Tlao Cover Art 2023 Vector

Brett Kelly – Building a Global Accounting Firm with Permanent Capital – Ep.228

Brett is a really serious and motivated leader who’s pulled tons of great ideas from others and has a multi-decade vision for Kelly Partners.

Episode Description

Ep.228: Alex (@aebridgeman) is joined by Brett Kelly (@BrettKPG).

My guest on this episode is Brett Kelly, founder and CEO of Kelly Partners, a publicly traded accounting, tax, and advisory firm with global ambitions and a roughly $350m market cap. Since 2006 they have done 80 acquisitions and developed a strong playbook for building best-in-class accounting firms with a focus on high-net-worth clients and growing companies. Brett is a really serious and motivated leader who’s pulled tons of great ideas from others and has a multi-decade vision for Kelly Partners. He’s also the author of 5 books, one of which he wrote before launching Kelly when he was 22 years old.

Brett and I talk about the origins of Kelly Partners, companies and leaders he draws inspiration from, elements of his consolidation playbook, the role of technology and software, and what the future holds for Kelly.

Listen weekly and follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Breaker, and TuneIn.

Learn more about Alex and Think Like an Owner at

Clips From This Episode

What Skills are You Working on to Become a Better CEO?

How are You Running Your Firm Differently?

Hood & Strong LLP – One of the nation’s premier full-service public accounting firms, Hood & Strong LLP provides buy- and sell-side quality of earnings, due diligence, assurance and tax services to search funds, private equity firms, and business owners and investors. The H&S Advisory team helps expedite a smooth, cost-effective transaction process that maximizes value and minimizes tax impacts for both buyers and sellers. To learn more about how Hood & Strong can support your M&A objectives, please contact Transaction Advisory Group Partner Jerry Zhou at [email protected].

Oberle Risk Strategies– Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and employee benefits programs. Over the past decade, August Felker and his team have engaged with hundreds of searchers to provide due diligence and ultimately place the most competitive insurance program at closing. Given August’s experience as a searcher himself, he and his team understand all that goes into buying a business and pride themselves on making the insurance portion of closing seamless and hassle-free.

If you are under LOI, please reach out to August to learn more about how Oberle can help with insurance due diligence at Or reach out to August directly at [email protected].

Interested in sponsoring?

(00:00:00) – Intro

(00:04:30) – Founding Kelly Partners and Brett’s early career

(00:14:01) – What steps did you take to fast-track the company’s growth?

(00:26:24) – Why is the accounting field less competitive than it seems?

(00:30:49) – The power of consolidation in business

(00:40:07) – How are you running your firm differently than a typical accounting firm?

(00:44:24) – What does an average day look like for you as CEO?

(00:48:44) – What impact did IPO-ing have on the business?

(00:53:30) – Learnings from writing books

(01:00:11) – What skills are you working on to become a better CEO?

(01:05:42) – How do you view technology as part of your firm?

(01:10:32) – What are you excited about over the next 5 years?

Alex Bridgeman: Brett, thank you for coming on the podcast. I’m thrilled to chat with you. I was told about Kelly Partners through a good friend of mine who’s actually a shareholder and has been following Kelly for quite a while and told me about it. And I’m also kind of partial to it. My undergrad in college was in accounting, so it’s fun to find an accounting firm, especially in Australia. We’ve had a few Australian CEOs on the podcast and they’re really fun to chat with. So I’m thrilled to have you on. Thanks for joining.

Brett Kelly: I appreciate the invitation, Alex, and your interest.

Alex Bridgeman: Absolutely. So, founding Kelly Partners, what was the kind of genesis of that idea and that thought and what you were excited to go do? Can you talk about starting the business?

Brett Kelly: My wife and I started our firm in 2006, but really my interest in accounting started 15 years before that. I was in year ten at school. My father had a private business. They had employed at the urging of their accountants a CFO, who had then gone on to embezzle money from the company, and I saw the impact that that had on the company and on my father’s confidence. And I was going to study law to go into business, but instead I thought I should go and study accounting. I’d been reading everything that Warren Buffett had written since a young age of about 16, 1990 odd, and he had said that accounting is a language of business, and so I saw the sort of practical implications of that with my dad with that situation. And so, I decided that I would go and study accounting and take an undergraduate cadetship at Pricewaterhouse straight out of school. So I finished school in December. I started work full time in the first or second week of January and I’ve been working in the accounting industry essentially ever since for the last 30 years.

Alex Bridgeman: So what were the first couple of roles you had in accounting and how did it eventually become Kelly Partners?

