Kathleen Parker discusses the future of the accounting industry and how this will shape the service Wellers provide to clients.
It's 23 years since Kathleen Parker joined Wellers and just over 12 months since she became the firm's first female managing partner. This provided an opportunity for her to not just reflect, which we covered in the journey up the career ladder, but also to look forward. In this second instalment she assesses what the current and inevitable future technology changes mean for our clients (small and medium sized businesses "SMEs") and the firm.
What is your vision for Wellers for the next 5-10 years?
Technology and new practices are changing the industry very quickly. So actually the best way I can describe my vision for the future of Wellers and our clients is through our strapline “business oxygen”. As an example, I was with a potential client the other day and he asked me, “What can you do differently and better compared to my current accountant?”
Our conversation revealed his advisor is telling him what his profits were 6 months ago and what his tax is going to be on the basis of those historic numbers. That is no use to any business owner. We live in a 24 hour society and the business world is no different, we need to have data on demand at our fingertips.
It is no surprise that Entrepreneurs now expect immediate information. They need to know that we are on top of all of the developments taking place, not just the legislative changes but commercial, economic and environmental matters. Clients need the whole package of what impacts on a business in both the short and medium term. That's why at Wellers we see ourselves as not just accountants but as business advisors.
Yes, we can’t do it for them but we can highlight the risks and opportunities in a sector. We can’t provide all the answers but we can apply our knowledge to deliver insightful advice. My job is to make sure those conversations are had at the right level. That means developing our people into all round business advisors. The landscape is changing rapidly.
Technology is driving this with new products and upgrades to traditional software which means that people can now do much of the number crunching at the click of a button. What they then need is interpretation of the numbers that are produced by the software along with analysis, advice on spotting the opportunities and identification of the risks.
Any CEOs, other Managing Partners or Entrepreneurs out there that you particularly admire?
We have many clients I admire but the person who often comes to mind is Natalie Massenet who launched Net-a-Porter (sadly not a client of ours). She established the business with initial seed investment from friends and family and then when she sold a controlling stake in the company to Richemont in 2010 she turned many of them into millionaires.
She took risks and was a true innovator. Her creation of an internet based fashion company, in the early days of e-commerce changed the fashion industry and she was able to repay not just her investors but the key staff members who started the journey with her.
What are the character traits you respect in successful business people?
I like to see people who have true passion for their business and are in it for the right reasons. They are in it because they love what they do and they want to make a difference. For all of the negativity that sometimes surrounds Microsoft you have to admire Bill Gates because he has done an awful lot of good work with his wife through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
They seem to have sparked this whole philanthropic thing that was initially seen in the late nineteenth century. The new generation of business owners seem to have a genuine belief that you only need so much money and we are seeing more and more initiatives that are designed to help the local community and wider world.
What is the most common advice you impart to clients and SMEs?
Make sure the business is not solely dependent on you. Put in place an infrastructure so that if you are out of the business for 6 months then things will continue as normal in your absence. That is a fundamental question a potential buyer will ask in an acquisition, what happens when the current owner leaves? If you build the proper foundations then your absence should not impact on performance or profitability.
The other thing is to be brave and decisive. When Steve Jobs was reappointed as full time CEO to Apple in January 1999, the press reported that the company was three months from bankruptcy and the share price was $2.57! The first thing he did was to simplify the product range which many of his colleagues thought was nuts but history tells us who was right.
I am going back to Steve Jobs again with this one:
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”
Are there any particular business books or journals you would recommend?
I particularly like the website business balls at the moment. I have used it quite a few times now and have found plenty of interesting and useful information for free on there from current trends to tips for board meetings.
As you advance through your career, what are the qualities one has to display to become a Managing Partner?
Determination and hard work
Recognition of skills and abilities in others
Focus on differentiation
Understanding and empathy
Cohesion of values and culture
The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 21/10/2014.
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