The numbers are growing
Since early childhood a young Mark Lawson knew the value of teamwork. Early visits to the office of his late father, widely-respected Timaru accountant Tom Lawson, led Mark into a career in accountancy that began with some basic fatherly guidance – it’s the sum of the team’s parts that makes the team whole.
That whole has become a valued part of the South Canterbury financial scene as Mark and his team take the former Farm Accounting Association practice purchased by Tom way back in the 1960’s to new levels of expansion and technological achievement in a calling that some may see as “dry counting of the beans”.
To reflect his practice protocol, largely unique to Timaru, Mark has renamed his company Lawson Accounting Team. And the new branding has a tagline too – “Getting Down to Business”.
The early years
Graduating from university with a Bachelor of Commerce, Mark completed his professional exams and became a chartered accountant, then obtained a practicing certificate.
But the early days did not have the look of private practice in any form. He tossed up entering journalism after having worked on university magazines, but instead found himself in credit control in a Timaru business.
“I did not intend to do credit control work forever, and one day I asked Tom about my options. I had been dropping in to see Tom at his office since I was a young child, and on this visit he closed the door, sat down with me and offered me the chance to work with him,” Mark said.
“I accepted the offer. Initially, he intended to use me to manage a finance company and draft annual reports. In fact, what I ended up doing was mainly advising business and talking to them about their results and plans. This early work defined my future.”
A new experience
That future now offers a client experience that is modern and embracing, indeed a team relationship between people in business and their accountancy team.
“In the last week, I met two new clients. Both were changing accountants because they wanted to be allowed to use modern accounting software, something their accountants were resisting,” Mark said.
“The software has simplified parts of the accounting work significantly. It has changed the focus of our work.
“We spend less time on processing data. Now the real focus is on discussing the results. This is what the clients have always wanted from us. The processing of bank statements was always too prominent.”
The team approach
Local businesses as well as the loyal rural community so ably catered for by Tom who passed away seven years ago, are responding to the collegiate approach.
“Last week I signed up two new farm clients and interviewed a third. A fortnight ago it was two engineering contractors. This week I advised a draughtsman and was asked to consider providing services for a school. And finally today I offered advice to a rental landlord,” Mark said.
“The practice is very diverse. I have three fulltime senior accountants, two part-time senior accountants, two client managers and three practice support staff and it’s about all of them working and sharing the responsibilities of working with clients.”
Mark says while methods of delivery have evolved, the fundamental of robust finances in a good business model has not altered.
“Opportunity plus talent generates reward. Clubs and listed companies have known this for centuries and now we are introducing this model to sole traders as well.
“Now I am teaching clients about governance. I say to them that if they make a point of putting their director’s/owner’s hats on, bring their advisors into these meetings, plan their meetings, they will make good or great decisions.
“They need to believe in the corporate model,” he says.
“Together we are changing their view of their business. We are now part of their team. And with the strong relationship, they believe they are more than just a tax number, but a person, who shares their vision with us.”
Thinking as a team
He says that it has been fascinating to watch his clients and staff come to understand the team concept – “that we are a team, and by acting as one, we become part of the client’s team”.
Mark sees changes in his own team every week.
“The staff members are sharing more with each other and I have employed additional support staff to allow them to reallocate their time.
“I want to be recognised as one of the best provincial accounting practices. This is my big, hairy, audacious goal,” Mark said.
“It is not about just having good equipment and the latest software. It is about creating an ethos in the building, where the staff and clients believe that collaboration will make a difference to their lives and prosperity, and they can see this from the moment they walk in the door.”
The new name
And from the moment Mark walked in Tom’s door, the metamorphosis of the practice gained momentum. From Farm Accounting Associated to Lawson and Maxwell to Thomas Lawson to Lawson Accounting and now, Lawson Accounting Team.
Mark, always close to his father, remembers him as a very intellectual man, well read with many passions.
Tom had begun his working life in radio as a sound engineer, then he retrained in accounting and qualified in 1966.
“Tom’s enthusiasm for electronics saw the early practice buy its first computer box, very early in the timeline of computers. They were almost as expensive as a modest house. You had to write scripts to create the style and content of your financial reports,” Mark said.
“Decades later, this is something we still do. Tom did it and now my brother David maintains a large array of skilfully formatted reports. The reports were always known for the clarity of the message, and were displayed at farmers meetings as a model of how annual reports should be prepared.
New ways of telling the story
“Building on that, we now have created annual reports that graph the businesses performance over the last three years. There is nothing else like this on the market,” he said.
Mark Lawson is a positive man with a glass half-full approach to life and profession. A keen photographer and founder of the Focus-Aorangi Photographic Club Inc, of which he is patron, Mark finds time for photojournalism in his busy life, set to become busier if his views on the health of South Canterbury are a guide “The region I am working in is experiencing major growth. Clients need to believe that this growth is going to stay with us. They came through the global credit crunch financially bruised and lacking confidence.Our job at Lawson Accounting Team, is to work beside the owners, and together help them make the bold and ambitious decisions.