Date posted: 07/02/2020 5 min read

A cup of joe with Joe: Samrat Sharma CA and Joe Zumbo CA

When Samrat Sharma CA met mentor Joe Zumbo CA for advice on building an accounting practice, good coffee was an essential.

In Brief

  • Samrat Sharma CA met with mentor Joe Zumbo CA for advice on building his newly created practice.
  • A father himself, Zumbo was also able to assist new dad Sharma on managing a work-life balance.
  • Sharma’s business has grown 100% year-on-year.

As told to Susan Muldowney

Mentee: Samrat Sharma CA
Managing partner, Samrat Sharma &Associates

I started my career as a cadet at PKF, which later became BDO Melbourne. I worked there for about eight years, then took the leap to start my own accounting and tax practice. That was two years ago, and it’s been a roller-coaster journey. The first year was definitely the most challenging, so I put out feelers for help. That’s how I came across the Mentor Exchange program.

This was my first experience of formal mentorship. Looking back, my Year 12 accounting teacher was an informal mentor and I think she inspired me to become an accountant. I also wanted to help small businesses to grow. David Garvey, BDO Melbourne’s current managing partner, was another informal mentor.

The CA qualification was a huge stepping stone in my career. I was actually awarded CA Candidate of the Year in 2013-14. By adding “chartered accountant” to my profile, it has helped me to stand out as a leader in accounting and finance.

My first impression of Joe was that he was humble, approachable and very experienced, and these were the traits that a nervous young sole practitioner like me was really looking for.

I had also hoped to be teamed with someone who had experience running their own practice, so I felt very lucky to meet Joe.

We were given a framework for how to get the most out of the mentor/mentee relationship and we pretty much stuck to that. It involved laying out my goals and being clear and concise about what we were trying to achieve in each meeting.

Our conversations didn’t always focus on tax and accounting. We covered broad topics such as marketing, time management and goal setting, and I think these things have been fundamental to my success in the past six months.

In terms of revenue, my business has grown 100% year-on-year and I’ve started to focus on small business clients, especially in the hospitality sector.

Joe encouraged me to tap into my audit experience and the value that it can add to clients. I’m now helping clients with pre-audit services and have recently started a new branch of my business called Pre-Audit Connect.

I became a father during the mentor program. My baby was born two months premature and I spent a lot of time at the hospital. It coincided with the tax deadline period, so it was very busy. Joe imparted a lot of wisdom and helped me to manage my time more effectively. He encouraged me to identify priorities.

There were also times when I was dealing with complex issues and I’d call Joe directly to bounce off ideas.

Joe was very generous with his time. We’d meet up formally once a month, but he also invited me to attend his practice’s monthly tax training sessions, which was really valuable. He continues to invite me to come along each month. Even though our formal mentor/mentee relationship has finished, we still catch up for coffee and he continues to share his knowledge with me.

Mentor: Joe Zumbo CA
Director, Stafford Whelan

Samrat Sharma CA with mentor Joe Zumbo CAPicture: Samrat Sharma CA with mentor Joe Zumbo CA.

I’ve always been pretty strong with numbers, so a career in accounting seemed like a natural choice. My first job was as a graduate at Ernst & Whinney, which merged with Arthur Young and is now EY. I worked there for six years, then at two other smaller firms. It took another seven years until I was ready to seek out my own practice.

I knew I didn’t want to be a sole practitioner. I wanted to join an existing practice to have a network and infrastructure around me, so I joined Stafford Whelan as a director in 2000.

I’ve never had a formal mentor, but I think it’s something I could have benefited from when I started out in practice. Even though I had two business partners at the time, it would have been good to have someone completely impartial to bounce ideas off.

This is one of the reasons I joined CAANZ’s Mentor Exchange program –I wanted to help someone who was just starting out in practice by sharing some of my experiences.

Samrat and I hit it off straight away. He’s very genuine and down to earth. I think we are similar in nature, so it was very easy to get the conversation going. We both work in Melbourne’s inner north and we met up about once a month. We drank a lot of coffee together.

My approach to mentoring was to ask Samrat what he was looking to achieve in his career and his practice, and then be a sounding board and lend my experience.

Samrat had recently started as a sole practitioner and I know that can feel a bit isolating. I introduced him to a couple of colleagues who had started out in practice a little bit before him; I’m happy that he could draw on my network for extra support.

Samrat became a father for the first time during the mentor program and has a deep commitment to his family. I have three kids, so I understand what it takes to juggle family and a practice, and I was able to share my experience as a father as well.

“I understand what it takes to juggle family and a practice, and I was able to share my experience as a father as well.”
Joe Zumbo CA

I think Samrat has more balance between work and life than I have and I’ve reflected on that since we finished the mentor program. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, especially running a business with a dozen or so staff. It’s important to have a bit of perspective.

I’d recommend Mentor Exchange to anyone. It wasn’t a big time commitment. Hopefully I helped Samrat, and it was also a chance to reflect on my own career.

I’m still in contact with Samrat. He comes along to the monthly tax-training workshop, which Stafford Whelan holds with another practice. We invite other sole practitioners we know to attend. Not only are we keeping up with our tax training, it’s also great for networking. We enjoy a coffee afterwards and talk about our shared experiences.

Read more:

CA ANZ’s Mentor Exchange

In need of some career guidance, or looking to mentor? CA ANZ’s Mentor Exchange programs are designed to help members achieve their career goals and aspirations.

Learn more