Dubliner puts CFOs on map down under
Wild Geese: Brendan Sheehan, managing director of White Squires, Sydney, Australia
Brendan Sheehan: “I came over to stay with my brother for three months . . . but things didn’t work out quite how I thought they would, thankfully.”
Some call Australia “the lucky country”. It certainly feels that way to Brendan Sheehan, a Dubliner who has called the place home for the past 10 years. Within a week of arriving in Sydney for what was supposed to be a brief visit, Sheehan met the woman who would later become his wife, and snagged a job that would set him on the path to establishing his own successful business a few years later.
An active member of the accounting and finance industry in Australia, Sheehan has also gone on to serve in key roles for the Australian branches of the Ireland Funds and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). He has also founded CFO 2015, a private network for chief financial officers that aims to transform the CFO role.
“I came over to stay with my brother for three months during which I planned to write up a business plan for a new company I wanted to set up in Dublin, but things didn’t work out quite how I thought they would, thankfully,” he says.
Before arriving in Australia, Sheehan, who hails from Rathcoole, worked for 16 years with business leaders across the private, corporate and public sectors in Ireland, providing financial management and information solutions services to organisations such as Aventis Pharmaceuticals, TNT, the Office of Public Works, the National Museum and Coldwell Banker.
While he had primarily worked in auditing and had a few stints in internal finance roles, Sheehan intended to spend his brief time in Australia setting up a new consultancy business. However, after being introduced to the chief financial officer of real estate company Colliers International in Sydney, he was offered a job and ended up staying with them for three years until he decided to establish his own business.
“In Ireland, my previous roles tended to be working with small businesses and the public sector, but with Colliers I worked a lot with the corporate sector and that really opened my eyes to the potential of helping CFOs in such organisations to do better.”
Sheehan is passionate about transforming the role of the CFO, believing they should be seen as valued partners of the chief executive and wider executive team in setting business strategy and driving performance. He says his experience has given him a good insight into boardroom dynamics. This awareness has convinced him that as well as keeping an eye on balance sheets, chief financial officers need to raise their profile and voices.
“Chief financial officers don’t tend to be outspoken, which can be an issue because it means they aren’t always heard. They aren’t necessarily looked down upon, but when it comes to discussing a wide range of business issues such as revenue-generating initiatives, their opinion isn’t always valued as much as it should be,” he says.
White Squires, the company Sheehan set up in 2008, works with business leaders – and with chief financial officers in particular – to increase organisational productivity and efficiency by improving the performance of people, processes and systems. It helps to transform finance departments into high-performing business units, so that the CFO can focus more effectively on their executive responsibilities.
“White Squires is about helping CFOs raise their profile and do battle. Back in medieval times, squires assisted knights to be battle-ready by ensuring their swords were sharpened and that there were no chinks in their armour. I’m trying to do something similar now by helping business leaders prepare to do battle alongside shareholders in order to grow the company,” he says.
“We’re trying to encourage CFOs to start lifting their heads out of the sand and begin to understand the value they bring to the table. We are also seeking to show them about aspects of business they might not usually consider, such as brand loyalty and so on.”
White Squires offers a set of business consulting, project management and outsourcing solutions services that assist the CFO to carry out their responsibilities more effectively by helping them to drive cost reduction and strengthen internal controls, improve business performance and manage risk.
With a client list that includes the likes of Hudson Recruitment and Rubix Financial Systems, and with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, Sheehan is confident there are still plenty of opportunities. Of course, all this means that he won’t be returning home any time soon.
“My wife Cassandra isn’t too fond of grey skies so, even without the business, it would be hard work convincing her and our two daughters to up sticks and move to Ireland,” he said.
“I was recently elected as a global council member and ambassador of the ACCA though, and one of the many benefits of this is that I get to travel back over to this side of the world a few times a year, which means that I can still stay in touch with everything that’s going on in Ireland.”