Embracing the past

I left school in 1986 and went to work as a trainee accountant with Turnbull Kemp, a small firm based in Perth. I was always good with numbers, so accounting seemed a natural fit for that. Within a couple of years, I’d moved on to join Ernst & Young, one of the world’s biggest firms. I enjoyed my time there, the opportunities were tremendous and I seized them with both hands.

After qualifying in late ’92, I left to join a client as their financial controller. I wanted to see what life was like in business – that was where my real passion lay.

Through the 90s, we built that business into a group, with interests as diverse as construction, food manufacture (we made amazing dessert products!), snooker & pool clubs, IT, and consulting. I had a lot of fun doing this. We were starting businesses, buying others, selling some, with a few spectacular failures thrown in for good measure. I learned rapidly in this environment, my earlier years as an accountant giving me a solid foundation.

Over the last decade I’ve run businesses in consulting, professional & financial services, retail, and then most recently at Ashton McGill, in the world of design. Somewhere along the way I forgot about the accountant stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I was still ALL OVER the numbers in every business, but I wasn’t using those valuable skills I learned back at the start of my career as much as I should have.

Part of that was because it’s much better introducing yourself as a designer than an accountant at parties! People actually want to speak to you, they don’t look for a reason to make a swift exit. I’m naturally curious and love solving problems – in another life perhaps I’d have studied design, but in 1986 that was a world that I wasn’t even aware of.

A lot of the work that we do at Ashton McGill is based on design thinking and service design. For me, the customers and users should be at the heart of any organisation, so it makes sense to design for them. We use the language of customer experience, as more business people understand this, however the same design principles underpin everything that we do.

Recently I’ve been doing more financial work and I’ve really enjoyed it. I spent Friday building a financial model for a client after we identified the need to do some modelling in a Strategy Workshop. I’ve also been doing accounting work for my brother’s golf business, along with forecasts for a couple of other businesses. It’s like riding a bike – it never leaves you.

I’m not embarrassed to talk about my accounting background any more. It’s a part of who I am, and I’m really rather good at it. Then when you add in 25 years running businesses and all the experiences I’ve had along the way, plus my knowledge and capability as a designer, then it’s a unique skill set.

Now I just need to figure out how to sell that to the market. If you have any thoughts, then I’d love to hear them!

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