Lunch with Michelle Pfeiffer (1 of 2)

The other week  I had lunch with a delightful & engaging CFO based in Canberra. So as to protect the innocent I won’t use her real name, so lets call her Michelle as in Michelle Pfeiffer (one of her favourite actors). Here is Michelle’s response to one question I asked.

Tell me about a time when you received the best service from an accounting firm. What made it the best? How did it make you feel?

Michelle: It was in my last CFO role.  I didn’t like the firm but I liked the tax advisor.

James:  You didn’t like the firm?

Michelle:  I didn’t like the firm, but I liked this particular individual.  What made him stand out to me was that he was extremely good at what he did.  He’d taken on some of the big firms over some particular tax matters and he’d actually won.  So he was very good at what he did.  But what made him so spectacular for us was the level of dedication to our business.  It was as if we were his only client, even though we knew we weren’t.   He communicated in a way that we understood.  As soon as we had a need he was there to meet it.  The level of service was simply outstanding.

James:   So you felt supported as the CFO?

Michelle:  I felt both supported and important.  We paid him a fortune for his services, but it was so worth it.  We definitely got our value add!

James:  It’s not that hard is it?  I mean just to show someone a little bit of care. It’s not always you phoning them up, but them phoning you and saying, ‘Look, it may be a crazy idea, but what about this?’  It may be a dumb idea, but it’s more about the act than the actual outcome, isn’t it, because they obviously have been thinking about you?

Michelle:  That’s right. It’s like he’s in an accounting firm that provides a service, but he always came across as if he was part of our business and showed that he cared. I also saw the same thing for the other clients that he serviced as well.  There’s a big distinction about how you make your client feel if you come in and show time and care which is like saying , ‘I’m part of this business,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m a service provider and I know it all!’

Tune in next week to read part 2 of my lunch with Michelle.

All my best,

James E

I’m a Human Being! (2 of 2)

Continuing from the last post we have the 2nd part of Keith Farazzi’s 2006 article in Fast Company titled Give Clients What they Really Want.

This method might require you to find outside partners to deliver–yet another reason to develop larger networks of friends. In fact, the first couple things you “sell” to someone may have nothing at all to do with your own product.

For example, I frequently strengthen relationships with clients by aiding their personal career pursuits, entirely separate from what they’re procuring from my firm. When I learned that one of my clients ultimately wants to be in politics, I got him invited to join an advisory council to Bill Clinton comprised of people under age 40. When another client confided in me his desire to be an actor, I took him to dinner with a leader of William Morris Agency. A third client was struggling with earning the respect of his CEO, so in addition to the consulting services we provided his organization, we coached him personally on how to leverage the work we were doing and even just how to behave in the CEO’s staff meetings to build the credibility he needed to become a key player in the executive team.

Another person who has a knack for giving clients what they really want is Ty Pugh, a Seattle-based financial advisor. The financial products and services he has to sell are true commodities. You can get the same stuff from many other places. But Ty is building lasting relationships for revenue growth by providing clients additional investment opportunities in real estate, independent of his core offerings.

After Ty made a personal investment in a waterfront resort community in North Carolina, he generously made the opportunity available to many others. He convinced the developers to lease a jet to fly investors from Seattle to the east coast. He brought in former professional football player Nesby Glasgow to serve as the real estate agent and to lend some cachet to the deal. And he invited 42 investors to check out a new investment opportunity, take a free trip to a beautiful resort community while hobnobbing with a pro athlete, and get to know a whole bunch of like-minded investors.

This amazing demonstration of how he’s much more than your average financial advisor won Ty clients in the developers, the real estate agent, and some of the investors. You, too, can make your business boom if you find and deliver what clients really want before selling your core product.

Hope the last couple of posts have been helpful and maybe have given you a little taste of the potential benefits that are achievable in treating clients like human beings.

See you next time!

