Each month, our HR Sr. Manager, Paula Fernandes, interviews a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what non-technical skills contribute to career success.
With the holidays now behind us we’ve written down our resolutions and we’re ready to tackle a new year with energy and ambition. But, how do you follow through on your big goals and overcome the obstacles? To help you ‘make it happen’ in 2018, we asked Partner Scott Binns for some of his insights.
Paula Fernandes (PF): You dream big – it’s clear from your rise through Richter, from working in a few different divisions before becoming a partner specializing in tax & estates, that you are a goal setter and a goal achiever. Where does your drive come from?
Scott Binns (SB): To be completely honest, it’s simple and may not be the answer one would expect: every day, I strive to do the best I can. That may not be a specific goal, but it is my M.O. If you try to be your best self, to be prepared, and do the best you can do, then the opportunities will arise and you will make your own “luck” as they say.
(PF): Have you ever been discouraged? How did you get through it?
(SB): Keep fighting the fight. Like most people, I have encountered a lot in my childhood and throughout my life, and those circumstances have helped me grow through new challenges. It’s important to keep pushing through. I take nothing for granted and learn from past experiences. I certainly don’t get through testing times without the strong support of my family, too.
Professionally, everyone that works through the ranks of the firm will have highs and lows – everyone does. But the way I see it: if you are not making mistakes, you are not learning. That is a key lesson. Make mistakes, but learn from them. Think of such instances as opportunities. Acknowledge each failure and understand why it didn’t work out.
A recent example: I met a potential tech supplier with a great product, so I scheduled a meeting with the supplier and a group of partners. The supplier presented… and it was a disaster. I didn’t review the supplier’s presentation before I pushed it forward. I realized then that I should have screened the presentation first. Fool me once…
This approach applies to the simplest matters, too, such as writing a memo. If it comes back with a lot of mark ups – whether it is style or content – I suggest: go back and understand where you made your errors. If you just process the memo and don’t understand the changes yourself, you won’t learn and will be doing both yourself and your supervisor a disservice.
(PF): You’ve helped the firm role out with a few awesome initiatives, and we know there’s more on the way! When you first get a “big idea” that you’re excited about, what do you do? What’s your first step to making it a reality?
(SB): First, I like to proceed with a small team, because the team needs to be agile and nimble. If the team is too big, things don’t get done. You need a small team of people with a diverse set of talents; people who are ready to turn things around quickly. Once the idea is hot, empower them and let them move.
Second, I like having a diverse group involving multiple talents in the firm. It’s a mistake to have teams that consist of (for example) partners only. It is important to tap into Marketing, Human Resources, people from all different levels, etc. You never know who will have the talents you’ll need – every day I learn from my kids and they are thirteen and eleven!
Using proper technology to work collaboratively is also crucial to achieving desired results.
We may not know what we don’t know, so we have to be out there finding ways to improve or learn. Empower people to find ideas, bring the ideas back to the group, prototype them, learn and fail from them, and once those people think it’s good to go, take it to a governance group. At Richter we understand that we live in a progressive technological world and we need to adapt quickly, which means trying to cut down on the bureaucracy involved in fostering new ideas. However, you must have the proper governance in place. Trust your people, empower them, and put your foot on the gas. Don’t stop when you have momentum.
(PF): Have you ever been met with resistance? What do you do if/when someone’s not on board with your ideas?
(SB): People don’t like change. There tends to be a more “conservative” culture among law and accounting firms, which makes it that much tougher to execute change. When you’re trying to adopt change, first you need to truly believe in it – research current trends in and outside your industry to prove to yourself that the idea can make a change for the better. Once you’ve convinced yourself, it will be much easier to educate and convince others. You have to be able to present the idea/product in the simplest manner possible and you must be able to clearly present the ‘wow’ factor. If you cannot do this it will be tough to get the change-adverse people on board. If you want to get naysayers on board be persistent, continuously educate and drive home the wow factor.
When you’re looking for a change, there may be some that are a lot more vocal than others – sometimes whoever has the “loudest bark” is heard the most, so perhaps talk to them directly. You need the barkers and you need to hear them out. You don’t want ‘yes people’, but advocates of different points of view in order to make the best decision for all.
(PF): What do you think is next for our industry? We hear there are some unique opportunities for artificial intelligence and accounting – what’s your take on this?
(SB): There are many opportunities in our industry in terms of leveraging data analytics, blockchain technology, and artificial intelligence. We can adapt these technologies to create a better customer experience, and more efficient and collaborative ways to work with our people.
Tech is moving at a rapid pace and the issue in our whole industry is that we’re dealing with legacy technology/software. In a progressive market it’s likely that legacy products have not evolved accordingly. Yet if you want to be in the game, you have to make sure that new software can be integrated with the existing infrastructure, which is tough to do. Startups have challenges because they have great ideas, but they are unproven, they don’t have the legacy reputation which is typically what traditional firms lean on when selecting new software or processes.
(PF): What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
(SB): Whenever you submit a mandate for review (a project, a memo, a calculation…), pass it on as if the buck stops with you. Ensure that it’s the best of your ability. Always review your own work; that mind frame will make you a better professional.
Also: be curious and challenge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because if you have questions the majority of others will have that same question. There is no stupid question. Learn from everyone – whether it’s a junior or senior member of the firm. And finally: check your ego at the door.
Scott Binns is a partner in Richter’s Canadian Tax division. He specializes in two areas in particular: estate planning – providing families and individuals tailored services in the area of estate administration – and in crypto-currency, which includes knowledge relating to the mining and investing of digital currencies as well as financing by way of ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings). As an approachable professional, Scott uses his strong technical skills to relay complex tax concepts, and ensures his clients have a comprehensive understanding of their situation. Scott is also heavily involved with Richter’s internal Innovation Committee – a grassroots group that helps foster new and unique initiatives and ideas within the firm, serves as one of Richter’s HR partners, and is a leader in the firm’s tech initiatives.
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About Richter : Founded in Montreal in 1926, Richter is a licensed public accounting firm that provides assurance, tax and wealth management services, as well as financial advisory services in the areas of organizational restructuring and insolvency, business valuation, corporate finance, litigation support, and forensic accounting. Our commitment to excellence, our in-depth understanding of financial issues and our practical problem-solving methods have positioned us as one of the most important independent accounting, organizational advisory and consulting firms in the country. Richter has offices in both Toronto and Montreal. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.