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Real Business : Autumn 2008
REAL BUSINESS AUTUMN 2008 25 DAVID HANNAH integrity. Number three is we love to have fun have work, and number four is we are passionate about what we do. But our team members can make or break our organisation. There was a phrase that was said by a great manufacturer: "Take away my buildings and my equipment, and my people will build me new buildings and new equipment. Take away my people and my buildings will rot and fall to the ground." RB: What's the best and worst thing about being an owner? JASON: The best thing about being an owner is that you can shape your own destiny. You can do whatever you want. The worst thing about being self-employed is that you are your own boss. People say, 'I'm going to start up my ow n business and I'll have more time on my hands'. I left work last night at 10 o'clock. Whenever the job has to be done, the job has to be done. We're having a couple of challenges with a couple of our team members that I need to address. At the end of the day the buck stops with you. CAITLIN: I guess for a little while there I felt like things were a bit over my head, but had to get done by me, because as the youngest member of the team I have the lowest charge- out rates. But, looking back on it, it's definitely helped me to get where I am now, because it forced me to go above what I knew to learn more and do more challenging things. JASON: One of the challenges for Caitlin is that we forget she's only 22 and only been here 18 months. She keeps doing a good job, so we keep giving her harder work. We keep raising the bar of expectation. RB: What's the best piece of career advice you would give a young professional? JASON: Get your CPA. The CPA is what separates the men from the boys and women from the girls in the accounting industry. My next bit of advice is: be your own person, but do just that little bit extra than is asked of you. Finally, learn as much as you can. Because the more you know, the more you earn. It's very hard. If Caitlin's a master at superannuation and GST and FBT, then she's irreplaceable to me. n THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING AN OWNER IS THAT YOU CAN SHAPE YOUR OWN DESTINY. YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. THE WORST THING ABOUT BEING SELF-EMPLOYED IS THAT YOU ARE YOUR OWN BOSS week board. I'd saved up some money, and just thought if it all went sideways, I could just start looking again. That was halfway through 1997, and by the end of the year I got together with my business partner Rob. We've just had our 10-year birthday. CAITLIN: Beyond doing my CPA, I haven't really thought too far ahead. I love it here, and staying with The Practice is on the cards. RB: Caitlin , what drew you to accounting? CAITLIN: When I was in year 10 I was going to be a hairdresser. My mum's a hairdresser, and I thought it would be something I'd really enjoy. Then at the end of the year I met with one of the career advisers at school, and she said, "You're not going to be hairdresser because you're so much more. You're not going to do that". That disheartened me so much. I thought, "That's wrong. If I want to be a hairdresser, I'll be a hairdresser." At the end of year 10 I did work experience at a hairdresser. I enjoyed it, was offered an apprenticeship, but decided to finish school. Up until then I'd just been an average student, but from then on things turned around. I really enjoyed going to school, and my marks improved dramatically. And I really enjoyed accounting, partly because I had a really great teacher. JASON: Caitlin manages clients on her own, handling the accounts from cradle to grave. And then if she needs any assistance, she speaks to either her managers, or one of the senior accountants, or gets one of the partners involved. RB: Is it tough dealing with your staff members and their issues? JASON: We refer to our people as team members. We've stamped the word "staff" out of our organisation. But our biggest challenge, and the number-one opportunity in our organisation, are our team members. Getting the balance and the culture right -- it's something we've worked so hard at over the last 18 months, and is something we'll continue to work at. We have four elements to our culture. Number one is that we care for our team members and our clients. Number two is that we work ethically and with JASON: Caitlin's been with The Practice for two years. She started as a co-op student, which is a "sandwich year" before the final year of uni. At the end of the year we encouraged her to stay working part-time and finish off her degree part-time, which she's just done. CAITLIN: It was a tough adjustment at first, but now it's normal. And I'm in a great position of already having a job, whereas a lot of my friends have just finished their degrees and are looking for jobs. JASON: You go from uni, good life, don't have classes on Monday, get to uni on Tuesday, have a couple of beers at lu nchtime -- you go from that environ ment to every day, 9am to 5.30pm. It's a bit of a shock to the system, isn't it? CAITLIN: But you appreciate your weekends a lot more because of it. And I feel like I'm so far ahead of everyone else, because I've got so much more hands-on experience than everybody else. The stuff I've learnt here is completely different to the stuff you learn in textbooks at uni. Working full-time and studying part-time has enabled me to be in the position I am now. Someone who's entering the field doesn't have any experience. JASON: Because we're a smaller business -- we've got 25 employees -- we can't afford for Caitlin to be fluffing around just doing photocopying. We have to give her a real job. So much so, that when Caitlin first started she worked on our paperless office project. It's not to say we don't use paper, but all our storage is electronic. Once the job is finished, every form of correspondence we have with clients is scanned and stored electronically. And Caitlin was the one who researched the different hardware and software providers and worked out a system of processes. She flew to Queensland and visited a practice that had gone completely paperless. Over six months Caitlin implemented a process and a system and made us paperless. Not everyone out of uni would get that sort of assignment, but Caitlin is very mature for her age. REAL BUSINESS: Jason , when did you get the idea to start your own business? JASON: Like Caitlin I did a co-op year. Mine was with the Ford Motor Company, and then I joined their graduate program and worked there four years, getting some excellent experience. But I started to realise it was going to take me another 10 or 15 years to be president of that company. And I couldn't wait that long -- I'm a bit impatient! So I thought, I might as well have a crack. There was nothing to lose. I was 24 years old, I was renting with a mate of mine, paying $50 a