As founder and CEO of Gold Coast-based Bean Ninjas, Meryl Johnston is leading a successful bookkeeping business with a footprint spanning multiple countries. Not a bad return considering Johnston started Bean Ninjas with a business partner with only $500 in the kitty.
"I've always wanted to run businesses," says Johnston, who started a tennis coaching clinic at 20. "It's always been something that I've wanted to do. Not just from a career point of view, but as a hobby as well."
"I love thinking about business and growing a business. And then the other aspect is building a team that I really enjoy working with."
In the earliest days of Bean Ninjas, Johnston was a jack-of-all-trades. The confident young CA managed the financial reporting, sales, marketing, HR, and risk management. Now, with Bean Ninjas established, Johnston describes her contributions as a "mix of looking into the future and thinking about where we need to be, and how we position the business to get there." Along the way she also completes some internal accounting and is developing her team through mentoring.
She explains, "I enjoy mentoring others and having a vision that we communicate to the team and have them involved. And then working with that team to achieve something great. So, I love that side of it as well as the essence of the business."
"As Chartered Accountants it's really important we act with integrity and ethics, so we uphold the value of our brand."
Mixing business with surfing
Away from Bean Ninjas, Johnston loves surfing. "I moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast so that I could live closer to the beach and warm weather," Johnston recalls. "I also like yoga and practise a couple of times a week. And love travelling and the outdoors."
Johnston has included her passion for surfing in her daily working routine. “A typical day for me is quite varied. I do have some structure to the day, but the type of work I'm doing will be different depending on the day of the week. For example, on Tuesday through to Thursday, Johnston has a full diary of meetings and team calls. She adds, “And Mondays and Fridays are less about having structured meetings and more about me being able to work on the business.”
As a Charted Accountant, Johnston says her decision to establish a bookkeeping business is a regularly questioned. Her well-honed response is, “For me, it is partly about lifestyle. I wanted to create a business where I didn't have set office hours or a set office location. And I could be surfing or traveling as well as building a business.”
Two career achievements that make Johnston proud include building Bean Ninjas from scratch with $500 and attracting an independent investor. She elaborates, “I was really proud we built Bean Ninjas and our brand to the point that an investor, who's not involved in the accounting industry, was excited to invest.”
Johnston is adamant that the success of Bean Ninjas reflects her career choices. “One of those choices was to become a Chartered Accountant.” For example, when the young accountant hit the Gold Coast job market, her CA designation impressed her first employer, who preferred Johnston to more qualified and experienced candidates.
As a business owner, Johnston advises that budding entrepreneurs require a range of skills “and accounting is only one of those”. “But there have been a number of transactions within my business recently where I was really glad to be a Chartered Accountant, and the training that I've had,” she adds. “Those different transactions were me buying a business partner out of the business, bringing an investor into the business, and then also bringing on a business partner."
One of the more valued aspects of being a CA is the association with a strong brand. “When you meet someone, they already have a perception that you're trustworthy and they can share things like their financial information with you and that you're going to act in their best interest, not in your own best interest. And so, I think as chartered accountants it's really important we act with integrity and ethics, so we uphold the value of our brand.”
On the issue of ethics, Johnston believes CAs have a vital role to play in society. She elaborates, “The training we have is not only about accounting but about ethics and independence, doing the right thing, which is risk management.”
Finally, Johnston, who worked for a time as a senior auditor at BDO, has some sage words for young accountants. “My advice would be to optimise for learning and not money in the early years. So, think about what you want to learn and who you want to work with and get that experience. Then down the track, the money will come.”