Date posted: 9/10/2018 5 min read

Adding colour to accountancy

Mark Robilliard teaches the basics of accounting to a worldwide audience.

In Brief

  • Mark Robilliard and Peter Frampton co-founded their own company to explain the basics of accounting.
  • They have a groundbreaking graphical system that uses colour to explain debits and credits.
  • Robilliard now travels extensively to meet sales partners and deliver workshops.

By Alex Wright

Mark Robilliard only really began to understand the accounting task after he left Deakin University in 1977 with a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) degree when a patient employer showed him the ropes.

Practical accounting

“My first job was in public practice back home in Noosa Heads,” he says. “My client gave me a simple reconciliation job to do but I couldn’t do it because I had learned everything by rote at university, and I didn’t actually know how to put accounting into practice.

“Luckily for me my boss sat me down and showed me how to do it manually because the computer was broken. Within a few months I actually started to love it.”

A few years later, Robilliard went backpacking in Europe and worked as an independent contractor to the UK government. Back in Australia, he briefly taught at Deakin before joining KPMG in Melbourne in 1989. A year later he was made national training manager in Sydney where he met his future business partner, Peter Frampton.

Mark Robilliard

Teaching the basics

Realising that they had shared the same challenge in university of trying to understand the basics of accounting, they agreed to set up their own company to tackle the problem once they had moved on from KPMG.

First, though, Robilliard had a stint as partner at a management consulting firm specialising in local government, before moving on to HIH Insurance as a human resources manager specialising in learning and development.

When HIH went bust in the largest corporate collapse in Australia’s history, he called Frampton and they decided the time was right to join forces. They would teach the basics of accounting in workplaces and educational institutions around the world through a groundbreaking graphical system that uses colour to explain debits and credits.

The move to Wisconsin

Initially Robilliard led the Australia, New Zealand and Asia-Pacific operations of Color Accounting International. But a few years after Frampton moved to Switzerland in 2010, Robilliard decided to take on North America and he set up with his family in Milwaukee.

He had to adapt to the US way of working. “Having watched the movies and been on holiday to the US several times I had this preconceived notion of Americans,” he says. “But actually living and working here now, I have realised that it is a lot more complex than that.

“Australians have a reputation for being direct, unaffected by position or status and like to speak their mind which, if done with respect, is generally appreciated by Americans. But it still took some time to adjust to.”

Travelling the world

Robilliard travels extensively across the US and Canada to meet sales partners and deliver workshops. But he also regularly travels to Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

He recalls one occasion when he had flown from Chicago to Egypt for a workshop and the bag with all his training material got lost in transit. Quickly improvising, he took out a pen and paper to explain some accountancy basics.

As my co-founder Peter likes to say, ‘If you can’t explain the basics of accounting by drawing with a pointed stick on the ground, then you are making it too complicated’
Mark Robilliard

“Luckily our teaching methods don’t rely on technology, so I was able to improvise until the materials turned up,” he says. “As my co-founder Peter likes to say, ‘If you can’t explain the basics of accounting by drawing with a pointed stick on the ground, then you are making it too complicated’.”

Alex Wright is a London-based business journalist.

Listen: KPMG chair walks a tightrope

KPMG Australia chairman Alison Kitchen , who is a senior partner in the Australian firm, has worked her way up through the ranks over 30 years.

Read more