02/12/2010 - 00:00

It’s the little things that count

02/12/2010 - 00:00

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ONE of the top goals of most executives is to grow the size of their business; for some, however, small is beautiful.

ONE of the top goals of most executives is to grow the size of their business; for some, however, small is beautiful.

Accountants Craig Miller and Peter Moltoni are a case in point.

The pair have been working together since 1999, and stepped out on their own in 2007 when their firm, Horwath, merged with BDO Kendalls to form BDO.

Now owner-directors of M Squared & Associates – a small Subiaco-based accounting outfit with 11 staff – Messrs Miller and Moltoni lasted only six months in the merged firm before they left to create a business that was a little less rigid in its structures.

“It was a case of Horwath was a medium tier accounting firm, eight directors, 100 staff. You had BDO, another mid-tier firm with eight partners and 90 staff. The two of them come together and you have got 16 directors, a staff of about 220-230 with the new intake and all of a sudden we found that we weren’t allowed to have fun because we were directors, we are in a much bigger organisation and everyone is really risk conscious,” the pair told WA Business News.

“We just drew up a list of all the accounting sacred cows and worked out how we could build a business by drawing a line through every one of them,” Mr Miller said.

From the stories of Friday drinks starting at 10am on Tuesday, and the open plan entertainment area at the back of the office, it is clear there is a strategy behind creating a culture of ‘fun’ at M Squared.

The business has implemented flexible work arrangements, not just flexi-hours, and the principals have gone to significant lengths to create an environment where staff want to work for the business and stay for the long haul.

They offer six weeks leave a year, every day is a casual-dress day, the office is totally open plan with no large offices reserved for directors, and their strategic planning ‘retreat’ is offshore at a different exotic location each year – all incentives to get the right people on board.

In addition to that, Messrs Miller and Moltoni have adopted a strategy in line with current university demographics.

“If you look the university demographics, it has now swung so that something like 55 per cent of people going to university are female, and then you look at accounting and all of a sudden it is up around 65-70 per cent,” Mr Miller said.

“Two of our staff members are already on maternity leave and we benchmarked it at 22 weeks, that is in excess of anything federally.

“The rationale is we look after our employees, we believe good employees are going to be harder and harder to come by over time.

“We just want to make it easy for them to come back.”

And it isn’t just with regard to having the right staff, but about offering the best service for the firm’s clients.

“We are post-baby boomers now, the net result is there is increasing work. The work is increasingly sophisticated, which means you need longer lead times, and after you have invested time and effort in staff, the last thing you want them to do is disappear,” Mr Miller said.

While the flexible work arrangement may concern business owners fearful of staff taking advantage of such situations, Mr Moltoni said quite the opposite had occurred, with the creation of transparency in the business’s operations meaning staff had taken ownership and were self-policing.

“Essentially we consult with them on most things. We put the results on the board every month, everybody knows how we’re travelling,” he said.

For Mr Miller it is all about finding the right people.

“To an extent, once you have a critical mass, it becomes self-policing,” he said.

“In other words, the people out there keep an eye on each other.”

The firm’s profit-share system helps cement that accountability; every staff member from the receptionist through to the directors has a share in the profits of the firm.

“Because their profit share is based on everybody performing, they are conscious of income, expenses and the like; we usually get told off for wasting paper,” Mr Moltoni said.

According to the business partners, the most difficult thing about setting up an accounting firm that goes against every traditional benchmark was having the strength of their convictions.

“Having the guts to do it in the first place. When we kicked off, we would talk to people and they would say to us, ‘you are absolutely stark raving mad’,” Mr Moltoni said.

The growth in the business’s client list and revenue indicates otherwise.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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