23/09/2016 - 05:45

CEO lunch with Sherif Andrawes

23/09/2016 - 05:45

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Born in Egypt and raised in Scotland, Sherif Andrawes brings a world of experience to his role as WA chair of global accounting firm BDO, as Business News discovered over lunch at Julio’s in West Perth.

BDO WA chairman Sherif Andrawes. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Born in Egypt and raised in Scotland, Sherif Andrawes brings a world of experience to his role as WA chair of global accounting firm BDO, as Business News discovered over lunch at Julio’s in West Perth.

Perth is a long way from the land of his birth, and even further from where he grew up, but Sherif Andrawes believes he felt instantly at home when he moved to Western Australia in the mid-1990s.

“When I came to Perth for the first time, I felt like everyone was like me, they were all new,” Mr Andrawes told Business News. “If you are good here, you will do well. It’s meritocracy.”

Mr Andrawes’ father was an Egyptian professor of engineering. After his birth in Cairo, the family moved young Sherif to a town just north of Glasgow, Scotland.

“My dad got a job at the university there,” Mr Andrawes said. “And my mum was a farmer’s daughter from Derbyshire. I grew up in a town a few miles to the north of the city called Milngavie (pronounced ‘mul-guy’)”.

Soccer was a first love. Mr Andrawes’ father hated sport, so young Sherif would sneak out to play soccer or to athletics training.

“Everyone was either a Celtic or Rangers fan, which followed the Protestant or Catholic divide, but I suppose I felt different, so I supported Partick Thistle, which was not a popular club,” Mr Andrawes said.

At school, and in life generally, leadership roles came naturally.

“I think I was quite normal, quite good at sports, so I was made captain of the school football team and a school prefect,” Mr Andrawes said.

“It has been the same all the way through my career. Leadership was never something I sought, but it was always given to me.”

His wife, Barbara, grew up in the same street and went to the same school, but they were in different friendship groups. It was a couple of years after school when they first started dating. They have now been married 27 years.

An avid plane spotter, Mr Andrawes decided to pursue an aeronautical engineering degree.

“I loved the degree,” he said. “But I could not see it as a career for me. I found out I could qualify on the job as an accountant down in London, which I could not do in Scotland, so off I went.”

The year was 1987. Thatcherism was in full swing, and Mr Andrawes was drawn to options trading auditing, passing the exams with ease. As things became quieter in the 1990s, he started looking for other opportunities.

After a planned secondment to Melbourne fell through in 1994, an alternative option came up in Perth. By now, he and Barbara had a child and, with a second on the way, Mr Andrawes had to travel out on his own.

Things almost ended before they began.

“The day I arrived in Perth to join what was then called Bentleys, the partner told me that they were leaving the Moores Rowland network to join BDO,” Mr Andrawes said.

“He thought I might have to return to London, but since we corresponded by fax in those days, and it all took weeks, the powers that be said I might as well stay.”

After 18 months in Perth, Mr Andrawes returned to London.

“I hated it back in London, so I immediately filled in the forms to return to Australia,” he said.

He and his family moved back to Perth in 1997, this time permanently. In hindsight, Mr Andrawes admits the best thing he ever did (career wise) was making that move to Australia.

“My advice to people looking to climb the corporate ladder is not to plan too much and be open to opportunities as they come along,” he said.

“If you have a fixed goal, you’re likely to be disappointed. I mean here I am, born in Cairo, via Glasgow and London. Who would have planned that?”

The modern man

Bringing his story up to date, the WA chair of BDO believes the current economy is on the mend.

“It’s not great, but it’s better than it was,” Mr Andrawes said.

“There are certainly areas that are doing it a bit tough, but cautious optimism is how I’d describe things now. In our world, there’s been a definite uptick in the equity markets. There is more money around.”

Mr Andrawes noted that organisations had cut spending over the past few years, with many now targeting opportunities.

He said many firms were now asking themselves whether they were simply keeping things the same, or taking opportunities to grow.

From here, however, he believes things should improve rather than worsen.

Mr Andrawes is a big social media fan. He’s on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, with Twitter his favourite. With a Klout score of 48, he is one of the most active business people in Perth on social media.

“I’m naturally an impatient person,” Mr Andrawes said.

“I like the immediacy of Twitter and the challenge of only having 140 characters. It’s my main source of news. I like the ability to communicate through Twitter, whether it’s football or business. I only do things I am passionate about, and I love using Twitter.”

On the topic of digital disruption in the accounting industry, Mr Andrawes is realistic.

“A lot of the traditional work of accountants, such as preparing accounts, testing data and auditing, could be automated,” he said.

“This is starting to happen already. Traditionally, it’s where we have made a lot of money. If that goes, we have to reinvent our services, and use the smarts we’ve developed over the years and ask what this data actually means.”

The term ‘data analytics’ is currently popular in accounting circles, with every accounting practice of significant size claiming they offer this service. However, Mr Andrawes believes few actually are.

To keep up to date, Mr Andrawes reads news online. The last book he read was Funny Girl by Nick Hornby, about a young British girl called Barbara from the north, who comes down to London. One might argue the plotline echoes Mr Andrawes’ story.

Soccer has been a big part of his life. When he was 12 he played in a junior feeder team for his beloved Partick Thistle soccer club.

“I always like to say that I played at a high level when I was 12 to 14,” Mr Andrawes told Business News.

“But by the time I was 15 all the other kids had grown to my height and the coaches realised that I had just been tall and fast and didn’t actually have any talent.”

He still plays soccer and coaches, and is on the board of Football West.

“Our main priority is to create the state centre for football (soccer),” he said. “All the other codes have one. A training ground, a headquarters for Football West and boutique stadium with 4,000-5,000 seating capacity. It is close to being secured.”

The statistics show that soccer is the largest participation sport in Australia. Mr Andrawes argues that the sport has been made to feel like a poor cousin and has never had the funding of the other codes.

Working it out

Back at the office, since the current Australian of the Year, David Morrison, argued business people should consider the implication of calling people ‘guys’ at work, Mr Andrawes has been trying to find another greeting.

“For a long time, I started every email with ‘Hi Guys’ and now I need an alternative. I pointedly don’t use the term anymore,” Mr Andrawes said.

“The serious point is that we need to get more diversity into decision-making.

“Something I’m really strong on is flexibility, people working when they want, where they want. You lose so many due to family reasons. Report writing can be done anywhere, so why not encourage it?”

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