Keeping CA in the family
Melbourne-based Chartered Accountants Greenberg & Co is the very definition of a family accounting firm. Selwyn Greenberg FCA set up the firm in 1987 with wife Hannah, also an accountant, and now works alongside his son Jay and a daughter, Bonnie.
- In a family business, it helps to have a good sense of humour and to keep an open mind.
- Different generations can learn from each other.
- Keep family and business matters separate.
By Alexandra Johnson
Why do you think accounting runs so thickly in the veins of your family?
Selwyn: I am quite honoured that the kids made the choice to work with me and I think I can say that, in retrospect, it has worked very well for all of us. They are really good at what they do and they take the profession and their careers very seriously. Ultimately, they will be my succession plan and it is comforting to introduce them to the clients who will be confident that if I am not there, the kids will step in and look after them.
Bonnie: Growing up with parents who were running their own accounting practice, I would often find my mother trying to reconcile a bank account or running a fortnightly payroll and my father busy in the late evenings completing his daily timesheet or adding up figures on an old-school printing calculator. Accounting lingo was regularly heard in family household conversation.
How do you manage your personal family relationships with each other in the office?
Selwyn: For a busy professional office, the staff appreciate the humour of the parent-child banter. I am often heard telling the kids to tidy up their offices or suggest that ankle socks are not appropriate with a suit. The kids often openly criticise my dad jokes and conservative dress sense. They still think that it’s weird to have a specific suit and tie for each day of the week. I explain I always know what day of the week it is by what I am wearing.
Bonnie: I keep my work and personal relationships with family members in the business separate. Given that I work in a professional services environment, this is extremely important as clients expect high standards of professionalism, regardless of the fact this is a family business.
Do you have other common interests out of the office?
Selwyn: We use lunchtimes to sit together in the downstairs café and discuss any confronting issues be they tax, office admin or family politics. It’s a good time to air any grievances but I must say both Jay and Bon seem to respect each other’s roles.
Bonnie: I enjoy going for Sunday runs with my father and our family dog, Roughy, and we continue to have weekly Friday night dinners at my parents’ home with our families.
What different strengths do you bring to the office/work life?
Selwyn: Bonnie and Jay bring a whole new set of skills that are essential to a 21st century accounting practice. Jay has excellent IT skills that not only reduce the practice overheads but he introduces clients to web-based accounting software which they love, and this really assists with our business development. Bonnie is a great example of a young career mum, balancing a three-year-old and 18-month-old and a husband. She has a great rapport with our professional female business clients.
Bonnie: I bring a sense of humour to the office and I’m energetic and ambitious. Being the youngest member of the Greenberg & Co team, I think I bring a fresh, out-of-the-box perspective to the business.
What advice would you give other families establishing an accountancy firm?
Selwyn: The advantages will far outweigh any downside. You must have a really good sense of humour and be prepared to keep an open mind. Work at each relationship and don’t take anything for granted. It’s a two-way street, with both generations learning from each other.
Bonnie: Despite working with family, remember you are in a professional environment and separate personal/family matters from those relating to the business. Have clearly-defined roles so the business has a solid structure underpinning it. The stronger the family, the stronger the business.
Related: Making CA partnerships a success
Martin Bailey FCA and Cameron McGregor FCA have worked together for more than four decades. They tell us how they make it work.
Photography by Kristian Gehradte.