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Mentoring support and the opportunity to delegate

Jon Lisby will be known to many from his former role as CEO of Kreston International. Here, he explains the background to his new venture, Global Alliance Advisory Services (GAAS), and how he aims to offer support to alliance CEOs.

IFAC has a specific definition of what constitutes a ‘network’. The market terms any grouping of firms that is not a network by the IFAC definition as an ‘association’.

Using the term ‘alliance’, GAAS will work with both networks and associations.

In October 2017, I was diagnosed with leukaemia. I am happy to say that I was offered a stem cell transplant which gives the possibility of a cure. The preparation for the treatment was long and tough at times but all the signs look good now, and my recovery is going well as I wait for my immune systems to recover sufficiently for me to attend business meetings or to travel.

Although I continued to work fully using email, telephone and Skype, even during six months in hospital isolation, the restrictions imposed made it impossible to continue in my role as CEO of Kreston International. In August 2018, we recruited my successor, Liza Robbins, formerly of Morrison KSi, and I remained with Kreston until the end of May so I could introduce Liza fully to Kreston International’s systems and global network.

When I joined Kreston International in January 2006, it was unbranded, operating in 70 countries and generated aggregate fee revenues approaching $1bn. By the time I stepped down as CEO last year, Kreston had made the switch to a network, branding had been adopted by many of the approximately 200 member firms, and the firm was operating across 120 countries with global revenues in excess of $2.4bn.

Extremely Rare Breed

My aim now is to develop GAAS to offer support to the leadership of international networks and associations. I am already in discussions with other experienced CEOs who have stood down recently or are close to the end of their terms, and they have indicated an interest in joining GAAS when they are available to do so in order to broaden the resource and experience we have available.

Think about this: CEOs of international alliances are an extremely rare breed! If you look at the marketplace – there are currently only around 25 such organisations of significant size, with fee revenues in excess of $600m. If you then exclude the Big 4 plus, say the next three, that leaves just 18 individuals leading the entire global mid-tier.

These mid-tier alliances may be present in 100-plus countries with tens of thousands of professional and support staff in all the major markets. However, more often than not, there is just a small team of perhaps five or six in the London international office. These teams can certainly cover the ongoing alliance management – the multiple aspects of marketing, of multi-currency finance, arranging numerous conferences and special interest group meetings, and for accounting networks, running a globally co-ordinated quality monitoring and inspection programme. 

Challenging Role

The leader, the CEO, is ultimately responsible for all those head office functions and, on top of that, he or she needs to be out there, living much of their life in airports and hotels, travelling the world to handle the rest – the list of jobs is almost endless.

Running a global operation is a really, really challenging role! Unless someone has been there, it is difficult to describe the pressures involved. I was fortunate in having had a long grounding in the profession before becoming an alliance CEO, having a deeply ingrained knowledge and experience of the industry and how professional practices operate.

Many CEOs, however, enter the role from different backgrounds, perhaps general management, military service or sales. Coming from outside the profession can certainly bring the alliance the benefit of their broader experience and fresh approach, but it may be some time before they develop a real understanding of the business.

When a CEO needs support, there are few options currently available. I believe, therefore, that many leaders of alliances will welcome the availability of mentoring support and the opportunity to delegate some of the aspects of these tasks to someone they know will really understand the issue, someone that has been there before. 

GAAS offers support to the leadership of international networks and associations in both the accounting and law sectors. 

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