Richard Ashby, Partner

Richard Ashby was born in 1971 and was adopted into a family in Waipu, a small country town in Northland, New Zealand. He enjoys the simple country life that he was raised in, saying that it’s like living in a different time zone. It’s an ethos he has lived by in all aspects of his life – keep it simple.

Living in the country he would be up at the crack of dawn and would disappear for the day. He would go running just for the sake of it, climb trees, go fishing – he was quite content with his own company. He recalls getting himself into several tricky scenarios (stuck up trees for one), but those experiences certainly educated him about risk taking and problem solving! Comparing this country lifestyle to his first memories of living in Auckland, which motors along at a much quicker pace… here, if you stay too long at an intersection waiting for the right gap in the traffic, you’ll get beeped at!

Richard is married to Lisa and has four children – one’s moved out, one’s in study and the other two are young and keeping him fit.

At the age of 20, and post his first four years of working full-time, Richard decided to transfer from the Whangarei branch of the Inland Revenue to Auckland’s Henderson branch, where he spent the next three years. He eventually tired of the internal politics. At the time they were going through multiple restructures, and he had to keep applying for the job he already had.

One of his work colleagues who sat opposite him, had a mate who operated as a sole practitioner with four staff, and he was looking for a new team member with Inland Revenue experience. Richard decided there was no harm in meeting him just to have a chat and was a little taken aback when he was offered the job on the spot. He ended up working for him for the next 18 months, when his passion for working on more ‘tax-heavy’ clients got the better of him, he decided he would have to move on to a larger firm – with potentially a larger and diverse range of clients – in order to satisfy his hunger. So, he approached a recruitment agency for the first time in his life, and Gilligan Sheppard was one of two firms he interviewed at.

Richard interviewed with Bruce Sheppard first – the recruitment firm had pre-warned him however, and sure enough, Bruce turned up in shorts, jandals and a t-shirt. His opening statement was

“Grab a chair, but don’t take it with you when you leave.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps not so much due to his taxation interest) Gilligan Sheppard had recently exited a couple of employees who had been quite disruptive to the rest of the team, so the partners Bruce and Greg Rathbun had promised the remainder, that they’d do a tax test on the next one they employed. Bruce had a little chit chat initially, asked Richard a few taxing questions (to this day Richard cannot remember if he gave the right answers) and then passed him over to Greg, which Richard recalls was like a chalk and cheese experience (he was wearing business attire for one). However, Richard must have said the right things, as again he was offered the job at the conclusion of the interview.

Most of the anecdotes Richard recalls from his time with Gilligan Sheppard are from the conferences that the team enjoy on a biennial basis. He wouldn’t divulge much, claiming that “what happens at conference, stays at conference.” But admits that there were always practical jokes going on (especially by Anne Becroft) and that Greg seemed to always be the instigator, but never responsible for the mayhem that he created.

“One time, when we were staying near the Waitomo Caves, Greg got a hold of Anne’s room key and passed it along to Bruce. I snuck in with Bruce and Jayesh, and we started doing little things, like short-sheeting the bed, then Bruce decided to fill up the bathtub and commenced chucking Anne’s things into the bath – that’s when I bailed. But it was the beginning of a prank war that lasted the whole conference.”

“At the conference at Okatina, Judy (who was like Greg’s PA at the time) managed to get Greg’s room key to Bruce, a number of us then congregated into one of the rooms to discuss, and it was decided that Bruce would sneak into Greg’s room with a bucket of water and throw it over him while he was sleeping. I was in the room next door to Greg and didn’t get much sleep waiting in anticipation. At 5.30am Bruce entered the room, but rather than sticking to the plan and just throwing the water and exiting the room as quickly as possible, Bruce decided he needed to see the reaction, no fun for Bruce unless he witnessed the effect. He throws the water over Greg and…”

“Greg jumped up and started pummelling him! Bruce cried out ‘stop stop, it’s me!’ He had a few bruises on our return to Auckland.”

On reflection, Richards thinks Bruce is just like a kid who has never grown up. He enjoys the attention, and his love language is practical jokes. In Summer, Bruce will get the water pistols out. He doesn’t care about getting work papers wet, claiming that there are bigger things to worry about in life than that. Richard also admits that sometimes Bruce does get carried away, often taking things to the nth level.

Richard loves the freedom at Gilligan Sheppard, and its culture that has been heavily influenced by Bruce – we work around our lives and as long as our clients remain happy, then we don’t really care how you organise your day. With this platform, Richard has always been able to go away with the kids on their kindy/school trips, and time off has never been an issue. The firm has a family feel where you’re always supported. When people go through tough stuff, while Bruce may be the practical joker who sometimes gets out of control, he certainly has your back in those difficult times, and only wants the best outcome for you. That attitude has filtered down to those that have been here longest,

“I care about the team, there’s a lot more things in life that are certainly more important than work.”

A thought once crossed Richard’s mind about what it would be like going back to the Inland Revenue, because he now knows all the tricks of the trade, and therefore he could be quite the asshole (but also admits that no one would like him then). But no matter how tough things might’ve been over the years, he’s never once considered leaving and going anywhere else. The people who stay at Gilligan Sheppard are the ones who strongly align with the values.

Richard likes to think that he’s a bit more rational and logical than Bruce, so it complements the team. He believes he is more emotionally regulated and based on that, he is the person in charge of HR. Richard is approachable and a good listener, he will always make time for the team.

On the technical side, Richard has created and developed the tax specialisation unit. Not only is it an outsource for other accounting firms to use, but he also uses his knowledge and learning to update and upskill the team at Gilligan Sheppard.

“It’s important to me and something I really enjoy – helping to grow others. We don’t punish mistakes here, we encourage people to fix it, learn from it and then get on with it. It’s something I try to instil in my kids too – learn to be confident in yourself, be real.”

Because of Richard’s love for tax and his competitive streak, he creates teams at our conferences to compete in a case study. He comes up with a pretend client who goes through various changes in life to do with divorce, business and property ownership and investment. The team must analyse the information provided and come up with what their recommendations are. He’s sees it as him against the team – who can find the loopholes and considerations, the real twisty scenarios that only the cream of the crop might get. Equally, when the team hear the answers, they too are engaged and think it’s pretty cool.

Richard believes it also adds to client relationships – he finds that if the team have confidence in what they are doing, they are more responsive to what clients are dealing with. And with more confidence they also enjoy the work.

“We have so much diversity at Gilligan Sheppard, we have our own marketing, a great ability to cross sell and really service our clients. So much opportunity still left to explore.”

Even though Richard doesn’t like public speaking, he gets invited to do a lot of it. He has done the CPA annual tax update several times, is on the AGN tax committee (a global network) and has been on various panels as a tax expert, including for IR Global (another global network).

Richard is a problem solver – start talking about an issue you’re having, and his brain immediately starts working on how he can help – which is a great attribute when it comes to tax, but he admits it’s not such a gift when spending time with his wife Lisa… that’s when he just needs to listen.

Author: Lisa Garrud interviewed Richard Ashby.