Brett Kelly: I spent about four and a half years at Pricewaterhouse, finished my degree, was offered a job in an investment bank in M&A. I built some expertise in valuation because at Pricewaterhouse, I was working in the middle market private business team and I was working in the EVA group, the economic value added group. When it just started, there was eight partners and me running the computer and I read Alfred Rappaport’s book Creating Shareholder Value. I was running the software that linked, the software linked to Bloomberg and gave us 34 different valuation methodologies on any listed company that appeared in Bloomberg, and I was very fascinated about that because I was fascinated with Buffett. I learned about Buffett from reading the book of Common Stocks and Common Profits by Philip Fisher which had then led me to Buffett because, or led me to Graham, led me to Buffett. And so, I was known by the partners to have this interest in stocks and valuations. So I then went from Pricewaterhouse into an investment bank. I lost my job. The next youngest person in that team was 10 years older than me and they said I didn’t fit in with other people. That was true. I discovered that I didn’t really want to be an advisor. I wanted to do my own deals because you would give advice and hope that somebody would take your advice, but often if you are somebody like me, you thought you could see things that other people couldn’t see, and then it’d be quite frustrating trying to explain those things. I thought it was a huge waste of time and it’d be better to get off and do things with that knowledge. But first, I thought that accounting firms were great businesses, badly operated. And so, I went back in, I finished my chartered accounting qualification, did my master’s degree in tax, got my tax agent license, and then essentially, in March 2006, a friend of mine asked me to set up a firm with him. He said, Brett, you have 75% and run the business, I’ll have 25% and run the clients. Could that work? I said, sure. He said, I don’t know anyone that knows more about business than you, and I’m a really good accountant. And so that was kind of the basis of a partnership and really that was the preview of what would become Kelly Partners. In June of that year, the partner in the firm that I was in had said, if you do this, we’ll make you a partner. I joined the firm. I did more than they had asked me and in fact put in writing when the time came to become an equity partner. They said, look, we didn’t really look at our numbers properly. We can’t really do that deal anymore. Can we do this other deal? And I said, look, I can’t really work with people that don’t keep their word. And so, I went home, and I said to my wife Rebecca, look, what are we going to do? And she said, look, you’ve set up a firm for Scott. You’re really good at this. We had worked together in accounting. Why don’t you just- you’ve got your two other partners or friends who want to become partners with you, set up a firm, why don’t you just set up a firm with them? And I was very much Alex, the reluctant sort of founder. I was like, yeah, it makes sense but hang on, I’ve got to know that we’re doing the right thing. So I spoke to my two biggest clients. I owned my client base under my contract at the firm I was in, and they said, Brett, we can’t believe you don’t already have a firm. I was like, okay, that didn’t go really well. And then I said, well, I’d have to know that my best friends wanted to actually be in the business with me. And so, I thought, well, we’ll see if that works out. And then I had to reflect on really the way I was kind of raised, Alex, my father said if you’re going to do something, do it properly or don’t do it at all. And if you’re going to start something, you have to finish it. And so I never took things on lightly. I’m on the extreme end of the commitment scale. So if I tell you I will do something, then I would rather die than not do that thing. I’ve learned that’s quite unusual. But I was taught that my word and my reputation was really the most important thing. And so, I was very circumspect about starting a firm. I also knew that we needed some money. We just had Tom, our eldest son. He was nine months old, and it felt like a bit of a hassle to be fair. So I think it’s often the case that people don’t realise that being a founder or leading something is really just taking on responsibility and responsibility is very good for you, pressure makes diamonds, all of that. But at the time, it’s a little bit like, well why do I really want to take on that much responsibility? Do I really want this much pressure? It’s one thing to talk about running a business, it’s a completely different thing to build one from scratch with $50,000 of capital. So we had $50,000 of capital that we borrowed from one of the partner’s fathers very generously. We paid it back 12 weeks later. I had $200,000 of my own billings, and we took a serviced office. My boss said to me, look Brad, if you’re going to leave, you could always go across the road and start your own thing, but you need the cash flow, you’ve got a young child. I’m not really the sort of person that you challenge in that way. I thought we could probably do something about that, and look, after 12 months, we’d grown from scratch to about 4.2 million of revenue which made us about the 75th largest firm in the country. So we did that in the first year using all the skills that I had written in the period. After I lost my job in the investment bank, I wrote a bestselling book where I interviewed 34 leading Australians. I asked them, I said, I’m 22, I’m unemployed, I’m keen to learn. If you’ll spend an hour with me, I can ask my questions, put it in a book and get it out to other young people. I interviewed every living Australian Prime Minister, billionaires and anyone who’d done anything across all sectors of society, leaders of religion, politics, sport, arts, etc. I couldn’t get the publishers to publish it, so I self-published it, made it a number one bestseller, and then did 200 professional speaking engagements, launched the book live at the National Press Club in Canberra. I think the day before we spoke, I spoke with the youngest Australian senator, female senator in history. She launched my book, Natasha Stott Disployer, and the day before we launched the book, the Australian Prime Minister spoke, and the day after Benjamin Netanyahu spoke. So that was a big deal, went back into accounting, did my masters, etc. But during the book process, I had learned that many people just end up unconscious. They’re doing things and don’t know why. And I made this commitment having watched the BBC 7 Up series to write a book every seven years so that I would stop and sort of reflect on what I was doing so that I never really became unconscious and time just passed me by. So now I’ve written four of those books over 25 years, ’98, 2005, 2012, 2019. I’ve got to write another one in 2026. So that’s a commitment. And that’s worked out really well. So those books are a series of four books on wisdom, so collective wisdom, universal wisdom, business wisdom, investment wisdom, and they reflect sort of what I was thinking about at the time. So I guess the reason I share that, Alex, is I didn’t come to the business as an accountant. I didn’t come to the business as an investor. I didn’t come as an author or a promoter and seller of a product. I really had very broad and deep experience for somebody my age which allowed me to take that into the business and so it’s very easy to sort of see somebody doing something that appears easy and not realize that they really do have some depth and breadth to their skill set.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, you’ve done a lot. You’ve had a very dense career, lots of different things going on. Was the book connected at all to that pretty quick growth early on? You said you got to over four million in revenue in 12 months. Did that connect at all through your book and some of the maybe notoriety from writing that book and connecting that with your accounting firm and maybe there’s a networking benefit there? What were some of the keys to that seemingly pretty quick growth early on?

