- Brendan Britten CA, managing partner of Pitcher Partners’ Melbourne office, has been with the firm since he graduated in 1996.
- The practice’s core client base is private business and families, so building lasting relationships and trust is vital.
- Britten has an important role in Pitcher Partners expanding its business advisory services.
STORY David Walker
PHOTOS Eamon Gallagher
If you wanted to test the importance of relationships to an accounting firm, you would aim to find a partner who valued them above all other things. They’d be someone who had no particular advantages of birth or wealthy friends acquired early. You might, in fact, come up with Brendan Britten CA – a boy from the bush who has not only survived at Pitcher Partners, but who in mid-2017 was elected by his peers as managing partner of its Melbourne office.
Britten struggled for a while at school, and didn’t particularly distinguish himself in year 12. But now he runs Pitcher Partners’ Melbourne head office with 750 staff, 51 partners and a turnover above A$140 million per year.
Courses at the University of Chicago and Harvard have honed his leadership skills and understanding of professional services firms. “Who would have thought I’d be staying in residence at Harvard?” he asks, highly amused.
“I took a photo of myself. I’m not on social media of any form, so I had no-one to send it to, apart from my wife. And my mum.”
Britten spent his early years in the small town of Dunolly, 60km west of Bendigo in central Victoria. The son of a teacher and a fitter and turner who retrained as a mortuary technician, Britten recalls riding his bike around the rural district with his mates, playing Aussie Rules and basketball.
“Very safe, very pleasant,” he says. “You knew everyone and, from a very young age, you could go where you pleased and do what you liked.” In his teenage years, the family moved to nearby Bendigo, which was bigger but much the same. “You went off on your bike and came home when it was dark.”
He finished high school during the 1990s recession and ended up doing accounting at university, in part because there weren’t many jobs. But accounting isn’t a family trade; Britten’s brother and sisters are all in caring
Britten thought he’d end up back in Bendigo soon enough after university, but things have turned out differently.
Pitcher Partners’ lifetime appeal
Brendan Britten CA.
Britten started at Pitcher Partners as a graduate accountant in 1996 and he’s never been anywhere else. In many workplaces that would be unusual, but at Pitcher Partners not so much. Many partners are either lifers or have left for a couple of years and come back.
The firm really is part of his family, Britten says. He met his wife there. Their three children love coming in and know many of the other partners’ children.
“We do things a little bit differently [at Pitcher Partners],” he adds. “We are more about the person and the relationship and the trust.”
“We do things a little bit differently. We are more about the person and the relationship and the trust.”
Britten started in business advisory and assurance at Pitcher Partners, still his main area of practice today. He looked after management accounting clients, did audits, helped prepare tax returns and, he notes, “carried bags for partners”.
Pitcher Partners itself was barely five years old when Britten joined. It was born in November 1991, when Ron Pitcher and Tim Jonas, former leaders of KPMG’s Private Business Services Division, set up the practice with 12 fellow partners and 142 staff. According to the Pitcher Partners website, it was Australia’s first new financial services practice in more than 20 years.
The practice’s core client base is private business and families, and Britten got to know that inside out. “We’re dealing with people who are spending their own money, so that relationship, and trust, is paramount,” he says.
He’s proud to have clients trust him not only in important professional roles such as executor and trustee, but also invite him into their lives. “You’re an objective friend. You’re a trusted friend. You go to the weddings, you go to the baptisms, you know most of the families’ ins and outs,” says Britten.
“You’re a trusted friend. You go to the weddings, you go to the baptisms, you know most of the families’ ins and outs.”
“I’ve got a client that I’ve been working with since I was a graduate starting at the firm – a family business, with three generations in the business at present. When I started with them, it was only one generation in the business.
“They own supermarkets, liquor stores, properties… The business is durable, sustainable and big enough to support six families. And they’re all doing things that they love doing. They’ve all found their spot in the business.”
He also aims to help clients with what he calls “professional loneliness”. “If you’re an owner-manager of a business which turns over $50 million a year, everyone else is subordinate to you,” he notes. “You don’t have a peer. You don’t have someone to who you can say ‘that didn’t go well’.”
Being relevant and valuable builds relationships
Britten observes that when it comes to clients seeking business and finance advice, “People buy ‘people’. They buy you because they either trust you or they know someone who knows you.
“If you go to XYZ store and the person behind the counter was, in your view, less than satisfactory... you don’t go back there, do you. You go and spend your money somewhere else.”
After years advising businesses himself, Britten is now helping to fulfil Pitcher Partners ambitions for a larger role in business advisory. That means both building up the firm’s own experts and adding specialists such as the firm’s growing squad of data analysts.
He knows that as a managing partner he doesn’t have to be best friends with everyone. But he has to be trustworthy and reliable and knowledgeable and relevant and valuable to people.
“And if you’re doing something that’s relevant and valuable for people,” he says, “you’ll have something to do all your life.”
Brendan Britten, you feel, is set.