Andrea McCormick CA on why top businesses are providing pro-bono excellence
By solving complex commercial problems for corporate Australia, Andrea McCormick CA and the Adara Group quite literally make the world a better place.
As a lawyer, accountant and tax adviser, Andrea says, with a smile, that she has achieved the “trifecta of boring”. Yet her career is anything but!
In her current role as a Director of The Adara Group she helps to run a business that uses the very best talent in the corporate world to help solve commercial problems for businesses. But what makes the consultancy truly distinctive is what happens next.
All of the profits from Adara Partners, the corporate advisory arm of the Adara Group, are funnelled into the running of Adara Development, an international development organisation focused on improving health and education for women, children and communities living in poverty in Uganda and Nepal.
Adara Development has a particular focus on maternal, newborn and child health and remote community development, reaching more than 50,000 people in need a year.
All of this makes The Adara Group a business with a higher purpose, an elite player on a highly competitive field, differentiating itself by being properly unique.
“I don’t think our charitable purpose is the reason clients engage us,” Andrea said. “We go to market selling the fact that we can provide the very best people. Our clients expect results for their business. Any feel-good factor from us doing business together would come a very distant second.”
However, when it comes to attracting the finest talent, the very best brains in the industry, to come on board with Adara Partners and offer their time and talent pro bono, the company’s benevolent purpose suddenly takes on an entirely new meaning.
Right now, we have about 14 of Australia’s most experienced directors and ‘deal makers’; the glitterati of the financial services sector.
“All of the panel members who work with us to help solve all sorts of commercial business problems for clients – people such as David Gonski [once described by the Sydney Morning Herald as ‘one of the country’s best connected businessmen’], Matthew Grounds [UBS Australia CEO] and Philippa Stone [M&A lawyer, partner at Herbert Smith Freehills] – work for us on a pro bono basis, which is pretty amazing,” she said.
“Right now, we have about 14 of Australia’s most experienced directors and ‘deal makers’, the glitterati of the financial services sector, willing to work with us on client mandates.
"They work in pairs, often with somebody from a different home firm, and they provide solutions for our clients, who range from ASX-listed companies to smaller startup enterprises.”
How does a British accountant end up working in Sydney for a business that helps women and children in Africa and Nepal?
I’m originally from Yorkshire and I studied Law at the University of Leicester, did my Legal Practice Course at the College of Law in York, then earned a master’s degree in Human Rights Law at the University of Edinburgh.
I thought it would be a fabulous way to travel the world. As they say, the CA is like a passport.
I thought it was important to understand how the financial side of businesses worked, in order to give myself options in my future career, so I acquired my CA qualification with ICAS.
Not only was I interested in developing those skills, I also thought it would be a fabulous way to travel the world. As they say, a CA is like a passport, as it opens up so many opportunities.
Where did you work during your training?
I worked in tax at Price Waterhouse in Glasgow, then moved to the Edinburgh office for a short while. In 2000 I accepted a secondment to PwC in Sydney. I was a little bit naïve – I’d been told the tax system in Australia was exactly the same as the tax system in the UK. And it is not!
I spent the next two years getting up to speed. After four years I was lucky enough to get my permanent residency, and then I had to tell my parents that my secondment was probably for life!
Did you stay with PwC for long?
I stayed for nine years, until I’d been a director for a couple of years. I had a great career there, until I reached a decision point. I had my corporate life, but I also did a lot of pro bono work outside of my day job, and I loved that.
I knew that if I stayed and became a partner, it would become much more difficult for me to change career direction and try and bring those two worlds together. So, I decided at that point to leave.
I could use all my skills to help across the entire group. I have loved taking the path less travelled.
I read about this amazing woman, Audette Exel, who was a banker/lawyer and who had created an unusual structure where she used business, which she loved, as a vehicle to effect social change. I sent her my CV, then we met, and we clicked on day one.
That was nine years ago. I ended up working my way into an operations role, which was a great direction for me. I was Chief Operating Officer for seven years, which was marvellous because I could use all my skills to help across the entire group. I have loved taking the path less travelled.
Do you travel to the places in which Adara Development does its work?
Yes. We believe everybody who works at Adara should, at some point, go to project site and see the work, even if they’re not development specialists. We don’t believe in ‘voluntourism’.
We send our people so that they understand the work we’re doing and are able to see the effect their hard work is having.
We employ Ugandan people in Uganda and Nepali people in Nepal, and we don’t just run a project then leave – we stay with the communities we work with for the long-haul. So yes, I'm lucky to have the opportunity to visit.
Apart from your wonderful job, what made you decide to stay in Australia?
The quality of the lifestyle over here is amazing and it is driven by the weather. The sun shines a lot of the time. I’m always out and about in nature. I love the beach and the sea.
When you finish work you can go for a dip in the ocean as the evenings are lovely and balmy and every weekend feels like you are on holiday. And, of course, the people here are great, too.
What about work-wise? Is that different to the UK?
I think I’m immune to it now, but during my first couple of years with PwC in Sydney I couldn’t get over how friendly and relaxed everyone was. There was much less hierarchy. In Edinburgh the partners were elusive creatures you hardly ever saw, locked in their offices.
Before I got used to it, it was as if I’d walked into an Aussie soap opera!
It was the same in big law firms. But over here, while everyone works extremely hard and takes their work very seriously, they are relaxed and friendly. And then there’s the swearing… I remember that being very funny before I got used to it. It was as if I’d walked into an Aussie soap opera!
Did you ever dream that the “trifecta of boring” would see you changing the world?
It has all made me realise that everybody can use their skills to make a difference. Most people want to contribute in a positive way and, while it sounds a bit trite, we can all make the world a better place. Who would have thought a tax professional could contribute so much?
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.