Making a difference
The CA Catalyst program introduced Philip Arnfield CA to Catherine Wright, an Indigenous business owner applying for funding. It was a learning experience for both of them.
- Catherine’s passion is in helping other First Nations businesspeople involved in the food trade to access Australian Government programs which mandate that a certain amount of product sourcing must come from First Nations businesses.
- “The best advice you can give someone as a CA is that you need to spend a lot of time listening so you can make an assessment of what your client’s frustrations are and what they are trying to achieve,” says Arnfield.
- Arnfield learned a lot from the mentoring process, including a reminder of how small business owners struggle. He also learned a great deal about First Nations culture, something he previously had not had much exposure to.
“I like doing things I have not done before,” says Philip Arnfield CA, a specialist business adviser with more than 30 years’ experience who recently took part in a mentorship program offered by Minderoo Foundation – an Australian philanthropic organisation run by mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and his wife Nicola.
A community partner in the mentorship program was CA Catalyst, an initiative by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) to help chartered accountants build capability, explore new markets, and provide greater value for their communities and clients.
The Minderoo Foundation offered up to A$150,000 worth of funding to support Indigenous businesses. To educate and guide interested parties through the application process workshops – Dream Venture Masterclasses were run in August 2022 and with the contribution of 14 other partners, CA Catalyst helped Indigenous entrepreneurs develop the skills to pitch their business ideas to venture capitalists for funding.
Participants prepared a video pitch deck which was assessed by a judging panel, with finalists invited to Melbourne to pitch their ideas in person to a panel and potentially obtain business funding.
Learning skills to grow a business
As part of the program, Arnfield, based in North Adelaide, was paired virtually with Jagera woman Catherine Wright, a First Nations businessperson in Bomaderry NSW who is managing director of CMJ Food Services, a 100% First Nations-owned food manufacturer and distributor employing 14 people.
Wright’s passion is helping First Nations businesses involved in the food trade to access Australian Government programs which mandate that a certain amount of product sourcing must come from First Nations businesses.
Arnfield suggested she should focus her pitch on the altruistic aspects of her business, rather than her successful food service component. He helped craft her video and refine her message.
CAs, he says, are perfectly placed to re-focus their client’s attention so important strategic issues are not ignored. “We understand small business operators face conflicting priorities on a daily basis distracting them from the bigger picture.”
In Wright’s case, her strength was her desire to help First Nations peoples build their businesses. “I simply focused her attention on the compelling vision of CMJ Food Services being a catalyst for emerging food manufacturers to create intergenerational wealth for First Nation peoples,” says Arnfield.
“Catherine knew there was an opportunity to use her experience and connections to bring people together, and her motivation for doing so was stronger than just making a profit.”
Pictured: CMJ Food Services managing director, Catherine Wright – pictured with operations manager Chris Johnston.
Power and passion
Despite Wright having what Arnfield describes as a “glorious pitch”, which communicated her power and passion for helping Aboriginal businesses, unfortunately she was unsuccessful, but the contacts she made, advice and technical training she received will no doubt be beneficial to her in the future.
Arnfield believed she was a shoo-in to be a finalist and was surprised when she didn’t make the cut, but he thinks she got a lot out of the process.
While Arnfield says he touched Wright’s business in a minimal way, he notes she is typical of many small business owners in that she hasn’t had time to focus on developing her business because she is too busy working within it.
“They are not making enough margin and not pricing their products appropriately,” he says. “If you’re not making enough margin, you can’t afford to put people around you so you can work on strategy.”
They can’t employ a skilled manager because they can’t afford to do so, he says.
This is where CAs come in. They can help an owner focus on working on the business rather than in it, advising how owners can bring in skilled management to take their company to the next level.
Listening is a valuable skill
Arnfield began his accounting career with a big four firm before moving to a smaller practice where he valued the personal connections. He went on to start his own practice, later selling it and branching out into his current role. He says he learned a lot from the mentoring process, including a reminder that small business owners have difficulty prioritising the many tasks they are responsible for. He also learned a great deal about First Nations culture, something he previously had not had much exposure to.
His advice to CAs who are keen to become active in the advisory or mentoring space is to spend the majority of client face time listening.
Pictured: Philip Arnfield CA found the CA Catalyst program extremely rewarding.
“Only after listening are you able to make an appropriate assessment of your client’s frustrations and gain an understanding of the vision they strive to attain,” he says, adding he encourages any CA who is considering becoming more active in the mentoring area to do so. “Don’t be fearful about lacking an understanding of a person’s business or the industry,” he says. “The expert in the relationship is the client. Invariably they know the solution to their own challenges. The adviser’s role is to facilitate a process to elucidate the correct response to the dilemma.”
Mentoring is something Arnfield would do again, though he would have loved to have been involved earlier and spent more time with Wright, who he says is a very motivated, talented woman. “I’ll do anything new for the first time,” he adds. “I am always interested in seeing where it leads.”
CA Catalyst is our strategic programme designed to help Chartered Accountants build capabilities, explore new markets, and provide greater value for themselves, their clients and communities.Read more