Accounting is a matter of business

On its web site HLB Mann Judd declares: “We’re not just Accountants; we’re Financial and Business advisers.” It’s particularly true for the firm’s Melbourne office, which takes those words one step further.

Managing Partner Jeff Long puts it bluntly: “We run the Accounting Practice Long believes that this business model is unique to the Melbourne Office of HLB Mann Judd. Every as a business, not an Accounting Practice.” Long say’s many advisers are very good at giving Financial and Business advice, however compromise on some business principles when operating their own businesses.

Long says that the Melbourne Office has focussed on de risking its business and focussing on “what we are good at”. The Melbourne Office has always managed its overhead structure very well and has a strong focus on staff costs that are reviewed and measured in detail every month.

Melbourne Office has a clear vision of becoming a “Destination of Choice” for staff, disgruntled Partners looking for a home and ultimately clients who want to work with Partners who have a strong business focus and transparent manner in which they do business. Our aim is to assist our clients to not only create wealth, but to protect what they make and then continue to grow and make more. We think this is one of the Partnership’s great strengths and is what we focus on with our clients.

What our Partners do, Long says, is have detailed conversations with their clients about how they’re going to do business with them, setting out what work they will be doing to help the client, how much it will cost and when it will be paid. In fact Long tells how the partners at HLB Mann Judd have taken the brave step of taking responsibility for the collection of fees from clients. If fees remain outstanding after a certain period, and the Partner has not had a “how are we doing business” conversation with the client, the Partner is required to pay the outstanding fees.

This is how committed the Partners are to their relationships with their clients and the way they do business with their clients.

HLB Mann Judd office around Australia is independently owned, enabling each firm to have flexibility and to make their own decisions on how they manage and operate their businesses. “We enjoy the flexibility we have because we’re independently owned. We can make our own decisions on how we run our business,” Long says.

There is a network of HLB Mann Judd firms around the world. Each office is affiliated to the HLB Mann Judd brand and must follow certain ethical standards and procedures consistent to the brand.

As a result of the focus and clear vision, Long says that the profitability of the business has increased significantly. This is due to the collaborative nature of the group of Partners at HLB and the trust they have in each other to put in the effort required to build a business to deliver sustainable profits. As part of the executive committee, Long has the support of his fellow executives and together they have focussed on the disciplines required to operate not as an Accounting Practice but a successful business.

“Even though one Partner may have a clear vision and belief in that vision, you also have got to have people who have faith in the vision and who are willing to jump on board and not only support the vision but be prepared to make the effort and follow through to ensure it works.”

This focussed client business approach, he says, comes from years of experience and observation when Long was contracted by Macquarie Bank to value numerous accounting practices for lending purposes.

“I have been very fortunate that I was paid to learn and meet many Accountants over the years and listen to how they operated their Accounting Practices and learn all the good and bad of many businesses,” he says.

“I have sat and listened to many accountants on all the issues. You hear about a lot of things that aren’t working versus a lot of things that are.

“When you digest all the information you have been able to glean over the years, analysing results from Accounting Practices and listening to the people who are charged with the responsibility of managing these businesses, you would like to think that from that information you learn different ways of running the practice as a business versus an accounting practice. So that experience without a doubt has stood me in good stead with the way that I think.”

It’s a logical and practical approach that could well come from his early years growing up in country Victoria, in Yarrawonga.

Long came to Melbourne when he was 17 years of age. He had come to play football for North Melbourne, spending time in the Under 19s and Reserves.

Once married, he moved back to Yarrawonga and following a conversation with local Accountant’s O’Bryan and O’Donnell, over some Christmas cheer, they suggested he move into the Accounting profession.

It turned out to be something Long was already interested in.

“The conversation progressed to the point where I could go back and play football at Yarrawonga and earn enough money doing some part time work with O’Bryan and O’Donnell to help pay the family bills whilst I went to university.” Long says he is forever indebted to both Mick and Bob from O’Bryan and O’Donnell for the opportunity they gave him.

When he returned to Melbourne, Long went to work for Meyrick Webster, which after a few years strategically decided to re-brand itself.

It was a time when HLB Mann Judd had joined the Stockford group which subsequently went into liquidation.

“The guys from the original HLB Mann Judd that joined Stockford obviously went their separate ways and the name in Melbourne was basically sitting dormant.

We hired a public relations firm to understand how the brand  HLB Mann Judd was regarded in Melbourne and we found the brand was very well-regarded with a lot of history and that the name had not been tainted as a result of the Stockford experience.

The Partners then made the decision to join the network. We are now the second largest office in Australia behind the Sydney office.” Long says the brand has helped the business significantly in particular the Audit division who, once we changed our name were being invited to tender for work that previously they were unable to do. In fact the Audit division has shown strong growth from that pojnt on and is very well regarded in both the Private sector and the Government sector.

Being part of HLB Mann Judd has allowed the firm to focus on the Asia-Pacific region and develop relationships that will enable HLB to assist clients from Asia wanting to do business in Australia. Two partners in the firm, Jude Lau and Josh Chye, are working with our Asia-Pacific colleagues at HLB Mann Judd offices in the region and are developing a strong referral network.

The referral network also works with other HLB Mann Judd Offices in many countries. “We are a fair way behind some of our competitors in the number of international referrals we receive, however we are working hard on it to try and improve it,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Once again developing relationships in these regions requires time and effort and we have to balance the time and effort with our return on investment.

After all, it’s business.

“We run a low risk, sustainable healthy business and we have a clear vision to create opportunities for our people to achieve their goals in life and to be a destination of choice, Long says.”

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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