ALA Behind the Scenes: Meet Sean Akeroyd
Born and raised in the city of Vancouver, Sean Akeroyd was part of the team to first open the doors of ALA in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since. An accountant by trade, the founding partner’s surname makes up one third of the firm’s signature and he is proud to be tied to a company unapologetically devoted to empowering and educating their team members, beyond the confines of ‘systematic’ accounting.
Here, the business owner talks in depth about his role within ALA, the culture the firm has worked hard to establish over the last 7 years, as well as providing some sage advice for other BC business owners.
When did you first realise you wanted to become the owner of your own business?
I always wanted to run a business of some kind, ever since I was a kid. I perhaps didn’t know I wanted it to be an accounting firm, but I’ve always been interested in business. It is exciting to build and create.
Can you pinpoint the 3 key steps you took towards making that happen?
Well, the initial, major step was developing the concept with Steve (Leung of ALA) and we saved our cash and just took the leap. We were able to take the leap from the comforts of a leading mid-size firm. We didn’t have any confirmed clients, and we didn’t have an office straight out of the gate, we worked out of Steve’s brother’s vacant apartment. I can remember my first few months of practice, it was very rewarding, somewhat stressful, a whirlwind, I was 27.
What would be your advice to other aspiring business owners setting up a business in Vancouver?
Do the research beforehand, definitely. Identify the market you want to serve and work out how you are going to provide value. Put together a detailed estimate of cash flow for your first year and develop a business plan. Operating your own business requires you to wear a lot of hats, but it is still definitely doable. Show pride in your work, and be positive. Don’t give up your current role until you have your ducks in a row. You might have a lifestyle or a family which you need to support so you can’t take that risk without being ready.
What is the Unique Selling Point of ALA? How do you strive to be different from other accounting firms?
We are only as good as our service and we pride ourselves on being different from other accounting firms through the relationships we have with our clients. From a technical tax standpoint, we are strong for a firm our size, with strong tax, assurance, and advisory backgrounds. I don’t think you can find anywhere with the youthfulness of our firm and the same technical capabilities. We offer an ideal product to those who want to work with a good firm for a long period of time. As a result, we have been able to attract some amazing clients.
What is the best and worst thing about being an accountant?
The best thing is the exposure to a diverse variety of industries and business owners and their various challenges and milestones. It is always so interesting to see. The worst part would be the deadline driven nature of the business. You are typically always up against the gun, which can be tough.
What specific aspect of your role do you enjoy the most? Do you have a specific passion for an area of accounting?
I like the general practitioner nature of being an important advisor for an operating business in Vancouver. All business owners have so many things they need to accomplish and if we can help, that’s great. We see so much, we’re almost guaranteed to have encountered the problem previously and so we can provide assistance. The different journeys and stages we see our clients go through is very interesting so, helping business owners solve problems is the most enjoyable for me.
In what way do you think the industry is going to change the most in the next five years?
Oh it’s going to change a lot! We’re certainly going to see a lot more artificial intelligence, a lot more automation of certain processes, moving away from some of the necessary but more tedious tasks. A lot of that should already be automated and will be one day. The future will be more focused on advising, strategy, problem solving, and data analytics. Honestly, I’m looking forward to it, and we’re doing a lot of this work already.
What is your personal approach to being a boss/business owner?
Just to treat everyone fairly. And to be kind. You know, we only have so many hours in a day, and in a life, so just be good to people. It is very, very rewarding employing people and it motivates us. Creating a safe environment where people collaborate and learn is rewarding. There are firms that don’t invest in their people at all, nor do they have any fun, and we’re constantly striving to be different to that.
Away from the office, what is your idea of a perfect weekend?
Maximum activities, a sport of some kind, nice food, family. I need a variety of weather too, that’s why I love Vancouver. Hot days are great, but at the same time nothing beats a -8 day, heading up a chairlift and your face is freezing – I love that. Ideal weekend is activity based; I’m going to be golfing, playing tennis, skiing, soccer, or on my bike, spending time with my wife and my friends. We live in the most beautiful place in the world, I know that.
What do you love most about Vancouver?
You have everything you could possibly need here, with immediate access to adventure. In Vancouver, you can get in a car or on a bus and in thirty minutes you have access to the great outdoors. But you still have the comforts of the city, the entertainment, the restaurants, the arts. My family, whole life, everything is in Vancouver.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
Probably tennis. At the end of a stressful day, it’s important to unwind. For me it’s tennis – for some it’s the gym, running or meditation – anything where you must be present in that moment and your only concern is hitting that ball, or doing that activity, is vital.
In one sentence, how do you hope your team describes working at ALA?
I hope they think they are working in a fair and respectful place where they are valued and appreciated. We strive to be fun and fair and allow people to develop as a professional. We strive to provide our team members the opportunity to interact with clients and other experiences and tools they need to grow. Everyone has made the choice to work here and I am very aware and appreciative of that fact.