Listen to this episode here: Find Your Social Purpose

Welcome to our blog for TALKING NUMBERS with Paul Jansz. In this article, we share our conversation with Andrew Conway, the CEO of the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA), the world’s largest SME/SMP professional accountancy group that provides a range of professional services.

About IPA

The Institute of Public Accountants has been around since 1923. It’s one of the three recognised professional bodies in Australia. The other two institutes are CPA Australia (CPA) and the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ). Currently, IPA has about 42,000 members and students globally. Their biggest market outside of Australia is the UK since they amalgamated with the Institute of Financial Accountants in the UK two years ago.

IPA focuses on small Business space and the small and medium practice segment of the market.

The Journey of the Youngest CEO

Andrew holds the record for being the youngest CEO of a public entity appointed at 28 years of age. However, he didn’t set his sights on being a CEO, says that the opportunity just presented itself. Andrew jokes that he felt like he has been in his mid-40s for the past 30 years.

Andrew started his career in education, teaching for a short time, then worked for the big insolvency firm Ferrier Hodgson, which later merged with KPMG. After that, he went into the federal government, working with the federal treasury, where he became more exposed to the inner workings of professional bodies and how they work with the government.

Andrew was equipped with the experience from a professional body space focusing a lot on education when he was appointed the CEO. He thinks it is important to take steps and prep for coming opportunities. He is very passionate about this profession and very optimistic about the future of this industry.

Social Impact

Andrew emphasises that they are always aware that they exist to help businesses, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. They believe they exist to improve the quality of life of these business owners by providing good technical information at the right time to the right people. Moreover, IPA believes in improving the service offering to provide to their clients and make their lives easier. Andrew thinks this social impact is important.

What Makes a Great Leader?

Andrew points out being upfront and authentic is very important. He says a good leader should never be too full of oneself and keep a sense of vulnerability and authenticity. When he was appointed, Andrew didn’t have a CEO Handbook or guidebook about how to do this. So, he gathered all leaders and said, we have to work together and rely on the support and knowledge of everyone around the table.

Andrew says being open with vulnerabilities and weaknesses is important too. No one has all the answers and it’s OK to be humble.

Another treat is keeping the accessibility. Andrew tries his best to practice this, particularly with members. Each week he tries to contact some members personally, listening and communicating with members to stay up with trends and demands in the space.

The last feature Andrew mentions is the ability to absorb the fear of the people you lead. When unexpected things happen, such as the pandemic, drought, bushfire, whatever the case may be, a leader should always help identify and absorb the fear and help people keep the right state of mind. Leaders should work through it together, try and find a path through and not being anxious.

The Importance of Mentoring

Andrew likes to gather insights from around different pockets. He thinks he has been fortunate to have some wonderful board chairs who have acted as mentors. What’s more, thanks to the nature of the way the organisation operates, they need to be on the road where he can learn from hands-on experience.

Andrew shares that they spend quite a bit of time with the board members, and it gives a chance to build some good social impact and genuine capital. This connection also means that you’ve got someone to talk to when there are issues in personal or professional situations. This kind of connection is very important for Andrew, and he suggests for each leader to build a network of mentors.

International Level

Andrew says Australia is well positioned globally in terms of professional services. In most international groups, whether it’s the WTO, the G20, the International Federation of Accountants, the Standard Setters, Australia has a disproportionate representation at those tables.

In Australia, the industry is regulated by global standards. Andrews says, they love standards, and their profession runs on the international level standard. Therefore, he believes they are well-set to provide value-adding services.

Family-First Approach

For Andrew, the most important thing is family. At IPA, they focus on the family-first approach. There are many ways to improve performance, but motivation is the key to keeping everyone achieving their goals. Andrew thinks it’s critical to identify the motivation and look after each team member.

Similarly, Andrew says they never take members’ support for granted. They care about their feedback and always provide practical and relevant services. They continue to grow, and have a good retention rate, which is a good sign. Andrew is confident and optimistic about their growth prospects and their direction of travel.

Andrew thinks being close to members is very important because it’s a good way to pick up conversations that lead to new clients.

A Piece of Advice

Andrew suggests that it’s important to be very clear on your value and ethical lens. Firstly, develop a sense of emotional intelligence about how you work, how you operate, and how you interact with others is important. From there, you can strive for accessibility and authenticity – being authentic with your team and your customers, your clients, your members. Then, make sure you make decisions upon your ultimate social purposes. Andrew believes each business needs a social purpose, and a business leader should understand this purpose and the relevant resources to make a business thrive.