James E

I’m a Human Being! (1 of 2)

As the URL for the site suggests this blog is all about the sharing of ideas and insights into what clients really want – specifically professional services clients – accounting, law, management consulting, engineering and the like.

I came across a wonderful article written by Keith Ferrazzi that was originally published in Fast Company back in June 2006. Despite being 5 years old the lessons contained within are as fresh and relevant today as they were back in the pre GFC world of 2006.  I love the idea of sharing with you knowledge available on web sites, journals or magazines that professional advisers like those listed above  may not have on their radar. By the way … the reason for the photo of the Elephant Man made famous by John Hurt in the 1980 movie of the same name is his famous haunting statement during a particularly cruel scene – “I’m not an animal I’m a  Human Being!” It will make more sense as you read the piece below. I’ve also included the video clip link to give it more context.

Enjoy the article!

Build real personal relationships with your clients–so they’ll reveal to you what they really want, what could really drive their decision but can’t be written in an RFP.

You may remember the 1990 movie Crazy People in which Dudley Moore plays an advertising executive whose idea to write “honest” advertising copy like the following lands him in an insane asylum:

Volvo… they’re boxy, but they’re safe.
Porsche…you can’t get laid in one, but you will once you get out.

As outrageous as those taglines were, they were successful in the movie (and probably would have been in real life, too) because they spoke to what people really wanted–far beyond what car companies learn from customers in rank-the-features surveys. In these cases, customers didn’t just want cars that got them from point A to point B. They bought a Volvo for the peace of mind and the Porsche for a new hope of finding romance.

Our organizations face the same problem automakers do. I certainly don’t think my firm’s marketing and sales consulting services or training offerings are anywhere close to commodities. I believe we have deeper insight, more experience, a watertight methodology…a laundry list of reasons why we can provide value no one else can. I bet you feel the same way about your core products and services. But the truth is that many other organizations claim to have the same things we have. And if you delude yourself thinking that what’s on your website and printed marketing collateral is significantly different from what others have written down, then you’re full of it.

That’s why we have to build real personal relationships with our clients–so they’ll reveal to us what they really want, what could really drive their decision but can’t be written in an RFP. Then, and only then, do we get opportunities to offer generous solutions to their problems that convince them to purchase our core products and services.

You have to approach them as people as well as professionals. Show them you’re human by letting your guard down. Share your passions and learn about theirs. See yourself as a combination of consultant, life coach, therapist, and friend. Ask insightful questions, actively listening for what really motivates or frustrates them personally. Then, when you have a deep understanding of what they really want, try to bundle a solution that, first and foremost, solves one of their problems and, ideally, includes your product or service.

Watch the Elephant Man YouTube Clip to get the full impact

See you next post for part 2.

All my best,


The Rolls Royce of Networking (3 of 3)

Here is the final installment of the series of a chap who is arguably Australia’s most connected individual.

So what is David Gonski doing today?

Board memberships

Non Executive Director and Member of Remuneration Committee
Non-executive Director of Westfield Management Limited and Member of Remuneration Committee
Chairman and Chairman of Advisory Board
Chairman of the Board and Member of Remuneration Committee
Non-Executive Director, Member of Audit & Compliance Committee, Member of Nomination Committee and Member of Remuneration Committee
Non Executive Director of Westfield Management Ltd, Member of Audit & Compliance Committee, Member of Remuneration Committee and Member of Nomination Committee
Chairman of the Board, Chairman of Nominations Committee, Chairman of Related Party Committee, Member of Compensation Committee, Member of Audit & Risk Committee and Member of Compliance & Social Responsibility Committee
Former Independent Non-Executive Director
Former Non-Executive Director
Former Non Executive Director, Chairman of Audit Committee and Member of Nominating Committee
Independent Director, Member of Board Audit Committee and Member of Board Compensation & Industrial Relations Committee
Chairman and Chairman of Nomination & Remuneration Committee

