Listen to this episode here: Resilient Leadership
Welcome to our podcast TALKING NUMBERS with Paul Jansz, we had a very special guest Ron Lesh, Founder and Managing Director of BGL, Australia’s leading FinTech company. What’s the story behind BGL’s success? We wrapped up the story in this short article.
It’s a tough transition for many businesses and people, how have you been coping personally?
We don’t have a lot of choices right now. I’m very keen to get my guys back to the office because I think it’s good for them mentally. Instead, we have regular catch-ups. We’ve done virtual lunches, cooking, yoga, doing all sorts of things for the team center.
Could you share a little bit about you? Such as your entry into the wonderful accounting industry?
I started accounting in 1980 – a job working for Pannell Kerr Forster (PKF) for about six years. Then I went to a smaller accounting firm where I was a partner at age 28. I then decided that wasn’t the partnership I wanted to stay in. I did a postgrad and joined BGL on April fool’s day in 1999.
Can we talk about your contribution to the accounting industry in detail?
I was involved from the early days of the corporate compliance software that we wrote. I spoked at events for both the Institute and the society and on the CPIs, in Australia and overseas because we were marketing our software in a lot of different jurisdictions. I’ve also been involved in a lot of committees but I think I found the last 5 to 10 years, I’d rather be my own voice than somebody else’s. I just want to be able to put my views out there on where I think things should go. When we talk about this whole licensing regime and a lot of other things that have happened over the years, I think that certainly the CIS and the CPAs have let us down, and the IPI have been a lot more vocal.
You mentioned before, from an IT point of view, there’s a big transition from that server-based to cloud-based. How has that transformed the way that businesses operate today?
Things have certainly changed. When we first implemented Lotus Notes to run our business back in the mid 90’s, it was probably the best platform available at that time. Now we’ve moved from having a DOS application to having a Windows application that is networked.
We had a bit of tools with access to the internet back in the early 2000s, and then started the transition to real Cloud products and license in probably 2009. The world has changed.
The technology itself is not the be-all and end-all. It’s about enablement. It’s how we use that technology to build our business.
Can you quickly share a little bit about the new APP Guest Track?
It was an idea that I stole from somebody else actually. I went into a restaurant and someone had done something, but it was in Google Docs and I wouldn’t be doing something like this in Google Docs.
Guest Track allows any sort of business, office, school or restaurant to sign up. It’s free to sign up through the Guest Track website and it allows you to record the people who are visiting your business. When you finish the sign-up process, it prints out a QR code for you. Then, you display the QR code in your business or at the front door of your office. As people come in, they scan the QR code, which then brings up a form for them to fill in the details.
The Guest Track was built in 10 days. It’s very simple, it’s free and it’s available now. We’ve got people who’ve been using it and we started promoting it. We’re looking forward to having lots of people signed up. We see it as a way of giving back to the community. We might build some other functions around it as time goes on. We’ll see what happens, but it’s an interesting concept.
We’re PGS (ISO) certified. We’ve validated on the security side, around how we store data to give people some confidence that their data is going to be treated in the right way. We’ve also put a marketing question on there for people who are signing up and let them decide whether they would like the organization to send the marketing material. Most people opt in for that.
We also actually put date of birth on there at the request of one restaurant, because they want to give people a birthday present every year. We thought that was cool.
Tell us more about BGL – I understand you won an award recently? Can you also delve a little deeper into the leadership aspect?
We won the Investment Trends Award as the Preferred Submissive Software Provider, which is great. Look over the past few years, we’ve won heaps of awards. We were Australia’s fifth Most Innovative Technology Company, judged by the AFR last year. We won the SMSF Advisor Award for best SMSF Software, and we were the Professional App of the Year last year.
It’s all our people who win it, it’s not me. They did all the work, put all the apps together and made it all happen. They’re the ones that win all of these. We have a number of long-term team members. We’ve always been “people first” because if you don’t have the right people, you won’t get the customers.
I agree with Jim Collins’ approach – get the right people on the bus and the rest of it will happen. For us, that’s certainly been the case.
From a recognition point of view, how important is it to win those awards?
I think it’s incredibly important to everybody in the team because it really demonstrates that the work that they’re doing, actually, it means more than just the work that they’re doing. We don’t go out there specifically trying to win awards. It’s not that it’s not the focus of the business. What it’s all about is let’s show that we produce the best software and we offer people great service, which really give them a reason for wanting to come back rather than thinking they just have to come back.
You have so many long-term team members. How do you achieve that retention rate?
I think the thing that we’ve done or tried to do is, as an organization, we give people continuing opportunities to grow, to learn and to do different things. In BGL, no two days are the same. Solving a problem, then going onto the next one. The key is giving people challenges. People don’t stay at jobs because of the money. They stay because of the people in the business and the people who are leading them. They stay at the jobs that provide them with an environment that allows them to grow and develop.
As an organization, we’re very keen on people doing professional development at all stages. We have so many CAs and CPAs here now. We’ve got a couple AWS architects-and there’s only about 3000 of those in the world.
There’s a whole lot of opportunities that we’re trying to offer to all team members to do different things. My head of development actually wrote the GIFs Trick app.
What’s the team like now?
We have around 150 people right now. Five years ago, it was probably 70 or 80. It has changed a lot in a comparatively short period of time. One of the things with building applications is you just need more people to do it, because you’re taking more responsibility away from the user. I’m responsible for all their infrastructure and the app itself but I need more people to do it.
Let’s talk about the numbers, what are some of the growth plans for BGL?
Our major focus will be on migrating our desktop clients to our cloud applications. We’ve still got a lot of clients using desktop and we would like to get them to move to the cloud. We don’t want to continue forever to support both cloud-end and desktop applications.
We haven’t set timelines, but we would like to get more people across. The number of companies on the platform is moving along nicely. We’ve had some pretty big years, and now things are sort of back to normal. We’ve grown at between 10% – 15% every year. We are just continuous growing, not too fast, nor too slow.
We do have a new non-super investment product coming out, which will probably go to beta sometime in the next quarter, I hope. We also built an integration with various accounting firms; you can sync data among some software. We’ve done it with Xero, we’ve done it with Great Software and we’re doing it with Sage at the moment and then IPS and CCHR firms. The whole idea is for us to allow them to have the tool they need. We offer a practice management solution, a tech solution. We’ll just integrate with those applications so that we create effectively a single database.
That’s been a focus for a long time. It’s something we talked about 10 or 15 years ago, we’re starting to get there today.
Could you share a piece of advice to our audience?
I want to share what I got from Jack Welch many years ago. When he was in Melbourne in the mid ‘90s, he said, “You’ve gotta be honest with people. You’ve gotta be candid with people. You’ve got to make sure they understand what they’ve got to do, where they fit in, what’s expected of them. Then, you’ve got to praise them, enumerate them and promote them, to make sure that they are living up to what you want them to, and living up to what they expect.”
“Be candid with people” is one of the things that I remember the most.