Month 3 – Battles v Wars

I read something this month that really resonated with me. It was a story about a CEO who had recently retired. After retiring, he attended his firm’s annual conference to speak to his old firm. In the article, he recounted the treatment he was afforded whilst he was the CEO of his company at the conference when compared to his treatment as a recently retired executive.

The CEO while he was a employed flew first class, he was given 5-star accommodation close to the conference. He was waited on hand and foot. But most importantly he was given coffee in wonderful china cups. All this was paid for by the company. When the CEO retired, he was invited to the same conference. He paid for his own coach ticket, he rented a cosy but nice motel and he got his own breakfast and taxi to the conference. When it was his turn to speak at the conference he looked down at the coffee he was given when he arrived, a coffee in a plastic cup. He smiled and discarded his lovely prepared notes to discuss the difference between being given a plastic cup compared to the fine china.

He realised that the positions we are given in life are fleeting. That people give you the fine china not because of who you are but the position you occupy. Lastly, that there is nothing wrong with a plastic cup.

Why this struck a chord with me

I’ve studied tax and law on weekends and every minute, hour and day in between for a decade or more. I am proud of the level of service I can provide and the solutions I can bring to clients as well as the depth of understanding I have developed.

Yet, I still look at people in the position they occupy with their fine china cups. I think somehow, they know more than I do or understand something better, because other people give them the fine china while I hold what is objectively the plastic cup.

I mean, environmental issues aside, I don’t mind the plastic cup.

I was pretty sick this month. On top of this, I watched Collingwood get defeated. I am a natural sprinter in a profession that is built for those who undertake marathons. I think I lost the battle this month, no I know I did. But I think I needed to in order to understand how to win the war.

Mr Plastic Cup

See the thing is all the competent, well dressed and politically palatable professionals temporarily hold the fine china or the plastic cups. They assume a fleeting position for their time and then relinquish it as appropriate. Some of them buy into the fact they are the true owners of something they merely rent. Others understand that they are merely stewards and make their peace with the impact they have while they have it. They may advise on huge transactions or premium clients. But at the end of the day, they are but an extension of the name and reputation of their firm.

I understand the attractions of a big firm with systems, people and name. I understand that established clients use a tax governance risk based approach to engage their vetted external tax advisors. These large established external tax advisors are handed the fine china with little or no competition. I also understand the time, effort and risk it takes for someone amazing at these places to merely rent that fine china for a time, to be the extension of the firm. The thing is, I fundamentally disagree that this approach gives these clients the best tax advisor.

What self respecting tax advisor would rent the fine china when they can create their own systems, work with truly independent and brilliant people and build their own name? I mean, if they truly were the best, why would they lower themselves to adopt someone else's brand?

True, the joy in having your own firm is only fleeting much like being part of an established firm. However, if one succeeds although someone else will hold the fine china down the track that professional's legacy would be so much more. It is the authenticity to ask your clients to build something or to risk something knowing you as an advisor have done the same thing. To buy and own something truly your own rather than act as the conduit of a monolithic organisation.

I reminded myself this month that VT Advisory doesn't worry about whether we are given the fine china or the plastic cup. We are concerned only that the coffee we make is the best in the world.