Q&A with James: The other half of the BellchambersBarrett story

Q&A with James: The other half of the BellchambersBarrett story

BellchambersBarrett started as an idea between two people with a big vision and clear values. Today, eight years on, the firm is a team of 60 – and more values-driven than ever.

We speak with co-founder James Barrett, who shares the ins and outs of building this professional services firm from scratch.

Hi James. To start off, can you tell us what you were doing before BellchambersBarrett?

I started my career in the public sector before joining EY in 1991. Six years later, I moved to WalterTurnbull, which merged with PwC in 2010, where I was appointed Director.

After being in that role for four years, I felt it was the right time for a change.

And how did that lead you to BellchambersBarrett?

BellchambersBarrett started as a conversation between Shane and myself, with the idea of establishing a new professional services firm – with our own vision and our own team.

Soon, that conversation became a business plan, which continued to evolve.

Both Shane and I saw the gap in the Canberra professional services market. And we knew it was the ideal time to capitalise on our Big Four experience to build a safe and friendly environment, surrounded by positive people who shared our vision – and our values.

My wife and family were supportive, and we were all confident that the new venture would be successful. So, we went for it.

It couldn’t have been easy starting a business from scratch. What challenges did you face – and how did you overcome them?

In the early days, establishing brand recognition and market presence was tough.

But we had a great founding team, which included Kathleen, Rus, Sart and Jamie. Everyone worked hard and kept a positive outlook, and soon we gained momentum with early wins in the public and private sectors.

Not having access to Federal or ACT Government procurement panel memberships was another roadblock in the beginning.

It was also challenging trying to establish an environment and framework that aligned with our goals and vision. We had to think about so many important elements, such as the new practice management system, training and procedures. And of course, an active social club.
But we got there in the end.

Overall, it was a real team effort – thanks to Shane, Sart, Kathleen, Rus and Jamie.

We learned to trust the process. To celebrate every success, and acknowledge everyone’s contribution, always.

Has anything surprised you along the way?

Yes. I’ve discovered how important it is to maintain the nucleus of great people who are willing to work with you towards a vision – and to establish a positive, respectful culture.

It’s incredible what you can achieve when you bring the right people together in a supportive, professional environment. Ultimately, this culminates in a more vibrant workplace, which yields high-quality outcomes for both our staff and clients.

I’ve also learnt how important it is to recognise and embrace individuals’ unique motivations and drivers – we celebrate diversity.

And of course, the importance of a supportive family. Of genuinely caring for your colleagues and staff while helping everyone succeed at work and in their personal pursuits.

Do you have a special memory about the BellchambersBarrett journey to share?

Opening night in June 2014 was special. We held it at our first office in Torrens St, Braddon, with our families and friends.

I’m also proud to have witnessed the personal achievements and milestones of so many staff members over the last nine years – from starting their own families to working towards promotions and new qualifications.

We promoted seven people last July, following years of hard work and dedication.

What is your favourite thing about your work now?

The people I work with.

BellchambersBarrett is an energetic and positive workplace – all our staff are positive, spirited and motivated.

Every day, I see our staff only too willing to support each other. Everyone’s striving to make our firm the best place to work in Canberra.

From the boardroom, with our cohesive partner group through to the whole team, including junior staff members – everyone genuinely cares for one another.

I also appreciate the variety of assignments and the chance to work on diverse and interesting clients as a team.

How do you build and maintain such a positive team culture?

Since day one, we’ve made it a point to ensure there is positive and respectful interaction between staff at every level.

If there’s any potential for poor behaviour or practices, we promptly stamp it out.

We’re very mindful about building a culture of honesty, trust and willingness to help each other across the firm, and every staff member is doing their part.

Also, it’s not all work and no play here.

We have an active social club too. The events are an ideal chance for staff to enjoy each other’s company and a further opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better.

The firm has also been doing a good job at encouraging work-life balance. Why is that important to you?

Because we care for each other. The welfare of our staff and their families is our priority.

When we take care of our people, it contributes to staff loyalty and a more enjoyable workplace. And when our staff are well and happy, that in turn positively impacts the quality of our services.

What are BellchambersBarrett’s top three values?  

Honesty, care, trust and respect for one another. (Sorry, I noted more than three there.)

Also, recognising the importance of family and ensuring quality in everything we produce.

BellchambersBarrett is also big on community. Why is that so?

Whether you donate financially or volunteer your time, giving back to the community is highly rewarding.

Volunteering also provides an excellent opportunity to expand your existing knowledge base and network, while contributing to organisations and people in need.

I believe it’s important to go beyond your comfort zone and make a difference to others. This provides a better appreciation of what we have and a further reminder that we’re in a fortunate position to help others and contribute to better outcomes.

What next for BellchambersBarrett?

We’re anticipating significant growth over the next few months, as we continue to develop our team and attract more people who want to be a part of our positive culture.

Later this year, we’ll also be making key announcements that will take our firm to another level.

It’s going to be an exciting new chapter for everyone at the firm.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I will still be involved with the firm in some capacity and available to assist with mentoring our staff and future leaders.

Ideally, I will also be busy with volunteer work, travel, golf and fishing.

Any words of advice for young professionals entering the workforce?

Take on the more difficult assignments early in your career – they present the best learning experiences and will ultimately fast-track the building of your knowledge, skills and resilience.

Also, never give up. There will be bad breaks. But always persevere.

Want to know more about the story of BellchambersBarrett? You can read Shane Bellchambers’ Q&A here.