How I Went From Unemployed To CEO Of An ASX Listed Company
I doubt many people can say losing their dream job at the age of 22 was the best thing that ever happened to them. For me, probation as an investment banker – and my subsequent firing – was a huge learning curve. This shock exit has informed my business journey since. The most important lesson? Building good relationships will take you further in life and business than anything else.
Having grown up in Sydney, I joined Price Waterhouse straight from school. I was an undergraduate cadet working full time, completing my degree, and playing grade cricket. It was busy but fulfilling.
As a formative experience, my cadetship was invaluable. I was working on some of the most well-operated companies in the country with tremendous people. When I moved to work at an investment bank I found a dog eat dog scene. Not many kids want to grow up to be an investment banker, a path wasn’t already carved. I came into a culture of chasing the big money, developed at the expense of building a team and succession planning.
I was a young guy, unsure what my options were. But I’d quickly worked out from this experience, and from the people, I worked with, that I wanted to build a company. My dad gave me two books; ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill, and Dale Carnegie’s ubiquitous ‘How to Win Friends And Influence People.’ I realized that in all my years of study, from school to university, I’d received little or no instruction on building good relationships.
Another big revelation was that if you want to do well at something, find someone who has already done it. Still just 22, I decided I’d publish my own book, speaking to as many prominent Australians as I could about their journeys to success. I made over 3000 phone calls, wrote over 500 letters, and was able to interview 34 people. I spoke to former Prime Ministers, business leaders, musicians, and artists. The result was Collective Wisdom: Prominent Australians On Success And The Future.
What this first book illustrates is that relationships are integral to success. This had been an alien concept during my early career. Also, I found that learning about the experiences of prominent people could help others identify what they wanted to achieve. Not everything shiny is gold, and my so-called dream job had been a nightmare. I could decide to be a religious leader or a great artist or a billionaire, but before I spent years pursuing a certain life, I needed insight into the reality of living it.
I went back to university and completed my chartered studies, completed my Masters’s degree in taxation, and qualified as a tax agent. I started work in the first of three mid-sized accounting firms. What I found there, to varying degrees, were people very technically skilled but with limited interest in the business. The fundamentals of accounting were there to a high degree, but I wanted to invest energy and expertise into helping businesses grow.
To do that successfully, you need to be good with people. You need to have sound recruiting practices that bring the right people into the team, and to deploy them where they can best add value to the business.
I founded Kelly & Partners Chartered Accountants from scratch in 2006. Quickly we established a diverse team of like-minded people before anyone even knew we existed. I wanted to find companies with potential and help make them the best they could be. I’m proud that we’ve grown from two offices to15.
A bit of self-reflection every so often is healthy and necessary. People often live unconsciously, not evaluating the decisions they’ve made. So I decided that every seven years I would publish a new book of wisdom. The latest features nine of Australia’s most prominent and successful investors. It was a joy to find out what makes them tick and a huge learning experience for me.
Never has the famous quote by American entrepreneur Jim Rohn been more apt. “Education will make you a living, self-education will make you a fortune.”
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