Brett Kelly: Yeah, so I think that I always say to our clients that a business can’t grow faster than the founder is growing. So the person goes into business and the business builds wealth and then people try to transition that wealth when they die. That’s really, you get born, you go into business, you build wealth, and then you’ve got your estate planning to think about. I think that it’s not well appreciated that who you are and everything that you’ve done and everyone that you’ve met and every experience that you’ve had compounds over your life. And so by the time I turned up starting this business, I’d worked six days a week, a minimum 60 hours a week since the time I was 18. And if I meet you, I had 11,000 people in my phone at that point. I’ve been an inveterate collector of business cards and contacts as I’ve spoken to audience after audience with my book. If I meet you, I’m not that easily forgotten. Life’s a bit 50-50. Half of them will like you, half of them will hate you. The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t even remember meeting you. And so I came from a large family, middle of eight boys. So I just had this very large network, if you like, of contacts. And then, Alex, I’m relentless. I started the business. I was worried about going broke, genuinely worried about going broke. And so the way that I got people into my book was the way that I had learned to then get people into the business. So to get a former president of the US or former prime minister of Australia to speak to you when you’re 22 takes a skill set that most people don’t have. I’m now 50 in August this year. I’ve only really just come to understand that that’s not normal. It takes a long time to know yourself, and you think, well, wouldn’t everyone do that? Doesn’t that make sense? You don’t have any relationships. You’ve worked out that it’s more important who you know than what you know. I knew a lot. I’d read everything. I’d studied a lot. But I wasn’t the son of anyone in particular, so I didn’t have a sort of Rolodex of the contacts of the giants that I wanted to be inspired by and learn from. And so, remember, I’m imbued with Buffett from a very early age. You will become the people you spend the most time with, level up around who you’re spending your time with because they’ll make you become better. So I just knew I had to get around people that would lift my standards and show me what was possible. So, it is true that by the time I went into the business, I was a very different person to what I was at 22. I go to interview Bob Hawke, the most successful Labor Prime Minister post World War II. He won four elections, was Prime Minister for 11 years. It’s an incredible record. And I’m in his reception, and I said to his PA, I said, can I ask you, is Mr. Hawke sending diaries out for Christmas? And she said, no. Brett, they’re his diaries for the next five years. There were big diaries behind her, big desk diaries. And I said, what do you mean five years? She goes, well, you got the Olympics and you got this, and I’ve got to plan a long way ahead. Now, I had never met at 22 anyone that was as busy as that, had five years of forward commitments. Most of us walk around pretending we’re busy. Can you imagine what your forward diary looks like if you’re the President of the United States or a Prime Minister or a former Prime Minister? These people have enormous lives. The beginning of wisdom is to know that you know nothing. That’s why I call that book Collective Wisdom, which is the collective wisdom of these people that were just mentoring me. It was unbelievably generous, Alex, in terms of their willingness to educate me in life. I had no idea. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know anything in particular. But what they did was show me a whole world, a whole different level of standards and gave me a belief of what was possible. I’ll never forget at the end of that interview, I said to Mr. Hawke, he said, how’s it going? I said, well, it’s quite difficult to get people to talk to. He said, two things, Brett. He said, firstly, if there’s anyone that you want to meet, you call my office and I will make the introduction. I said, that’s incredibly generous. And he then said, he said, look, there’s nothing you could be doing with your time that’s going to teach you more than what you’re doing right now. He said, so don’t give up, keep going. Now I was 22, unemployed, no publishing experience, no writing experience, no expertise, no money, and I’ve got one of the most successful people in their career ever in Australia and globally in his field, he’s a Rhodes Scholar, head of the union movement, Prime Minister, saying this is a great idea and I had a lot of people out there saying it wasn’t a good idea. So, I took that sort of willingness to stand against the crowd, if you like, I’d always kind of been like that, and to do my own thinking and to come to my own conclusions into the business. To answer your question, when I got into the business, I had some super skills. To get these 34 people into this book, and for people that see this on YouTube, these are not pamphlets. These are serious 300 plus page books. To pull these things together, it was 5,500 phone calls over three months. I got 34 out of the 80 people into the book and two others did phone calls with me. So 36 out of 80 people, so nearly 50% strike rate and in three months. When I did the last interview, the sort of Larry King of Australia, Ray Martin, said, Brett, how do you get these people over this time? I said, well Ray, if you make 5,500 phone calls and you’ve got nothing else to do, I guess it’s possible. He couldn’t believe it and he put the book on television and we sold all of the books in two days. So I turned up into the accounting industry where no one does anything. This is an industry where the government sends you a client every day. If half our industry had to serve coffee, they’d go broke because they’d have to compete. Whereas in our industry, the demand is just delivered. And so, the question I had asked myself is why, when the fundamentals of the business are so good, don’t you sort of take that to the bank and just run a world class organization. So I said, right, if we’re going to do this, let’s start with people. It’s got to be like Disney, the happiest place on earth. People have got to want to come and work there. They’d work there even if they didn’t get paid. There’s an aspiration. And then I said, righto, so from a process point of view, front end McDonald’s, back end Walmart. We’re going to have a Walmart type of operational ability to scale. We’re going to go strategically to places as Walmart did that nobody else wanted to go. We’ll go to the unfashionable places and we’ll become large before anyone else notices what we’re doing. And at the front end, we’ll have a limited SKU, limited McDonald’s style offering that’s highly branded but just for private business owners. So don’t go wide, go deep and build the systems that allow you to scale. And then I said for clients, it can only be private business owners, essentially $200 to $500 million that have what we call a go somewhere mentality, people that actually want to do something. If you’re kind of lazy, incumbent and half asleep, you’re not really going to be our types of people. And then financial, Berkshire Hathaway. Apple on people, sort of Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton. Apple had done a lot of work on Ritz Carlton Hotel so I thought they were a great organisation. And then this was the benefit of the business experience. I’d had some really good exposure to some great companies. So I knew what great was, which often I suspect people haven’t really seen great. And then Berkshire Hathaway was kind of the financial benchmark. I then turned around and said, right, what we need to do is build a Berkshire Hathaway of accounting. And so simply put, it would be a permanent capital holding company with 51/49 interest into each of the operating businesses. And so, since inception there have been 51/49 partnerships. That 75/25 that Scott suggested I made 51/49. That would mean that we had an ability to lead and make decisions. Simply put, you could go to the partners and say, look guys, you need to make a decision. Obviously if you don’t, then I can, but I never have had to because then people just make decisions. And I said, when you make decisions in accounting firms, nothing happens, there’s no execution because there’s no team, so we’ll build a management team. Because I’ve been reading everything on private equity and it said that you can’t financially engineer your way to heaven, you actually have to do some work, some operational expertise, and I knew that we knew a lot about accounting firms. So I said, we’ll McDonalds-ize operational accounting firms, have a Berkshire structure, and like an alternate asset manager, we will buy things that no one else thinks are assets. I understood from the work I’d done on EVA and Rappaport that I could buy the businesses below intrinsic value, I could have a large margin of safety, and that fundamentally if your returns were higher than your weighted average cost of capital, you were creating value, and that if we just did it over and over and over again in a programmatic way, that over time, but a long time, we could probably build some value. So over the journey, I had $200,000 of billings. We raised $800,000 early on to buy a business at one point. When we had that opportunity, we did it internally with the partners. And we raised $6 million pre-IPO, $7 million at IPO, the total capital raised is about 13.5 million, well about let’s call it 14 million Australian dollars, say 10 million US dollars. The business is listed in Australia for anyone listing, market cap’s about 350 million, that’s the 51%. You’ve got to assume the other half’s worth something. We’ve turned 14 million Australian dollars into about 700 million Australian dollars, and we’ve compounded our capital, it’s 18 years in three days’ time, or no, it was 18 years 10 days ago, six days ago, it’s 30, 35, 40 plus percent for nearly 20 years. So that’s kind of how we came at it. I did have some skills that other people don’t have and that was 5,500 phone calls. Hey Alex, do you have a great accountant? I didn’t think so. If you don’t become my client, I’m going to go broke and I know you wouldn’t want that but maybe you do, but you need to give us your work anyway. And so, you might get the sense that I wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the big news is that most people’s accountants don’t care whether they’re their client or not. So it’s very easy to go around and gather up clients. If I ring the same person six days in a row, they’ll say to me, hey Brett, you’ve called me six times in six days which is six times more than my accountant’s called me in the last six years. So it’s not a kind of intensely competitive type of market when you’re trying to get moving. Now the other thing I brought to the party when we started was an ability to grow organically. I always say that you shouldn’t do an acquisition of a business that you can’t organically grow, and so we grew the 200 to about 2.2 organically in the first year, and then I bought my former boss’s fee base and an older fellow up the road, and so that took us 2.2 organic, 2 million of acquisitions and that got us to 4.2 in the first year. Now we did that because we’d created some capital internally. Basically, through that organic growth, the bank was prepared to lend against our fee base to fund the acquisitions, and we are very expert around the financing piece. And then when we buy a business, we can double its profits, reduce its working capital by two thirds and dramatically improve the life of the partners that join us.

Alex Bridgeman: There’s a ton in there to dive into and spend some time on. What makes you- why is the accounting field seemingly, in your experience, less competitive than you would have expected it to be? Like, calling someone six times in the last six days, and it’s not something that they’re used to from any accounting firm, and you found it fairly straightforward to go get clients. What do you think is driving that? Is it just a kind of practitioner’s business and less of a business-minded industry? What do you think is behind all that?

