Date posted: 14/02/2017 3 min read

CA ANZ Member Profile-Brian Holmes

In this instalment of our CA ANZ Member Profile series, Brian Holmes CA explains why he left the corporate world for a boutique coffee business

In brief

  • After 35 years in the corporate world, Brian Holmes CA entered the boutique coffee business
  • Knowing when you’ve done the best for a company and knowing when to move on is critical
  • Compliance and commercial requirements in small business are the same as those in big business

After 35 years in the corporate world Brian Holmes CA figured it was time for a change and entered the boutique coffee business. He says the commercial needs of a small business are much the same as a big business, there’s just fewer people to do the work.

Tell us a little bit about your work…

I am a Director of Ebony Coffee in Palmerston North where we roast coffee and sell to the public, cafes and restaurants. We’re a boutique coffee roaster, distributor of espresso machines and a barista trainer with eight employees. Over the last couple of years we have understood the need to train our customers’ staff so we have introduced a specialist barista training school in a small shop near the roastery. This is where our two very specialist trainers can take our customers and their staff through a three-hour commercial barista training course. Our brand is strongly influenced by the barista at the end of the espresso machine, so to give our brand its best shot, it’s important our coffee beans make a great cup of coffee. 

What does the start of a typical day for you look like?

Of course with Xero – it’s the bank reconciliation while having cereal for breakfast at home before venturing to the roastery where the place is generally humming with our coffee customers calling in for their caffeine shot on the way to work. We have a strong regular bunch of customers and it’s great to have a quick few words to them about the “state of the nation” or solve a few world issues as I either help on the espresso machine or, as the staff prefer, I just stay at the till and socialise and stamp the loyalty cards.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

My GM at Iplex Pipelines for many years always said, “timing is everything, so you have to learn when to play your best card”. It is essential to know when to listen and when to speak, so sometimes sitting back and waiting is critical.

Why coffee? How did you end up in that line of business?

Having done 25-plus years in one corporate (and 35 years in total in the corporate world), I knew I needed a plan to exit corporate life and get out before I was too close to 60. Knowing when you’ve done the best for the company and knowing when to move on is critical. So I needed a three-year exit plan and then one day I picked up the local newspaper flipped to the business page and saw a photo of a coffee roaster with a ‘for sale’ sign – my thought was the coffee industry would be fun. 

How has your CA training and background helped you in the business? 

This has been a huge help as not only are there the numerous compliance and commercial requirements in a small business that are the same as that of a big business, but there’s fewer people to do it. Health and safety, employment contracts, lease contract, supply contracts, taxation – they are all present and the CA training meant nothing was too daunting, but this time you had a whole lot more skin in the game. Timing was perfect as I jumped into Xero and easily updated the business IT system, effectively overnight, as Xero fitted the business perfectly. The upside of being CA trained is that you accumulate a great bag of very useful skills and being a small business, many of those skills are pulled out of that bag daily.

Why did you choose to become a Chartered Accountant? 

In the 70s the list of careers was a little narrower than today and the career of an “Accountant” was towards the top of the alphabet on the school careers advisor’s list. Once I started down the study and work track it became very obvious it was important to get the “Chartered” bit attached.