Back to my roots

Jun 01, 2018
Fiona Byrne FCA, Director at James Byrne & Co., shares her experience of leaving a Big 4 firm to manage the family business.

Was the move from a Big 4 firm to your family’s business a tough transition?
Moving to a family business is always daunting, no matter what the industry. Moving from a Big 4 firm, with all the supports and structures, is a double shock. You go from being a cog in the corporate wheel to suddenly being an entrepreneur. There’s a different dynamic when you’re working with or for a family member. This, coupled with a steep learning curve in running your own business, leads to lots of shop talk over the family dinner table – much to the annoyance of other family members!

What is your firm’s approach to succession planning?

Succession in any organisation is paramount to success. Within family-run companies, this can be more complex. However, having a clear vision for the company and a strong, capable management team gives you the confidence to lead into the future. My tips are to be open with management and your family; have a defined route to progress; and invest in your people and yourself. You need to think and act differently; innovation is key to growing your business and yourself as a person and accountancy professional. 

How did your family’s firm bounce back so well after the financial crisis?

The financial crisis was tough on everyone and I think we have all learned some valuable lessons and skills from the crisis. One consideration is to avoid being too dependent on one industry or service and planning forward so that this doesn’t happen again. In other words, diversify. We are lucky in that we have a multi-disciplinary workforce that is flexible and able to meet our clients’ ever-changing requirements. The practice merged with Gerard Sheehan & Associates in 2016. However, Gerard has been working with the firm since 2010. This merger is focusing us on monthly reports for clients and has created an additional service offering for the company. These strategic partnerships and skillsets have been the foundation of our success in 2018 and is a key part of our service offering for the future.

What do you see as the key challenges for the firm in the decade ahead?

This year, we celebrate 40 years in business and today, we face some of the same challenges we have dealt with over the last four decades like recruiting and retaining high-quality, multi-disciplinary employees. There is a trend for accountants to be specialists in certain fields and we are a general practice, so we are expected to have a strong knowledge of audit, accounts, tax, banking and finance. As a modern practice, we also tackle new challenges such as ever-changing accounting, audit and taxation legislation. It is becoming more and more difficult not to specialise, which poses a unique challenge for a three-partner practice as one needs to be proficient across the core areas and have a network of trusted advisors. There are, however, some significant opportunities. I think smaller, progressive SMEs are beginning to use practices as surrogate finance directors by seeking timely financial and management information with additional advice and assistance. This will help them stay on top of issues before they become problems.  

What should other similar accountancy firms focus on into the future?

That’s a difficult one. I think we all need to be focused on maintaining high standards, developing our trainees to a high standard and giving them a full and complete education. Otherwise, the profession will suffer and that’s not in anyone’s interest.