Brett Kelly: So, Alex, I think there’s two reasons. Firstly, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the CPAs that govern the industry designations, up to about 20 or 25 years ago, they had anti-touting laws. So it was considered ungentlemanly to tout for the business of a professional colleague. And so it was essentially mandated that you couldn’t advertise and that you couldn’t tout for business. You had to sit there like a gentleman and wait for the business to sort of walk through the door. I believe in being a gentleman but I also believe that clients have the right to know about the quality difference that you can make that other accountants aren’t bothering to make. And so to me, that’s just community service. So I guess that’s culturally been the way it is. And also I think in technical industries generally, they’re full of technical people that really consider selling often below them. They see that as kind of a lower calling in life than doing the technical work itself. I think starving is below everything, and so I’m kind of prepared to do the things necessary to not starve. And early on in my journey, at the same time that my first book was launched, I bought the 2,000-odd audio tapes of the Simon & Schuster self-help collection at the time. And I noticed that by listening to those while I sat in my garage working on this book, my parents’ garage, I noticed the prevalence of advice around the importance of leading people but also the importance of being able to sell. And so, at the same time my book came out, another guy’s book, Robert Kiyosaki’s book came out, Rich Dad Poor Dad, it was launched first in Australia, and he talked about his first role being with Xerox and how he’d been taught to sell professionally. And so I realised inherently probably from a young age, because I had had, from 14, I had a car washing business and a lawn mowing business and a tennis court blow-a-vac business where I would clean up leaves from the tennis court. And I had kind of worked out through that small business that I had grown that once I was there to wash your car, I might as well mow your lawn, and if you have a tennis court, I might as well blow-a-vac your tennis court and pick up the leaves and just bundle it and charge more. Because hey, let’s face it, I’m already here. I also threw in clean your pool. So, I had one of my mate’s parents’ home where my mate would be in bed and I would be washing a beautiful Mercedes, a beautiful Range Rover, and a Ferrari. And then I would blow-a-vac the tennis court, wash the pool, and mow the lawn. And for that, I was getting a couple of hundred dollars in like 1989 dollars. I was also coaching women’s cricket because I played a lot of high-level cricket. So, I think building those skills is kind of important early on.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I completely agree. And the skills also just translate really well to acquiring other businesses and figuring out how they integrate together. And I noticed that, we’ve talked about Berkshire just off mic before recording, but the Berkshire model is much more decentralized. And there’s even a slide in one of your investor decks comparing the Kelly Partners method of owning accounting firms versus something like a roll-up where it’s very decentralized and they’re all different brands. Kelly has gone the opposite direction. Of course, they take a lot of inspiration from Buffett, Munger, and Berkshire Hathaway. What is driving that difference? What did you see benefit-wise or some of the efficiencies? What did you see from consolidating into a single brand that made that much more compelling for you?

Brett Kelly: Yeah, it’s a good question, Alex. So stepping back, I heard a comment recently that, I’m not sure whether I heard it or I read it, but it said that the really great billionaires, like people who are tremendously effective in their businesses, that the dominant trait they have is a deep self-awareness. That doesn’t mean that they’ve got people’s skills or they’ve got an EQ. It just means that they know who they are and who they’re not. So Warren Buffett early on attempted to be an operator of businesses and worked out that he was not very good at it and that in fact he didn’t enjoy it. He didn’t get any energy from it. I think it was when he had to fire some people and close some things down that he just hated it. And so he’s a Virgo, I’m a Leo, they’re different creatures. And so I think you can learn from everyone. Everyone has a story and you can learn from everyone. And so, I like to integrate good information, Charlie Munger, who really I identify even more closely with than Warren, talks about a lattice work of models, if you like, a sort of liberal arts idea around investing as being, and just life as being understanding ideas and putting them together in a lattice work that really works for you. So, I looked at the Holdco independent structure of Berkshire, sort of the fortress balance sheet, the not ever having to do anything and being able to be opportunistic as a result, as being huge contributions from Buffett, from Graham, really from Philip Fisher. I think margin of safety comes from him. Mr. Market comes from Graham. So you’re starting to put together these big ideas is the way I imagine them and ideas lead to actions, actions to habits, habits to your destiny. So the big ideas are really important. So I’ve got Philip Fisher with his margin of safety, his 15 point checklist, and I land with Ben Graham with Mr. Market and think of it as a business. Then I land with Buffett and he’s kind of combined all that up to a holdco, ultimately, little partnerships all into a holdco, permanent capital so that you’re independent. You’re not driven by raising money every five seconds like a fund. You’re not in the fund collection business. So I loved all of that. But then I had to admit that I really like Bernard Arnault who is an operator. And so Arnault and also the gentleman who founded Reachmont, I think it’s the Reachmont founder that worked out that a ton of iron ore was selling for $50, which he was in, in Zimbabwe, and that the most valuable thing in the world per gram was the silicon chip. The second most valuable thing per gram was the handmade Swiss watch movement. And so he saw the succession issues in watch companies, and he was buying these hundreds of years old watch companies when there were succession issues. Now, that was in the 70s. I think Gianni Agnelli was offered Cartier and said his bankers were like who would want sparkly, girly stuff. But Arnault was in America, saw the LBO thing, went back to France, got a hold of a big conglomerate where he was after Dior because he heard from the taxi driver the value of the brand. And so I’m reading, I’m just imbibing business books for my whole life, and I’m like, yeah, okay, that all makes sense. So we do basically Michael Albias of accounting firms because they’re recurring revenue businesses. The tax is the ultimate government power that everything will go away before the tax system. And so, I’m going to buy these things even though nobody thinks it’s an industry, nobody thinks they are assets, nobody thinks you can run them as a business. Everyone thinks it’s just a craft or a hobby. And like Arno, we can get the GE number one or two firm, Arnault, old firms, reinvigorate them, but I do a lot of work with McDonald’s, Alex, and my father have been involved in it for years. So, it’s like I’ve seen franchising one brand, one tech system actually get- a core problem with the firms was they weren’t profitable enough, so you’ve got to improve the profit. So it’s layering these big ideas, if you like. Much later, Mark Leonard, Programmatic Acquisition, 2012, McKinsey wrote some good papers on programmatic which explained what we were doing, but while I like buying in bulk programmatically, I still feel that we’re very much more Buffet buying opportunistically. So we won’t buy, we’re just not going to do a deal where it’s not a partnership that makes sense and the terms don’t make sense. And then overlaying all of that, I believe the accountants from a social service point of view, could just fundamentally make a difference. So I knew that not only did you get a flywheel but you got a virtuous flywheel, that the more you put in, the better feedback you got back, which led you to put more in, more effort in to make more difference which gave you better feedback. I knew that accountants wouldn’t invest in their businesses so you needed a system fee like McDonald’s. So, our firms pay us 6.5% of their revenue for the services team, 2.5 for IP and that would mean that we would retain 9% of the revenue to reinvest in the businesses. As the business got bigger, we’d have more fuel for the mission. As Jim Collins says, he says, over the top of your flywheel, you need mission, over the bottom, you need fuel. So we’d have more fuel for the mission, which would power the flywheel. So that as we grew, it wasn’t just grow to be big so we could tell our mates we’re big, but we would only get bigger if we got better, and we could fuel that growth and get better and better. Then fundamentally I believe structure is critically important, which I did get from Buffett to say, and Arnault and I think Rupert Murdoch and a lot of these guys pay a lot of attention, John Malone, to structure. It’s often not talked about. So if you want to build a hundred year business, you’ve got to get the structure right. So we want it to be public because we think that’s the future of accounting firms. They’re called public accounting firms but none of them are public. It doesn’t make sense. We believe that it takes as much capital to be local as it does to be global. So you might as well be global. Australia doesn’t have a global accounting firm and no one’s moved by small missions. So if you take all of that, I love the book back there, Eli Broad, The Art of Being Unreasonable, Sam Zell, all of these types of crazies, I love them all equally, and it’s like I’ve met them. I haven’t met them. But Sam Moulton, loved his book. That’s taught me an enormous amount. So fundamentally I’m a capitalist. I believe that businesses can make a tremendous difference if it’s undertaken with the right spirit. I thought the account sits in the middle of the financial ecosystem. People suffer a huge amount of financial stress because they don’t deal appropriately with their money, and so you’re in this very trusted position where you can make an enormous difference to a person, their family. People running private businesses employ 70% of all Americans, Canadians, Australians, Brits, and so if you look after them, they can look after their people and you can grow employment. So, there was just no way I could look at the idea of what I had in my mind and think that it was a bad idea. And then fundamentally, in my world view, your gifts and talents are given to you by somebody bigger than you and you have an obligation to use them in the service of other people. And so if you get all of that right, my second book was called Universal Wisdom, Seven People That Changed the World, I believe that there’s a slipstream of big ideas, and if you put yourself in that jet stream, non-violent resistance, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, Buffett, intrinsic value, holding your position against the crowd when you know you’re right, Helen Keller, these sorts of people I believe are sitting in this jet stream of good ideas. And so if you can put the business in the right place with a hundred year view, I believe that ultimately you could compound your mission, vision, values in the right structure with a clear strategy and the rest will take care of itself.

