Music accounting firm celebrates 20 years of hits
by Josh Needs for Accountants Daily
One of Australia’s largest niche accounting firms, White Sky, is toasting two decades of success from unlikely beginnings with its founder admitting he “never studied accounting”.
Tom Harris, now managing director, said from naive beginnings the firm had gone on to cater to some of Australia’s biggest music stars, from Amy Shark to Peking Duk and Tame Impala.
“I never studied accounting,” he said. “When I was about 19, I was working in a warehouse and I was always pretty good with numbers so I asked if I could help out in the accounts department.
“They had a small accountancy team and I just asked if I could come in an hour early each day and work with them, that’s how I picked it up.”
Mr Harris picked up the fundamentals just as GST was being introduced, which added a level of complexity to bookkeeping and gave him the confidence to start offering services to local bands.
“If I knew how little I actually knew I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to do it,” he said. “But because I was naive enough to think I know how to fill out a BAS form, I know how to reconcile accounts in MYOB, I know how to do this stuff and do the gist of it, I’ll be fine.”
Mr Harris said he never envisioned White Sky becoming successful enough to celebrate 20 years in business – he simply wanted to be a part of the music industry and keep improving.
“I didn’t have any grand vision for anything like White Sky has become, at the time my motivation was purely that I wanted to hang out with people that wanted to talk about music all day like I did,” he said.
“I didn’t really think about where it was going to be in 20 years or even if it would still exist in 20 years, I just wanted each year to improve on the last and then opportunities kept popping up and challenges kept popping up, I just kept on learning more and more and bringing in more people with more expertise and knowledge than I had, and here we are.”
As White Sky grew so did his team, with experts to expand the firm’s services that now encompass bookkeeping, tax services and royalty accounting.
“Learning how to do the work is one thing, learning how to delegate it to other people and train people and keep them motivated and happy and doing good work is a whole other skillset, so that was something I wasn’t thinking about until I got too busy and needed to hire someone to help me out,” said Mr Harris.
“It is all about the people you surround yourself with, 100 per cent, not just on whether it is successful but whether it is enjoyable and I consider the people who have been working with me for the past 10 plus years some of my closest friends and we are on the journey together.”
He said developing a business in a niche market meant doing things differently but having a passion for music made things easier.
“The music industry is not just a brand niche, what we do is quite different to what other firms do. We do a lot more hands-on day-to-day accounting with our clients and there are different tax laws that apply to artists and musicians and royalty income, revenue, and so forth,” he said.
“If you’re thinking about a niche then having a passion for whatever industry – if you focus on wineries, motorsport, whatever – it is being passionate about that thing that really helped me.
“[What] helped White Sky grow in those early years is that I was just a genuine music lover and I just loved being part of the music industry.”
While White Sky has reached success working with a huge range of local artists, from Vance Joy to Tim Minchin and Gotye, Mr Harris said formal training would have made his journey easier.
“In my case although it makes for a good sort of entrepreneurial story just learning on the job and backing myself, I think if I was giving advice to my kids in a similar situation I would say do the formal training, get a degree, get a qualification, it would make things a lot easier,” said Mr Harris.
“I guess I did it the hard way and that’s all well and good and I’m proud of it and it’s a great achievement, but in hindsight maybe having gotten a qualification early on might have made it all a bit smoother and easier.”