Here’s an eye-opening stat for you. In the early days of growing his UK-based branch, ex-chartered accountant Brendon Silver made 80 sales calls a day from his tiny London office. Eighty. A day. That’s a seriously hot ear. But it worked. The newly-appointed and South African-born CEO of tax recovery firm VAT IT now oversees 39 offices across the globe.
And, here’s an even more outrageous stat: since 2007 his firm has recovered more than five billion Euros for 10,000 clients across 107 countries. That’s five billion Euros that would otherwise have disappeared from clients’ bottom lines.
Brendon is a great example of how accountancy training can provide a springboard to entrepreneurial success. He qualified in 2004 with PKF – later acquired by BDO – and began practicing. But he was quickly drawn to the idea of leadership and running a business. “I never loved just sitting at a desk and working through projects. I’m pleased I qualified though. It makes you resilient. A lot of the skills you learn as an accountant – particularly process-driven skills – are invaluable when running a business.”
As the name suggests, Brendon’s company focuses on one thing: Value-Added Tax. “At VAT IT we make sure that our clients – who are located all over the world – comply with local and foreign VAT laws. Then we maximise their VAT recovery yields,” explains Brendon. “VAT is fascinating in terms of what’s left on the table for businesses; there are so many mechanisms available that just aren’t utilised.” By zooming in on a single tax area, and by harnessing the transferable skills he picked up during his accountancy training, Brendon has been able to hone his firm’s service, sharpening it to a razor’s edge.
The key to his company’s success, aside from its focused service, is a balance of two things: technology and traditional customer service. “We’ve invested heavily in technology to automate our services,” explains Brendon. “But we’re still people focused. The technology is not an end in itself – it simply frees us up to look after our clients better and drive the business forward. We have bums on seats in all 39 offices and feel we’ve got the right mix of people and tech. A lot of our competitors are strong on one side or the other; but not both.”
VAT IT uses machine learning to process hundreds of thousands of invoices in seconds. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software scans recognised digital invoices and processes key data fields. Over time, the system learns to recognise more invoices and so becomes more automated. “The tech is in constant development,” says Brendon. “It allows us to build scale – and add on client after client without having to worry about resource.”
Where technology doesn’t help – yet – is dealing with the various tax authorities and their constant interrogation of claims. Every claim must comply with local laws, and with clients in 107 countries, that’s a lot of local rules to understand. “We have a legal-compliance team of 25 tax specialist lawyers,” says Brendon. “They are responsible for solving complex technical and legislative issues with the tax offices around the world.”
VAT IT has come a long way since Brendon – fired up after leaving his accountancy job to start a UK branch – sat in his tiny London office 11 years ago, making sales call after sales call. Thirty-nine offices and thousands of clients later, the firm is still growing fast. Accountancy training armed the company’s appointed CEO with many of the weapons he’s needed to succeed, but entrepreneurial drive has been critical, too – how else do you manage 80 sales calls a day? His story shows just how formidable an ambitious accountant with real business acumen can be.
After more than a decade of leadership roles, what advice would Brendon give others looking to build a business? He concludes: “Set the bar extremely high because you will have stars on your team who will exceed expectations. Early on, I made the mistake of setting reasonable expectations and found the talented members of the team hit them easily and without much effort. If you set the bar much higher, people will strive to achieve much more. Let people surprise you. Don’t ever underestimate what they can do.”
To read more about Brendon and VAT IT please visit www.vatit.com