Alex Bridgeman: You mentioned being able to grow each of these accounting firms pretty early on after acquiring them. What are some of the things that you do running an accounting firm that are different than how they’re typically run that, once you’re in charge and making decisions, they grow faster, have a larger profit margin? What are some of the things you’re doing differently than most accounting peers of yours?

Brett Kelly: Yeah, so Alex, typically in life, the world moves for the person who knows where they’re going. And so if you don’t have the right people and a clear plan and you don’t measure your progress, then not much of any substance is going to happen for you or to you or anyone else near you. So, you’re really talking about businesses that are excellent at servicing their customers to a degree, but the partners are so busy doing that, they have no time to do anything else. And so, if you walk into most subscale businesses, not just accounting firms, and say, hey, show us your business plan, what’s your strategy, what are we doing here? The answer is, oh, we’re just putting out fires. And so, we have built a business system that allows us to walk into this type of business and say, great, let’s get clarity around the mission. Why does this business exist and what difference is it trying to make? What are the core values of this business that are non-negotiable in terms of hiring, servicing, looking after our people, servicing our clients, and impacting our community? What is the vision? If things went really well, what does all this look like and what does it add up to? Not financially, what actual impact is this thing here for? Why does anyone care if it’s here or not? Oh okay, right. What’s the structure? What’s the strategy? There’s 12 parts to what we call our progress pyramid that we developed, 12 parts to this business. We have a system for every part and we walk in from the bottom up and re-engineer the engagement in the business. Now I said earlier that a business can’t outperform. It can’t grow faster than its owners are growing. As a parent or a leader in a business, for every 10 books you read, your people will read one book. For every 10 things you ask them to do, they might do one of those 10 things. So if you want to double the output of your people, you’ve got to double the engagement and output of yourself. Now most people say, oh yeah, I’m working really hard, and that’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing the right things when they should be doing them in the way that they should be doing them. There’s a lot of people that, I have this saying that not all movement is progress. Often, it’s just people flying themselves around in circles. And so, it sounds a bit zen, but most people, I call that the foundation of the business, so mission, values, vision, strategy, structure, and strategy, strategy and structure, that’s the foundation of the business. Above that is basically the operations of the business. So, people, process, clients, financial, digital, brand, risk, growth, and succession. So that’s your progress pyramid. First of all, most people don’t know what that is. So what parts of business are they? Secondly, they’re not doing anything to those parts of the business. So, if you can have a plan to say, well, this is the business, these are the parts of the business where we’ve got issues, what are we going to do about those and how are we going to improve each part of the business, it’s essentially a workout for your business. If you go to the gym every day and you just work on your forehead, you just headbutt a wall, you’ll end up with a really strong forehead but probably not much upper body strength, leg strength, or anything else. Most people are just kind of doing one exercise in their business over and over again. It’s not a comprehensive plan for making things better. So, we call that making people better off and better off means healthier, wealthier, and wiser. And so, then you get a flywheel. And so, it’s not that complicated, although it takes some depth of understanding and it’s a little bit like saying, how does a McDonalds throw a big Mac out the window at you in less than three minutes? They make it look pretty easy. There’s a lot to it. I love Roger Federer. How does Roger hit a forehand? Well, probably like everyone else, but not really.

Alex Bridgeman: What does your own day look like as CEO? As CEO, what is an average day looking like for you? And what are some of the different tasks and things you’re focused on on a daily basis?