Not-for-profit board involvement
  • Chancellor, University of New South Wales, from 2005.David Gonski is the first person to hold the position of Chancellor at UNSW who is also an alumnus of the University.
  • Chair, National e-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA)
  • Chair, Sydney Theatre Company, from February 2010
  • Ambassador, Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (

Previous positions held include:

There is no doubt about it David Gonski is one busy and connected chap!
See you next time.
James E

The Rolls Royce of Networking (2 of 3)

We continue the background story of David Gonski …

Santow was Gonski’s first mentor, inviting him to become a summer clerk at law firm Freehills, where Santow was a senior partner. Gonski became a solicitor at Freehills in 1977 and a partner at only 25.

Married to a South African, Kim Santow was a powerful figure in the South African networks of Australia in the 1980s, a time when highly qualified Jewish South African lawyers were populating major Australian law firms, most notably Freehills.

This influence of the South African legal community, once dubbed “the Springbucks”, has now spread into the wider business community, giving Gonski another network of support.

At Freehills, Gonski worked on mergers and acquisitions, advising such companies as Westfield Holdings, a client he brought to the firm along with Santow. Gonski became a Westfield director in 1985.

Media connections followed; he became friendly at Freehills with Richard Longes, who was advising Kerry Stokes on his media interests while Gonski himself was advising Kerry Packer on the privatisation of his Consolidated Press.

But for Gonski, the law was not enough. As Santow has noted, he enjoyed the financial side of law transactions more than the legal side, and quit Freehills in 1986 to establish, with Longes, the investment bank Wentworth Associates – the name inspired by the street where Gonski then lived, in Point Piper.

Westfield Holdings’ chairman Frank Lowy has said it was Gonski’s idea in 1986 to form a new capital-raising and investment vehicle, Westfield Capital Corporation, and Gonski became its managing director. WCC had stakes in ACI, Coles Myer, Bridge Oil and Northern Star, owner of the Ten Network.

Ten proved to be a disaster, leading to the wipe-out of WCC that lost $303 million in 1988-89. WCC’s foray into TV was damaging for Lowy’s reputation. He admitted it was the biggest mistake in Westfield’s 30-year history.

Since the bad old Ten days, Gonski has never been far from the top men in the media, among them Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, who asked him to advise the Tourang consortium when it bid for John Fairfax Holdings in 1991. Two years later, he became a director of Fairfax.

With those kinds of connections, one thing was missing: the glossy outside interests that Gonski labels, in financier speak, “the not-for-profits”.

These boards appear to have a revolving-door policy of mates. In 1991, when Gonski retired from the St Vincent’s Hospital board, for example, he was replaced by Kim Santow. Five years ago, Gonski replaced Frank Lowy as chairman of trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW, where Santow had also been a trustee.

His “not for profits” began in 1987, when Gonski became chairman of Film Australia, a natural progression from his Freehills’ days when he advised Joe Skrzynski, the former chief executive of the Australian Film Commission. Six years ago, Gonski conducted a review into Commonwealth assistance to the Australian film industry and came into the orbit of the Australia Council in 1999, when he became a member of the Federal Government’s inquiry into the major arts organisations of Australia – the Nugent Review. It was chaired by Dr Helen Nugent, formerly chairwoman of the Australia Council’s Major Organisations Fund and now deputy chairwoman of the Australia Council.

A year ago, the partners of Wentworth Associates – Gonski, Longes and Levy – sold their business to the South African financial services group, Investec, but Gonski says he is staying on indefinitely with the boutique firm as chairman. He has, however, just quit as chairman of another much larger investment bank, Morgan Stanley, but remained a consultant.

Tune into part 3 on Friday to read about DG is up to these days.

All my best,


The Rolls Royce of Networking (1 of 3)

Taking a bit of a detour from our core topic I’d like to explore an area that all professional advisers need to be better at doing – networking.

I personally don’t like the term networking. I much prefer something like “building and investing in relationships.”

