This Professional Life – “There’s no point in looking back and wishing you had done things differently”
If employees are happy, they will do more, and in turn, if the customer gets a good experience, they will stay longer. At Contracting Plus we have 40 people in Dublin and Cork and 110 in India.
Go the extra mile
We take the hassle out of tax and accounting. We give our customers an app to make life easier. So they can take a picture of the expenses, send it to us and forget about it. Or say they want to put a certain amount into their pension, they tell us and we’ll figure out the tax implications. In Ireland and the UK we have over 4,000 customers. Many are entrepreneurs, freelancers, and owner-manager businesses.
Technology has made things easier, but it hasn’t changed accounting. People still want to ask questions. No matter how much goes into the cloud, they’ll always want to pick up the phone and find out why their tax bill is so high.
My daughter just passed her junior certificate and I was saying all the right things to encourage her, but when I was in school I had no interest. I was constantly getting ready to work in the hotel industry. I have had a job for fourteen years.
We lived in Enniscorthy for twelve years before moving to London. It was hard, a big change. I was at a new school, had no friends and an Irish accent. I was bullied, but I fought back and things got better.
A few years later we moved to Dublin. I got off to a bad start and dropped out of private college at three months and started working in the UK managing pubs for a brewery. I offered coverage after working for them the previous summer.
When I was 15 in 1990 on a family holiday my parents met two couples who were pub managers and they had contacted them to see if they knew of any jobs so that’s how I started with Scottish & Newcastle. I loved it, I loved the music and there was always music at work but managing pubs was very hard work.
But when you found a job in the 1990s, you were so grateful. If someone asked you to jump, you would say how high.
Today nobody wants to jump, they want to know what’s in it for them. I see today that some people in their 20s and 30s have lost that work ethic perspective, but you don’t have to substitute work-life balance for hard work.
The school of life
When my college friends got their student visas to the United States, I went with them and stayed. I was painting and decorating with other guys and started singing two nights a week in Montauk. We lived hand to mouth, then I spent a year in Australia and some time in South East Asia and New Zealand there and back.
When I returned to Ireland I was working in a pub in Blackrock and I remember sitting in the bar on 9/11 watching the planes crash into the World Trade Center. I came home and realized that everything could change. I was making a lot of money, but I was 25 at the time and I knew I didn’t want to do this at 40.
So I did what my mum wanted me to do and trained as an accounting technician for two years in the evenings at Dublin Business School.
I discovered that I loved taxation, the way I could always understand if I followed the rules, and how much I loved thinking about how best to advise others.
I then took my CPA exams and graduated at age 30.
I had started in an accounting department the first year of my technician course at Sherry Fitzgerald. I loved it but I was ambitious and the jobs I wanted weren’t going to be available any time soon. I handed in my resignation and they asked me what they could do to keep me. Whether they liked it or not, it was so nice to hear.
Then I was a financial controller for a small financial company, also in real estate, but in 2007 they fired people. I had bought a house and started doing bookkeeping, so I had covered my mortgage. I put an ad in a local trades magazine and things took off.
I was advertising to small businesses and the sole trader and my company would do everything for an all-inclusive rate.
A competitor copied my ad and lowered my prices. He was in a down race so I changed positions. I doubled my prices and didn’t advertise them.
I started hiring people and my practice grew profitably year after year. After selling this business in 2015 to one of the top accounting firms, I did consulting work and also worked for the company that bought my firm.
I was in the process of hiring when I was approached by a hiring manager about Contracting Plus eight years ago. There was a weird conversation where I thought they were nominating me and I told them I wasn’t there. Two years later, when I was 38, I was.
My dad told me many years ago in business that you could have it good, fast and cheap. But you can only choose two.
I learned a lot about work-life balance – in the beginning you say yes to everything, yes to every client, even though my motto was never to cut fees.
If you offer someone a 10 coin discount they will leave and before they are halfway home they will wish they had asked for 20 coins. They already underestimate your work.
I’m going to wonder why did I say yes to the discount, because I know I’m going to be doing a lot of work, spending a lot of time getting everything right, and maybe I wouldn’t feel as invested.
Relax after stressful days
I have four children aged 15, 9, 8 and 6 and it depends on what time I leave for work if I see them in the morning. I don’t eat breakfast, I drink tea before lunch – it can be a professional job or I can eat while standing in the kitchen or picking up the kids.
Right now we are in the office three days a week, some days it will be five days. We believe that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s taken into account what works for your team and if your manager says you have to come, we’ll give you a little notice. Why force people?
We’re growing the business, moving it forward – so I’m looking to see where there are other opportunities. Part of my job is to look at the numbers and make predictions.
So my mind is very busy with long-term things, but my main role is to make sure everyone feels supported. My job is to hold them accountable. I don’t micromanage; I want people to feel comfortable. I am there as a sounding board.
I have many meetings every day, some structured, others ad hoc. I constantly think about mentoring. I will be involved in internal projects; talking to marketing, wondering which approach is best.
In the evening, I read a bedtime story to the children. I watch Netflix carefully. Recently, I went back to learn how to play golf.
Tuesdays I take the kids to their practice and Sunday mornings it’s all about their football games.
I read a lot in my free time, especially business books. I had no interest in school but I always liked working. I am fascinated by business. I remember being a child sitting on the floor in my grandfather’s shop in Wexford. He sold everything and I found the way he ran the business interesting.
I wouldn’t change the way I’ve conducted my career. There’s no point in looking back and wishing you did things differently, even though you can look back and learn.