Brett Kelly: Yes. So early on, Alex, when we started the business for the first five years, I would leave home at 3.30 in the morning, I would get to the office at quarter past four, I would work till 6:15, I would get home for dinner at 7, I would be finished with dinner by 8, I would work until 11 and I would go to sleep. I did that. I don’t work Sundays, but I worked every single day for five years other than a Sunday or a Christmas day or an Easter Sunday or something. So I do think that people very much underrate how hard they could work if their life depended on it. So for example, the young men that are on the front line in Ukraine at the moment, they are not working nine to five and they don’t ever knock off. They are in a war for their lives. And when you start a business, don’t you dare start a business unless you are prepared to pick up a gun and go to the front line somewhere because you are fighting for your life. If you take on a personal guarantee, you mortgage your house, and you start a business, worse than that, you’re putting your good name and reputation on the line. So to me, it was a life or death situation. Rebecca was supporting me in doing that. She was looking after Tom and working in the business to the degree that she could with a very young child. But I took that extremely seriously. For me, life’s an Olympic sport. Other people have a different way of thinking about things which is completely fine. But if you want to build a business, then it’s not beer and skittles. In the five years after that, I had then documented every single role so that when I wanted to give the HR role to somebody, I was able to give them a fully documented role and build that function. And so over the next five years, I started giving those roles to other people. I was doing say 12 jobs in the beginning, those 12 parts of the pyramid, and then I documented and gave them to a person to run, a head of people, a head of IT, a head of marketing, a head of legal and ops, etc. What that meant was that my work hours then reverted to more like seven to six, and I would always work Saturday mornings in that I would get up at three and I would work till eight and then I would take my kids to sport. The great news is I’ve never experienced workers’ work. So, some people are like, you work a lot, as if that’s a problem. For me, this is what I love, it’s who I am, it’s genuinely no stress to me to do that. It’s more stressful to play golf, frankly. I’m much better at this than that, but I just enjoy this more. So if you’re putting in the reps, there it is. And then in the five years post that, we then had, we went public in 2017, so after 11 years since starting the business. And so, then I had to pivot to a public company CEO role and running that board and still operating as an operating CEO of the business. I would then spend 80% of my time on our people, our partners and key people. I would spend a balance of that time developing new intellectual property and talking to firms about joining the group. And when I say developing intellectual property, it’s really building the systems, rewriting processes, and working on the little X factors that I thought would have the most impact. Now a lot of people talk about culture. To me culture is an outcome of a high performing team. So did I work on the culture? Yes. Set standards, set the mission, the values, the vision, set standards, hold standards. That delivers a level of performance and a way we do things here which to me is the culture of the group. And a bunch of time, all of that in the context of delivering a vision of the most impact we could make to our target client and their families on a hundred-year basis.

Alex Bridgeman: You had one of the charts in your investor deck that talked about the pace of acquisitions and that the IPO point, that going public seems to be kind of a, it appeared to be a catalyst to a higher pace of acquisition. Did you feel like the IPO was a big turning point for M&A and then maybe other parts of the business too? What came out of the IPO that was maybe different or more exciting or faster growth? Like what things changed about the IPO that you’ve been excited about?

Brett Kelly: So, Alex, I bought the first business in the first 12 months that I was in business. I was 30 years old. I was buying firms from gentlemen who were typically 65, 63. And so when we went public, I was still 41. And so, the people whose firms I was trying to buy were 65. And so by being public, I believe the bet was that it would create a lighthouse effect and give us credibility with the senior people who built great firms that we wanted to join us. And that was just an insight. Steve Jobs, I was listening to a great podcast the other day, David Senra’s Founders Podcast, and Jobs talks about how important, how intuition is more important than raw intellect. And so I just had this intuition that we would be taken more seriously. I also had the intuition that internally it would make us a more serious organization. It’s kind of one thing to practice to go to the Olympics, and then it’s another thing to have to perform at the Olympics. I was chosen to play first grade cricket, and I thought I was really great and I was very happy I’d been informed that I’d been selected, two days time, first game. One of the wiser heads came over to me and said, Brett, it’s one thing to be chosen, it’s another thing to perform. So a lot of companies go public thinking, a lot of VC backed companies think that raising the money is the event. But to me, raising money as a VC company would have me feel such an obligation to perform at such a high level. It’s just the way my values are. And so when we went public, I didn’t celebrate at all. Everyone was like, well, isn’t that exciting? I’m like, no. That’s the trust people have put in us to invest this capital upon which we must earn them a return. It wasn’t just, isn’t that great, pay yourself a bonus. So I felt a huge five-year kind of mindset of obligation in Buffett style, measuring five-year periods, to then buckle down and deliver the business plan that we had proposed as part of the IPO. So I think that has worked tremendously in two ways. Firstly people will understand the lighthouse piece. They’ll understand the external piece. But life’s really about the internal piece, the internal scorecard, your own conscience. And so I believe the internal of the organisation is what you see externally in a stock chart. When you look at an organization, you can’t see the internals, but over a period of time, you can kind of see that, hey, they must have a system, they must have a business. Now they’ve got a business, they must have a system because you can see the rhythm, you can see the pace, blah, blah, blah. And so you’re right. We’ve got ten times more inquiry in the pipeline than we had pre-IPO and that’s continued which is terrific. And it has changed the trajectory of the business. Most importantly, by delivering consistently, that’s built us a lot of credibility with our shareholders, with our internal team. So what we call our internal team and our external partners, shareholders and the broader community. And really what you’re compounding is you’re just compounding reputation. I think I got paid 2.2 million of the proceeds. I sell down 2.2 in the IPO, another buck at the same time, sold down about 30 million. Somebody said to me, well, why don’t you sell more stock? And I said, well, because I believe in what we’re doing and I’m not here for the short term, I’m here to compound my capital with you for the very long term. So at IPO, I own 51% of issued capital and I own 48% today and we’ve just continued to compound our capital together with our external quality shareholder partners.

Alex Bridgeman: You’ve referenced a lot of different CEOs that you clearly admire and study a lot. Were there any key quotes or concepts, ideas from any of the 5,000 phone calls you did for your book and some of the other close friends of yours that you’ve kept top of mind over the last few years as you built the business?