There is a chap who is a master of building & investing in relationships. Chances are you have heard his name but don’t know much about him. Here is an article that was originally published by The Age newspaper way back in April 2002. It tells the back story of perhaps Australia’s most connected individual, David Gonski.

David Gonski is the “can-do” man of Australia. Want a new director for your board? Gonski can do. Want a new chairman for your arts foundation? Gonski can do. Like the late Lord Goodman of London, and Felix Rohatyn of New York, Gonski is seen as the universal fixer, a lawyer who has made an art form of being almost invisible and yet everywhere, mates with all sides.

Of course, the new chairman of the Australia Council did not get to the centre of his web of influence by accident. Gonski has worked at it from his days at Sydney Grammar School.

His ride to the top has not been accident free, however. He suffered a serious business blow running Frank Lowy’s Westfield Capital Corporation in the 1980s, having to reinvent himself as a hotshot corporate consultant after the company lost millions investing in the Ten Network.

Gonski, 48, speaks financier jargon. He says his new job as chairman of the arts funding body, the Australia Council is “do-able”, a phrase that first emerged from the mouths of junk bond dealers in California in the late 1980s.

For Gonski, it’s also “do-able” to be the chairman of investment advisory firm, Investec Wentworth, and Coca- Cola Amatil; to be a director of John Fairfax Holdings, Westfield Holdings, and the ANZ Banking Group; to be chairman of the National Institute of Dramatic Art; and president of the board of trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW. And to take on the Australia Council job that proved too much for his predecessor.

A search of his name in the database of the Australian Securities & Investments Commission reveals 29 pages of companies of which he is, or has been, a director or shareholder.

The Gonski circuit of influence began with his well-connected parents, Polish neurosurgeon Dr Alexander Gonski, and South African Helene Blume, a relationship counsellor who is still in practice and has written a book on grandparenting. With his siblings, Lisa, and twin brothers, Steve and Peter, David Gonski migrated from Cape Town to Australia with his parents in 1961, when he was seven.

David Gonski is married to a doctor, Boston-born dermatologist Orli Wargon. His brother, Peter, is also a doctor, specialising in aged care.

David Gonski was a champion debater at the Sydney power network-ers’ school, Sydney Grammar, where he is now a trustee. Instead of the usual next step for a Grammar boy – that is, the University of Sydney – Gonski chose the new law faculty at the University of New South Wales. His former colleague, Justice Kim Santow of the NSW Supreme Court, once told me: “He was one of the first of the UNSW law/commerce graduates. They were quite a different breed in training from those who came from Sydney University. They were numerate, understood balance sheets, had a capacity to apply the law in a commercial context. People in those law classes were asked ‘what if . . .?’ “

See you on Wednesday for part 2 of the David Gonski story.

All my best,

James E

Funny lessons for work & life (2 of 2)

Following on from the last post … here is a continuation of some funny lessons for life & work.

Story No.4

The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked. As they went along, they passed some people who remarked, “it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.” The man and the boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people who remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.” They decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So they both rode the donkey!

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying, “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey.”

The boy and man said they were probably right so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed a bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

Lesson: If you try to please everyone, you will eventually lose your ass.

Story No.5

Once upon a time a scorpion wanted to cross a brook. On the bank he saw a frog and asked if the frog would give him a ride to the other side.

“Oh no,” says the frog, “If I carry you on my back you will sting me.”

“But why would I sting you when we would both surely perish,” replied the scorpion.

The frog eventually conceded that the scorpion had a point, and agreed to the request.

Half way across, the scorpion stang the frog, and they both began to drown.

“But why did you break your word and sting me, knowing it would be certain death for us both?” cried the frog.

“Because it is in my nature.” said the scorpion.

Lesson: People are true to their nature. If you’re instincts tell you to watch you back with certain people in the office, then listen to your gut reaction. Otherwise, prepare to get stung.

