Award-winning rural CAs make their mark
Launching their own family-friendly practice won Kylie Davidson CA and Emma Hammond CA official recognition as innovative and enterprising women.
- Kylie Davidson and Emma Hammond won the 2017 NZI Innovative Enterprising Rural Women Award.
- After starting out six years ago, the growing business now has a staff of seven.
- Working rurally as a CA offers great opportunities and flexibility for women when raising children.
By Alexandra Johnson.
A thriving business, champagne breakfasts and industry awards are just a few of the things Chartered Accountants Kylie Davidson and Emma Hammond are enjoying at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island.
Just six years since the two women set up their public practice, Hammond Davidson Ltd in Riversdale, they have won the 2017 NZI Innovative Enterprising Rural Women Award. It recognises their outstanding leadership skills, creative flair and business acumen.
“We started back in 2011 when we were both on maternity leave and our boys were one,” says Hammond. “We had worked closely together previously so we knew what our strengths were and that our skills complemented each other, so we got talking over a glass of wine and brainstormed about what we wanted to achieve.”
(Picture credit: Rural Women New Zealand.)
Davidson says they both felt passionate about continuing their careers while raising their young families. “And that’s the great thing about an accountancy career, you can be flexible with it, you can work from home, [you] don’t have to be just in the office. We wanted to balance them both and make it work – which we’ve been successful in doing.”
The women exude positivity and friendliness, two of the mainstays that keep their business growing and clients coming back for more.
The firm now has a staff of seven, all of whom are women with young families.
The pair didn’t set out particularly to hire working mothers. “We just offered the same flexibility to our team that we were enjoying, and it’s a win-win,” says Hammond. “We got to recruit some excellent talent, and they were also able to get back into accounting while raising their children.
“But we are not closed off to hiring men at all,” she adds, laughing.
All of the women work between 20 and 30 hours a week. They take care to maintain client service levels by ensuring three or four of them are in the office at any one time.
“Sometimes we joke that part-time mothers can get more done in six hours than others can in eight,” says Hammond. “You are just really focussed and know that you can’t be catching up after work because you have children at your feet.”
It’s very important to us to understand our clients’ goals and we are really passionate about helping them achieve those
The business has a forward-looking philosophy, says Hammond. “Kylie and I prefer to look in the front window rather than the rear-view mirror. We provide proactive accounting and business advice rather than just compliance, and we specialise in business structuring, succession and cash-flow forecasting.”
She says it’s very important to understand clients’ goals and the firm is really passionate about helping them achieve those. Which is exactly what their clients love. “They like that we are genuinely interested in their goals and their business,” says Davidson. “I think that’s been the differentiating factor from where perhaps they had sourced their accounting services in the past.”
While the town of Riversdale itself is tiny, with a population of less than 500, the business draws clients from all over the region, predominantly farmers and the businesses that service them. In recent years, the farming industry around them has changed, with some of the large beef and sheep farms being broken up into smaller units.
“Over the last few years, we have seen more and more of a move to dairy as Southland has been an attractive area for farmland conversion,” says Davidson. “Land around this area is very valuable and productive compared to some other areas of New Zealand.”
Hammond says the economy around Riversdale is strong, as many farms have been held by the same families for many years. “They are established and haven’t had to pay the high prices that some of the newcomers have, so accordingly they don’t have the same amount of debt.”
But, she adds, a lot of the farmers are now retiring and moving into Riversdale, so farms are also being broken up for succession purposes.
Connected and country-minded
The women say technology has played a role in their success. “We are now almost paperless, so any of our staff can login in from anywhere and do any aspect of their job without being in the office,” says Hammond.
And professional development can happen whenever and wherever it suits. “For our last training session, we had our own little champagne breakfast while watching former All Blacks coach Graham Henry speak live in Auckland. We just felt like we were there sitting in on it,” says Hammond. “So many courses are online now, which really works for us as they don’t have to be done during the day when we are focusing on our clients’ needs.”
Hammond and Davidson also keep in touch with other service providers and professionals in the region. “We have great connections with other firms,” says Hammond. “For example, we have a tax specialist on tap from a firm in Dunedin. And we maintain really good relationships with the banks and local lawyers just to keep connected, know the issues and how we can work together for the benefit of our clients.”
Succeeding in regional areas is all about trust
Crowe Horwath partner Craig Macalister CA sees Invercargill as a wealthy regional area that requires a different accounting approach than a city.
They are careful not to grow too fast. But they have just purchased the building they currently lease on the main street of Riversdale, plus the two buildings next to it. “We plan to employ another accountant full-time next year. We do want to grow further, but only at a rate that we can look after our clients – we don’t lose what they love about us.”
Davidson and Hammond offer clear advice to other women wanting to set up shop in rural areas.
“Be really clear on your vision and what you want to achieve,” says Hammond. “Stay connected. Get in touch with people who are like-minded or who can help you. You can’t be an expert in everything.”
Davidson also warns against getting caught up in the day-to-day and missing the big picture. She says there are great opportunities for women who have completed their chartered accounting qualification to pursue a career rurally. “It is no different to sitting at your office chair in the city,” she says.
When she and Emma went on maternity leave before the birth of their first children, Davidson says they felt a lot of pressure to return to work full time, “the whole guilt thing”.
“But working rurally is great,” she says. “It can provide that flexibility and balance while having a career and raising a young family.”
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Alexandra Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Wellington.