Brett Kelly: Yeah. So I love ideas. I love to learn. That’s my kind of number one strength and it’s where I really get my energy from. But I love the quote, I’ve got it in a recent deck that we released, where Charlie Munger says, it’s not that we’re so smart, we just do what smart people do. I consistently get a hard time for quoting Buffett or whoever, and I can quote many, many, many leaders that I admire tremendously. But in my mind, I just believe you are the people. Jim Rohn, one of the great American speakers whose tapes I listened to when I did my first book, I have a sign above my door over there, Buffett’s got, invest like a champion today. I have a sign that says, don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better. So, that really defines my sense of your obligation to yourself to do the best you can always. I say to my kids and certainly my dad, it’s a twist on what my dad said to me, but if you’re going to do anything, do it in a world class fashion. Do it the best it can be done. I don’t believe that I can learn how to do things the best other than by studying the people that do it the best. To me, that seems incredibly logical. I’m frankly surprised that more people don’t follow more clearly, that people clearly know what they’re doing. I think that there’s just a lot to be learned by people all over the place and everyone’s got a story, and everyone can teach you something. I love Eli Broad, the American entrepreneur. He just talks about just being unreasonable. That came very naturally to me. It was unreasonable at 22 just to think that people would talk to you and you could turn it into a book. But I just didn’t understand why people didn’t think that that was true. And then later I read Steve Jobs’ quote, he says, everything around you is just made by people just like you. And once you work out that you can make stuff, then you can just give yourself permission to go and do stuff. No one’s… I also have a quote really that- I love the play by Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman. And out of that, I’ve summarized that whole book into a quote, I say to people, is that person coming to your funeral? You’re so interested in their opinion, but are they so important that they’re going to be coming to your funeral? And if the answer’s no, then their opinion, while interesting and may be able to teach you something, shouldn’t be the determinant factor in the way that you choose to live your life. My favourite quote is, time is limited, death is certain. I had a brother die in a car accident at 45. I was 30 at the time. So, I’d been at 22 to Florence and I’d seen the art, the Renaissance artists, and in many of the paintings, there was a skull with a candle in it. And I asked a lady, what’s that about? And she said, well, the candle is to remind you that life is, the light is going out quickly, much quicker than you realise. So I have this strange combination that really I’ve learned from Buffett is that you’ve got to be super long-term, massively energetic every single day. I think that people don’t talk about Buffett’s energy. I think Buffett’s just incredibly driven, incredibly energetic. Not just driven, just very energetic. You see him sit there and the way he moves, if you watch, even as a very old man, less so today, he’s not so good on his feet, but as a very old man, he’s very, very energetic. And I can go on and on, as you can tell. Dale Carnegie, I did his course, I spoke on when I did my first book on a TV show and I said my dad gave me two books, Think and Grow Rich and How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’d done all these degrees and I didn’t know anything about how to deal with people. But Dale Carnegie, I think it’s him, says that nothing can take the place of enthusiasm. I’m an enthusiast. I always say that. I’ll write a memoir, hopefully when I’m very, very old and hopefully actually very, very, very old, and I’ll just call it the Try Hard. I just believe in trying really, really hard. You can hate me for that. But it’s just the, I think, the cumulative impact of taking in great ideas from the best of the best of the best and not just from business but from everything and having that commitment to doing the best that you can by yourself and others, I just see no other real way to live. I don’t know why anyone would object to that. And then when I look at, ultimately, what I’ve said less publicly is that the Benedictines are a 1,500-year-old organisation. So Berkshire is just a minnow. It’s been around 50 years. I think the Jesuits have been around 700 or 800, the Dominicans 1,000. There are organisations that have been around a long time and there’s a lot that we can learn from how to structure with a very, very long-term view. You’d make different decisions if you had a 1,000-year view than if you had a one minute view, as Buffett says, 20 minute view. I guess the most influential person really on me from a business perspective is Charlie Munger because Buffett told Munger that selling hours made no sense and that he should be an investor. I just combined that idea with rather than being an accountant and billing my hours with clients that wouldn’t listen anyway nor take action, I just realized that I would say to a client, you could do this, this and this. We could help you do this. They’d say, no, I don’t want to pay you and really what they were saying is they couldn’t really be bothered to play life as an Olympic sport. They didn’t really want to be great. I was like, well, why waste my time on that? Why not just take my own advice and do it in my own business? And so then unlike Buffett, rather than just buying a grab bag of random things, I said, why don’t I stay in my tiny circle of competence, which is accounting firms, and just turn accounting firms into an investable asset that could scale a social impact over a hundred years.

Alex Bridgeman: What kind of skills and things are you personally working on to improve and become a better CEO for the next five plus years? What are some skills you’re working on today?

Brett Kelly: I think, Alex, if you think about how…what I learned as a very young guy was that the very best people were the very best with people. And so as I met with the best of the best, they were incredibly gracious to me. They were incredibly generous and they were still as fearsomely smart as ever and driven to do what they were doing, but they had got to a point where they had kicked so many of their own goals that they were very comfortable in who they were, and they didn’t feel like they had to argue, to toss, defend or explain too much sort of their journey. I learned from a guy, Michael Hill, who wrote a book called Toughen Up, Michael Hill. He always had a documented 30-year plan. I love that idea. So, I like round numbers, I had a 25-year plan and that comes up at 50. And so, I’ve done another 25, another 25. And so to become the buyer of choice and to compound your weapon and become the best version of the person that you think you can become, I see it as essential that I become more like Buffett. I am much more like Munger. It’s hard for me to listen to stupidity for long because my brain works quickly and I’m verbally gifted. So, if you say ridiculous things to me, I would have been much more inclined five years ago to let you know that you were wasting my time and probably in a very direct way. That was partially, certainly ten years ago in terms of the pressure we were under to do what we were doing. So, I think the maturity to be more gracious and more generous when people are enthusiastic. And even if they’re rude or arrogant or horrible or terrible, why argue? When we were trying to raise money pre-IPO and then at the IPO and for many years post-IPO, we just were roundly abused consistently by investors and people calling themselves investors. You see that again. It’s just how the brain works. It was horrendous. So, they would attack us, tell us the model didn’t work and it couldn’t work and it wouldn’t work because somebody else had done a roll-up version badly, and you’re trying to explain this isn’t a roll-up, this is something different, blah, blah, blah, no more than LVMH is a roll-up. That can make you aggressive and defensive about your business and your business model. I’m really trying to get to a point where we just let the model and the business speak for itself. While I want to be as generous in sharing the ideas that have helped me that other people have shared with me, I don’t really want to defend the business. I do often cop today the criticism that we’re promoters. But if you start a business, and we’ve grown from 200,000 in billings to our run rate’s about 120 million. So that doesn’t happen unless you have some sales skill as a founder. And so I’m never going to be a person that isn’t going to be able to argue my position or at least present my position. And so that can be taken as promoting and whatever. I don’t really care if somebody buys our stock or not in a Buffett sense in that we’ll just keep doing the business and try and do business in a way we think sits well with the inner scorecard, if you like, and that over time makes a lot of sense. So that’s really my five year goal. My personal reflection and effort that I’m trying to make is to- I’ve always been very generous but to be gracious with people even when they’re rude and frankly worse is kind of my number one personal challenge. I think that helps life, helps business, helps you with your kids, etc.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that’s a good one to have as a skill and something you’re good at, for sure.

Brett Kelly: Yeah, and look, the thing is, today Buffett’s the master of that, but he was not like that at my age and certainly younger than I was, he was a nightmare by his own admission. And I think Munger was pretty direct right up to his last day. So somewhere between those two is probably a good place to land.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I think so. One comment I see somewhat frequently about accounting firms is that they’re kind of at odds with some stuff like AI or technology that could make accounting more automated. But at the same time, as you’ve talked about, there’s an increasing amount of complexity and burden that businesses and individuals have on taxes and accounting. And there’s even an interesting ranking you shared about how difficult it is to file taxes in certain countries. And I think that United Arab Emirates was at the top and the US was 36 or something. So I get the sense you have a different view. I’d be curious kind of what that is and where technology fits as an enemy versus ally to Kelly.