Story No.6

In the land of inflatables (bear with me..), at the inflatable office, what did the inflatable boss say to the idiot employee caught misbehaving with a pin? “You let me down, you let yourself down, and worst of all you let the whole office down.”

Lesson: Watch your mistakes, they are not all created equal.

Funny lessons for work & life (1 of 2)

A couple of months ago I published a post that was titled “Funny Accounting Client Stories” (see that seem to be well received. In fact it was one of the highest trafficked posts to date. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? – I  just don’t know.

Here are some funny lessons for life that I think we all should remember. I found them on the web at a site called “Work Madness” (see Sorry about some of the language but I’m sure you’ll cope 🙂

Story No.1

A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day. A small rabbit saw the crow, and asked him, “Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?”

The crow answered, “Sure, why not.”

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow, and rested. All of a sudden a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Lesson: To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up.

Story No.2

A turkey was chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings?” replied the bull. “They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the trees. The next day, after eating more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. Soon he was promptly spotted by a farmer who shot the turkey out of the tree.

Lesson: Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

Story No.3

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground in a large field. While it was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on it. As the frozen brid lay there in the pile of cow dung, it began to realize how warm it was. The dung was actually thawing him out!

He lay there all warm and happy, and soon begin to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate. Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, promptly dug him out, and ate him!


  1. Not everyone who drops shit on you is your enemy.
  2. Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.
  3. And when you’re in deep shit, keep your mouth shut.

Tune into the next post to read stories 4, 5 & 6.

All my best,


My lunch with Liam Neeson

Last week I was having lunch with a CFO of a company that I had interviewed last month for the “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” book. As always to protect the innocent lets call this CFO Liam as in Liam Neeson one of my favourite film actors.

In my humble opinion the best way to get to know someone better is to “break bread” with them – be it lunch or morning tea it doesn’t matter. There is something quite special when you sit down with someone and simply talk over food and drink.

In the example of my lunch with Liam a simple meal allowed us both the time and space to get to know each other better. It was a good & enjoyable exchange: I told Liam about my family and he told about his; he told me about his work; I told him about mine and on it went. The conversation went in all different kinds of directions and at the end of the lunch I can say with complete certainty that we both got to know each other better and trust & respect began to build.

Following the lunch, we went back to his office and Liam gave me a tour of the business operation. I lost count of how many staff he introduced to me during our walk around the facility but it was great to have a first-hand look at how their business operated.

After the tour, Liam reminded me of an item we had spoken about over lunch involving me introducing to Liam a chap I know who may be able to help with them with some new ideas for their marketing offering. In my line of work I’m often looking for opportunities to put people together in some mutually beneficial way. And here was the opportunity.

If you are genuine and sincere and want to get to know people better two things will follow. 1. You have a relationship with a new friend. 2. Business opportunities will just flow.

Lunch is good for business!

All my best,

James E

Information overload? (3 of 3)

Here is the last installment of the mini series courtesy of the big guns @ McKinsey (they really seem to know their stuff) This latest extract is a little on the long side – but the material is too worthwhile to cut!

So if multitasking isn’t the answer, what is? In our conversations with CEOs and other executives trying to cope, we heard repeatedly about some fairly basic strategies that aren’t very different in spirit from the ones Drucker described more than 40 years ago: some combination of focusing, filtering, and forgetting. The challenge for these executives, and all of us, is that executing such strategies in an always-on environment is harder than it was when Drucker was writing. It requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline, and we can’t do it alone: in our teams and across the whole organization, we need to establish a set of norms that support a more productive way of working.

The calendars of CEOs and other senior executives are often booked back-to-back all day, sometimes in 15-minute increments. Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, describes the implication: “You have to guard against the danger of overeating at an interesting intellectual buffet. I often need to cover a lot of functional terrain over the course of a day, but I’m careful not to be too light on deserving topics and to make the time to get to meaningful depth on the most important ones.”10 Digital information overload compounds the peril of “overeating” by f looding leaders with a variety of questions and topics that frequently could be addressed by others, thereby distracting those leaders from the thorny, unpleasant, and high-stakes problems where they are most needed.

