Debra Anderson is an award-winning small business specialist, accountant, industry advisor, and one of Australia’s leading online accounting consultants for MYOB, Intuit & Xero.
Debra is the author of ‘Taking Care of Small Business’ and has several local and international awards for both small business advisory and accounting technology to her name. She is an active industry contributor and is a board member of the Tax Practitioners Board as well as sitting on numerous technology and industry advisory boards including the ATO’s Tax Practitioners Stewardship Group, STP for Micro-businesses and the ATO’s Digital Implementation Group.
What boards do you currently sit on?
The Tax Practitioners Board – appointed by the Federal Minister for Revenue and Financial Services.
The Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) is a national body responsible for the registration and regulation of tax agents, BAS agents and tax (financial) advisers. The TPB is also responsible for ensuring compliance with the Tax Agent Services Act 2009, including the Code of Professional Conduct.
When and why did you decide to become a director?
I’ve been involved with government consultation for about 8 years where I’ve been fortunate to work with senior government executives at a strategic level. Being able to influence systems and processes for the greater good of the Australian community inspired me to do more, give more, be more. The more involved I got, the more opportunities I saw, and I now have this insatiable will to do great things and to leave a legacy. The challenge for me was that although I had been doing all of this great consultation work it was on a voluntary basis and as much as I love it, I couldn’t see how I could monetise it so I could afford to do it long term.
About 2 years ago I had an epiphany. I was at a conference and was listening to a speaker talking about Governance and I got excited. The combination of my experience in compliance, business and government consultation along with my passion for making a difference and ability to see the big picture as well as appreciate the detail all added together spelt BOARD MEMBER to me. I realised at that moment that I had to get onto a board I was passionate about and the TPB was at the top of my list.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
Spend the next 3-6 months really understanding the Tax Practitioners Board and how I can best add value. Being a statutory board role, it is a little different to a normal company board role so learning the idiosyncrasies and getting up to speed is my top priority. The Government has also recently announced a review of the TPB so it’s a great opportunity for me to work with the board, the reviewer and the staff in ensuring we get the best outcome for the future of the tax profession and the community.
My 5-year goal is to be on at least 3 boards for companies/organisations or government that are innovative, driven, engaging and ethical. Integrity is very important to me which is probably why governance is of interest me.
Outline your career background.
The early years I spent in corporate for companies like Berri Fruit Juice, Cantarella Bros, Honeywell and Estee Lauder.
In 2006 I started my own consulting/accounting business Anderson Tax & Consulting specialising in helping Small Businesses and their owners with compliance, business advisory and systems.
A few years later I began volunteering some of my time to do consultative groups with the Australian Taxation Office. These vary from strategic stewardships groups down to practical workshops designing systems and processes for small businesses and tax practitioners.
This is where I realised so much of my passion as I get to work alongside some incredible people on projects I never even dreamed of – it’s all voluntary and I absolutely love it. It was doing this that my interest for the bigger picture evolved and my desire to be on the board of the TPB began.
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
The first couple of board roles I applied for I was unsuccessful. I followed up and asked for feedback on why I wasn’t successful and asked questions about what I needed to do in order to be considered for the next round of appointments. One piece of feedback I got was I lacked board experience which is always an interesting one because if you can’t get a role you can’t get the experience. What I didn’t realise at the time was my experience on numerous advisory boards and all my work on government consultative forums were all in fact very relevant experience, but I just never thought to mention them because they didn’t have the title ‘Non-Executive Board’ member.
When I initially applied for the Tax Practitioners Board a couple of years ago, I listed all the government consultation to showcase my vast industry experience not realising it was also quite relevant for board experience. Unfortunately, my application was unsuccessful, but I sought feedback and did some governance training and when the next round of appointments came around, I was fortunate to be appointed. I’m sure being proactive and contacting Treasury for feedback after being told I was unsuccessful contributed my success this time around.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
Tim Reed, CEO of MYOB – Tim is a truly inspirational person, leader and businessman. I admire his integrity, his humbleness and his ability to lead.
Kate Carnell, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman – she is a dynamo. She is so passionate about what she does, is savvy and an incredibly smart lady and I’m very jealous of her job getting to advocate and help small business every day.
Janine Allis, Founder of Boost Juice and Retail Zoo – she’s so real. She doesn’t pretend you/she can have it all…she’s honest that you can’t and once I heard that I stopped trying to and now just do my best. I’m very grateful for her openness and honestly about her journey because I was struggling wondering what I was doing wrong – turns out I was just being unrealistic.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
I haven’t had a mentor as such, but over the past 10 years I’ve been fortunate to meet with Tim Reed, CEO of MYOB, many times and he has given me some incredibly insightful advice and perspective. Some of his advice has been career changing for me.
I am also very fortunate that I get to work with so many incredible people through my work with the ATO who I look up to and have given me some excellent guidance over the years.
What is the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards? If you sit on a mix of diverse and non-diverse boards, what differences have you noticed?
The TPB has 5 women and 3 men from Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Port Macquarie. We all have very different backgrounds, experiences and skill sets which I believe is the key to getting the best possible result. A healthy debate with underlying respect is paramount.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
I’m only new to WOB but even this opportunity of being able to celebrate my success with you and build my profile assists my journey. Personal branding and profile are a crucial part of being selected for a board – and actually getting on the boards is the first step.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
Understand your why and your core values. Once you know these (and don’t worry that can take years) then you’ve found your path. For me, integrity has always been so important to me, so accounting, tax and governance were all a natural fit with my core values which support me to help others to do the right thing.
Any other comments or insights?
Expect rejection – it’s part of the journey but most of all it’s part of your success. After I didn’t get roles I contacted them each time and asked what I was missing, what should I focus on – is it experience, qualifications, knowledge, etc if I want to be successful next time around. Continuously work on improving yourself – personally, professionally and academically. No learning is ever wasted.
Back yourself – you’ve got this!