Anne's Big News

Our founder, creator, chief strategist, early adopter, and resident hair colour guru, yes, none other than Anne Stephenson, is set to hang up the tools at the end of the month.  Mostly!  

Anne will remain involved in a part-time capacity (one day per week), working alongside the team on key strategic projects.  In her words “I’m not disappearing off the face of the earth, but will be helping the team with advisory work, and helping NZ businesses continue to thrive - the fun stuff”.

While we will undoubtedly miss her wealth of knowledge, insightful vision, sense of humour, and nose for tackling the big issues with clarity and empathy, we are acutely aware of how hard she has worked over her illustrious career and that she couldn’t be more deserving of her well-earned retirement.    

There are simply not enough words to cover her accomplishments over the last 40+ years, so we won’t even try.  However, we did sit down with Anne and ask her what the highlights have been.

"The achievement that I am most proud of is that I have taken culture as the most important part of the business, and aspired to create a different look and feel to the practice than is traditionally expected.  There are no grey cardigans around here”.

But that didn’t happen by chance.

“My focus has always been on recruiting the right people.”  

To ensure they were the right people, Anne had to get clear on her vision, or BHAG (Big hairy audacious goal).  A testament to her BHAG is the fact that this hasn’t changed much over the last 23 years in business.  “To change the world's view of accountants” is the vision that has driven the business, and will be her lasting legacy.  

Starting out

Starting in a Big 4 firm, Anne developed strong technical knowledge early on.  However, it became clear that there was often poor communication, culture was non-existent, there were many egos, glass ceilings, and a need to fit into a box.  “I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.”  

“Initially, when I started on my own, the plan was to work with a smaller number of clients more closely.  But I didn’t have a strategic plan, and certainly hadn’t worked through my vision or purpose.  It quickly became anyone with a heartbeat and a wallet was a good client.  A heartbeat was not essential either.  So I  went backwards before I went forwards.  I also wanted a more feminine environment (without being girly), where there were no egos or judgments, but engagements built on relationships, empathy, and collegiality”.     

Getting clear on the vision & purpose set the foundation for building the team and culture.   There was a conscious decision not to employ “traditional accountants”. 

“I like to employ graduates and young accountants at the beginning of their career.  They have to be full of enthusiasm and energy to soak up knowledge and take on new ideas.  You can teach processes and technical knowledge, but the ability to build relationships is a key skill that I recruit for.  I only employ people I would be happy to have a beer with.  

Key Learnings

Once you have employed the right people, you then help and support them to develop.  I had to accept that other people would have different ideas and that sometimes other people were better than I was at things.  That is not always easy to accept or to execute either.  You have to trust in your team, empower them, and play to their strengths.

You do need to be prepared for them to make mistakes, that is how people learn.  But when they make those mistakes, you educate and support them through that, but take ownership.  I have weathered many storms for the benefit of my team.  Once they knew I had their back, they felt very empowered to continue to learn and try new things.  That has helped the business grow.    

One thing I’m most proud of is the fact that I have helped develop many smart accountants, allowing them to do good quality work, therefore helping many New Zealand businesses.”  

An avid reader and consumer of many books (a testament to Anne’s thirst for knowledge and continuous learning) one that stands out is Jim Collins, "Good to Great".  He describes Level 5 leadership as “leaders who display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organisation and its purpose, not themselves”.

The Legacy 

We agree that while Anne is incredibly ambitious, she certainly possesses personal humility and indomitable will and has always put the vision and culture of Stephenson CA, Stephenson Thorner, and Connected Accountants first and foremost.  

And for that we are eternally grateful and equally determined to continue the legacy.  

To Anne, we say thank you!

Enjoy retirement - the travel, the reading, the gardening, the family time.  And we’ll see you in April!


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