Brett Kelly: Yeah, I think that a lot of the people that sprout opinions, A, don’t know the industry and, B, are just selling their own book. So if you’re an AI company, you think AI is awesome and it is. Many things are awesome. So I think that’s the first thing. I think the second thing to really understand is that sex sells, and accounting is not typically regarded as sexy. So every so often, people turn up and they want to talk about something sexier. But the inherent dignity in doing a quality job, if you just step back to first principles thinking, what is accounting? Well, double entry bookkeeping was developed by a monk. No one else would have been able to come to that position at the time because what the monk was really coming from at a spiritual level was making an accounting of your own behaviour. That’s what accounting is and that’s what it was. Now that’s not going to go away. You might use AI to do it and they were using it an abacus at some point and they were doing whatever, but this whole idea of accountability, making an accounting for how you used your time, your gifts, etc., today, that idea is not going away. So, if you start there and then you say, but hang on, sex sells, so you’ve got to turn that into something sexy, and then you’ve had the abacus and then you’ve had software and now you’ve got AI. But to me, AI today is the abacus of yesterday. The abacus was going to put all the accounts out of business. There’re more accountants today than ever. And then you come to tax and you can rest assured that the political class, both left and right, in every country is going to want more money every day forever because that’s their pay rise. When taxes go up, they can give themselves a pay rise. Their willingness to create complexity is going to continue to go crazy. Now if you look at the diversity, equity and inclusion movement and the identity politic movement generally, you’re going to have taxes for redheads, for short people, for tall people, for fat people, for skinny people, for first generation migrants, for third generation migrants, carbon accounting, impact of, I don’t know, your bad attitude accounting. So basically, the regulators and the politicians, their ability to drive endless complexity is enormous. Now, the market itself is not so big that anyone’s going to be able to afford to spend that much money trying to keep up with the tax act in Australia that’s gone to 13% by a number of pages per year for 50, 60, 70 years. So if you look at the accounting software packages today, they’re hopeless because the industry is so small and the industry is not getting any better. And if you had a big AI machine today, it wouldn’t be the first industry that you think you could make a crust out of in spending and consistently investing in the AI machine to actually deal with the complexities of our industry. So AI is another fantastic tool. I think it’s going to help us. We have a checklist, interestingly, Alex, of the 82 things that an accountant should have done for a private business owning client. And when I meet a client here in the US or in Australia, the average score is 8 out of 82. So accountants today are doing one in 10 of the things that they should do to help their clients. Now if AI turns up and takes away 80% of the work, you’ll still have all the work you have today. So accountants are highly skilled, highly trained. They’re paid for about 10% of the work they do and they’re not paid any percent of the value that they add. So I don’t feel in our particular space, private business owners who aren’t multinationals and can sort of structure out of tax, who are not individuals that have got no money, but the people that are onshore with complex multi-generational family situations, they’re going to need somebody to coordinate, manage and deal with that situation for a long time to come. It’s not the wealth manager because tax is always going to be the main game. So it’s actually the accountant who’s best placed to play the role in the ecosystem. Now I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I don’t think AI is amazing, it’s going to make an impact and all of that. But the end of politicians’ willingness to make new tax laws and therefore be able to be managed by technology is overstated by people that don’t know what they’re talking about.

Alex Bridgeman: What are you, kind of coming to a close, what are you most excited for in the next five years with Kelly Partners? It seems like growth is certainly accelerating and having some really good momentum. What’s exciting to you? What are you looking forward to most?

Brett Kelly: So, Alex, a person like me is really working on a painting that’s in their brain that you’re trying to get out through your brush. That’s all it is. In my mind, I’m just sick of Australian businesses being gutless and selling out to offshore companies. And so it’s our intention to list in the US, ideally on the New York Stock Exchange and be Australia’s global accounting firm for private business owners. So that’s the clear sort of vision and the mandate to take forward. There are 60,000 Australians in Los Angeles, even more in London. We’re a very entrepreneurial driven and global business community and we can grow an accounting firm globally in the same way that the Germans have grown their global accounting firm, that the French have grown theirs, that the Americans and the Brits and the Japanese and the Chinese have grown theirs. So that’s really the five year goal is to get listed in the US, raise the equity capital that we need, the debt capital we need to sort of, I hesitate to say finish, but to do the next stage of the build out to truly become Australia’s global accounting firm for driven private business owners. From my perspective, that scales impact for our people. I wanted to build accounting firms that were better for our people, more exciting. When I was at Pricewaterhouse in Sydney, they said, we’re a global firm, come here. So I did. And then I said, well I want to work in London. They said, you have to resign and go to London and apply. It was a fake, fraudulent proposition to a young person to say we’re global, but we can’t send you to a global office. I thought that was bullshit. And the way they worked with clients was similarly rubbish in terms of the cross offices. I thought it was a fraud on the employment proposition. So, in my mind, I see a world where we can seamlessly say to a young person, yeah, pick up your laptop and go and you want to spend the summer in California, go and work in California, want to be in London, go, but serve our people and serve our clients with the ethic that we’re trying to promote. Fundamentally the point of the business is to- and I think very much what I admire very much about Buffett is can you win the inner scorecard battle in terms of compounding the mission to use your talents for other people and to live out your values for us, that’s people for others, keeping your promises, playing as part of a team, and then prove that that’s the right way to play the game against an industry that has typically been self-centred only for themselves and would do anything, sell anyone anything, whatever to make a crust. So they’re the two in my mind values battles that are worth pursuing and that drives a lot of meaning to what we’re doing. I think with that, that’s kind of the inner core of the flywheel that gives us the momentum you refer to. Momentum isn’t driven externally by buying another business or making another acquisition. The momentum has to start at a mission and values and vision driven level. If it starts in that place, then what I learned in my second book when you compare Martin Luther King to Malcolm X, Martin Luther King the right means non-violent protest, the right ends the equality of people. Malcolm X, violent confrontation, same ends. The means and the ends have to be gored in order to get a long-term flywheel and compounding effect. So that’s what I think we can learn from most people that have made real impact. And so, what we as a leadership team at Kelly Partners are trying to lead is that mission, that value, those values to make a difference just in a tiny way that we can in the industry that we’re in that many people don’t find that sexy.

Alex Bridgeman: That’s fantastic. Brett, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I’ve loved getting to chat with you and thank you for sharing your time. Accounting’s really interesting to me and close to my heart as an accounting major, so it’s certainly fun to hear about a publicly traded one that’s ambitiously growing, so thank you for sharing a little bit about it.

Brett Kelly: Really nice to meet you, Alex. I appreciate your time.

Related Episodes

Subscribe to our newsletter

Join small company investors, search funds, private equity firms, business owners, and entrepreneurs in reading the Think Like An Owner Newsletter.

Generic filters