thought Leader of the Year, Andrew Van De Beek, explains why he is undeterred by casual clothes, music in the office and the occasional work-from-home day in his undies. 

My Story Reporter 14 August 2019
— 4 minute read

You’ve got a distinct look and style personally. Does that translate to your office? How would you describe your workplace culture?

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We value the people we work with and have an open workplace where those people are allowed to be who they are. We hire good people who have good technical skill set, but the cultural considerations are far more valuable. You can teach the technical. You can’t teach someone to be a good person, to be a cultural fit. 

We have four unbreakable values: 

1. No dickheads

2. Have a heart

3. Laugh a lot

4. Speak truth and life  

You can see our culture in the look of the office as well, whether it’s the putting green or the music we play. People can wear whatever clothes they feel suits them, obviously as long as it’s not upsetting or off-putting.

For me, I want people to be their best selves so they can get the best done for our clients. Just get the work done. Everyone has their own patch of land, their own clients, to take care of. We already have our workflow booked for the year, so we know month to month, hour to hour, what everything should look like. We support people in being themselves to get that done. 

I love the idea of flexibility, but I prefer to think of productive working, not remote or flexible working. I want people to be wherever they need to be to get the work done. 

That might be in our office or second office, which we’ve newly opened in a co-working space, or it might be in a cafe if you need to do something creative. 

You weren’t always this flexible and authentic with your leadership and personal style. A bit of trawling online, and there are pictures of young Andrew in a suit and tie, with no beard. How did the change come about? 

When I started off running a business, I had a business partner who was 10 years my senior. Before that I’d spent time at KPMG and in a suburban office. Throughout that time, I realised there are things you have to do, and things you can choose to do. I have to get the work done. I don’t have to wear a suit. I don’t have to put on a mask to be an accountant; I can be myself. 

That’s a refreshing attitude, but how does it translate into productivity?

The biggest benefit is being comfortable — and being yourself. That’s one less thing to worry about and an act you don’t have to put on or work at. My behaviour is more real, more authentic, and that resonates with clients when they know who I am and they know what I’m about. 

Without a doubt, sometimes, the focus on culture swings too far, and we have to correct that. You can end up being too much about the fluffy stuff. We had rapid client growth, and worked out very quickly, we needed an intense focus on process to match the demand. Loving and living all our fun, cool cultural stuff is great — but just because it’s sexy, doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. Our core as a business needs to be about reliability, so we have had some readjustments to make sure everything works together nicely. 

Is your business profitable?

Oh, absolutely. It has been from day one. And we continue to grow. I don’t understand accounting firms that don’t run at a profit. There is the argument for reinvesting, of course, but we run at a profit.

That’s important, but that’s not the end goal for me. For me, I want to enjoy my life, enjoy my work, work with awesome people and make their worlds better and — I’m putting it out there in the world — I want to own a whisky bar. I make that public so I’m accountable for it!

It’s the life moments that make the whole ride for me. Like, one day, when I was running my home office. I was on the phone to an awesome and stupidly rich client, it was a stinking hot day, I was smashing through work — and I was in my undies. I thought, “This is great.”

However, I am notorious for having big ideas, not plans. Sometimes you need to layer that with some reality, and make sure you follow through.

Does the intensity of your job allow for a good family life? How do the two work together?

It’s definitely hard at times. When you invest so much of what you do into what you do, and you don’t want to let your clients down, it can be hard. I have a wife and two kids, and they are a constant reminder to go home to family life. My wife is amazing, she holds me to account. Even though it is full on, I will say, owning your own business does give you the flexibility to work around your priorities.

A lot of life has happened during this journey, which started when I was 26. I was married. I owned a house. I sold a house. I bought a house. Had two kids. Travelled. Worked remotely from Sri Lanka for a bit. It’s all possible; you just plan and make sacrifices.

Why I ditched suits and ties for a beard and dreams of a whisky bar
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