Date posted: 01/04/2020

Making human connections: The power of mentoring in the business world

Finding a mentor early in your career can be incredibly helpful in your professional growth. Looking at the mentor-mentee relationship from both sides, we speak to a partner and junior accountant on how these relationships can form at small-to medium-sized practices (SMPs).

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Imagine if the partner of a firm was the one who interviewed you for your first job. Now, imagine you not only got the job, but went on to become a partner at the firm too.

Sound too good to be true? Greg Ziegler is a Partner at BSA Partnership, and that's his story.

Today, Greg is directly involved in the recruitment of new graduates and in 2017, he hired Jack Dingli as a graduate accountant. Jack and Greg have since developed a strong professional mentor-mentee relationship that they agree has helped both of their careers.

The value of a mentor

One of the first things Jack noticed about working at BSA Partnership is the close-knit, family like culture of the office.

"It's the small firm feel, everyone is down to earth. I feel like I am part of the team, where we are social at work, but also effective and efficient in solving client problems. I can walk into Greg's office at any time and ask questions about something or get his help on a matter. We have quite a horizontal structure in our team where I work directly with Greg and the senior leadership team," Jack says.

"That access has really accelerated my development because I get exposed to the experience and knowledge that Greg and the other senior team members have. They showed me the ropes, and taught me that every client will require a different approach. Greg and the senior team got me on my feet to get going from day one. It's one of the best things about working at a smaller firm."

Like Jack, Greg also started his accounting career at an SMP and enjoyed the benefits of working closely with senior leaders. In his first role, Greg found a mentor that has influenced his career ever since.

"David hired me fresh out of university and became my mentor. 26 years later, David is now my business partner. He was always so accessible and encouraged me to be hands on, involved in the team and to keep going. As long as you're willing to learn and listen, having a mentor like David can really open your knowledge base and broaden your skills," Greg says.

"Learning directly from someone who has been in your position and climbed up the ranks can be invaluable, and I really believe it's made a real difference to my career. It's great to know how people got to where they are today, and have their support and encouragement. Mentors are there to give you advice and help you to navigate the world of accounting.," he says.

A relationship built on trust

Looking back on his almost three years at BSA Partnership, Jack has enjoyed a level of responsibility that initially surprised him. He credits Greg's trust as being an important factor in becoming more capable and confident.

"I was contacting clients from my first day. A couple of weeks later I was briefing clients on matters. I definitely didn’t expect to have that level of responsibility so quickly, but I really enjoyed it," Jack says.

"Greg gave me one client for who I'm now essentially CFO. I go out to their office by myself every week and I manage their finance, tax and accounting functions. Now I'm even advising them on all sorts of things like new technologies and tax regulations. It's important to find a mentor who you get along with and is willing to make the effort to help you. Your mentor is someone you aspire to be,"he adds.

"But at the end of the day, when you're deciding to apply for a big or small firm, the only question you really need to ask is 'what motivates you?' If that's having more responsibility and the opportunity to grow quickly, then consider working at an SMP."
Jack Dingli, Junior Accountant at BSA Partnership.

Greg believes experience is the best teacher, and he applies this philosophy in trusting his junior accountants, like Jack, to get the job done even if they initially lack confidence.

"From day one you're part of the team working to the service of our clients. In Jack's case, he's done a great job with that client and as a result of that responsibility, his skills and experience have grown substantially. But I always said to him, 'I wouldn't have given you that job if I didn't believe you could do it. I'll always have your back and be here if you need me'," Greg says.

"With Jack, there is a 'boss and employee' relationship, but in reality we are more like teammates who have mutual respect, open communication and an understanding of each other. I enjoy passing on the knowledge, and it gives me great pleasure to see young graduates eventually grow into accomplished Chartered Accountants."

Get your start with an SMP

Greg says he and the BSA Partnership team are always looking for the chance to meet potential recruits and speak with graduates who might otherwise never have considered working at an SMP.

"Networking events are really important to us to be able to meet with new graduates and have those one-on-one conversations,' Greg says.

Having gone through the recruitment process and now sitting on the other side of the table, Jack can share his insights for what small- to medium-sized firms like BSA Partnership are looking for in candidates.

"Great communication and soft skills are key. In order to put someone in front of a client, they need to be able to have a conversation and build a relationship," Jack says.

"But at the end of the day, when you're deciding to apply for a big or small firm, the only question you really need to ask is 'what motivates you?' If that's having more responsibility and the opportunity to grow quickly, then I'd suggest you consider working at an SMP."