Many executives respond through the old strategy of creating “alone time.” Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter, for example, finds time between 6:30 and 8:00 AM; Dame Christine Beasley, England’s chief nursing officer, uses her traveling time; Brent Assink, executive director of the San Francisco Symphony, schedules any time he can find in the middle of the day. Bill Gross, chief investment officer at Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO), takes an extreme approach: “I don’t answer or look at any e-mails I don’t want to. I don’t have a cell phone; I don’t have a BlackBerry. My motto is, ‘I don’t want to be connected; I want to be disconnected.’”

None of this can work, says Assink, unless the management team knows it must keep moving throughout the day without rapid-fire input from the top. Assink has been explicit with his staff: “If they want an immediate response, it will have to be a phone call. If they send an e-mail they will get a response at the end of the day.” What about the relentless barrage of information that pours in?

Managing it may be as simple—and difficult—as switching off the input. Shut down e-mail, close Web browsers, have phone calls go automatically to voice mail, and let your assistant and team know that you are in a focused working session. Christine Beasley says, “If you’re really addicted and can’t be trusted not to check the BlackBerry when it’s in your pocket or bag, you just have to leave it behind.”

Of course, turning everything off just means that your inbox will be overflowing when you reconnect. And there’s a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater: no one wants to lose the ability to stay in touch easily with the organization, customers, and other stakeholders or to “give a short and direct answer to quick questions,” as Mike Splinter puts it, adding that “you don’t want to be the blockade in the business cycle.”

A good filtering strategy, therefore, is critical. It starts with giving up the fiction that leaders need to be on top of everything, which has taken hold as information of all types has become more readily and continuously accessible. Rather, plain old delegation is as important with information as it always has been with tasks. As Gary Loveman says, “Keeping current on what is going on takes a lot of my time, but I only engage in depth personally on those issues that are best served by my involvement and are critical to the company’s performance, either now or in the future.” Christine Beasley has a similar view: “You cannot read everything. The things that I do look at are the things that matter, the things I really need to make a decision on.”

Some leaders now explicitly refuse to respond to any e-mail on which they are only cc’d, to filter out issues that others think require no action from them. You also may need to educate the people around you about what deserves to fill your limited time. Gary Loveman explains that “there is a substantial ante to get my time—you need to do some work, provide me with data and insight, let me read something in advance. That simple bar keeps a lot of the items of lesser importance off my calendar.”

Winning respect for your in-box, though, won’t get you all the way there. Establishing an effective, day-to-day information-management support structure has become a critical success factor for senior executives. This structure may be elaborate, including a chief of staff for the CEO of a major organization, or as simple as a capable assistant who “is fantastic at managing some of my e-mail traffic, weeding out the things that I don’t really need to see,” as Christine Beasley says.

It bears repeating that giving our brains downtime to process new intellectual input is a critical element of learning and thinking creatively— not just according to researchers, but also to corporate leaders. Bill Gross says, “Some of my best ideas literally come from standing on my head doing yoga. After about 15 minutes of yoga, all of a sudden some significant light bulbs seem to turn on.” Mike Splinter also sees value in physical exercise: “I find that just staying in shape helps me be more mentally crisp every day.”

Getting outside helps—recent research has found that people learn significantly better after a walk in nature compared with a walk in the city. And emotional interaction with other people can also divert attention from conscious intellectual processing, a good step toward engaging the unconscious. Sheri McCoy, chairman of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals Group, explains, “When I go home at night, I like to just say, ‘OK, I’m not looking at my BlackBerry for two or three hours.’ I’m just relaxing. I feel like that lets me conserve my energy and focus later.” Christine Beasley has rules that protect her personal time at weekends, reasoning that “people can always get hold of me if is an emergency”

Over to you focus, filter & forget!

See you next post,

James E