Episode 79 – Warwick Jackson

Warwick finds the big sticks for better connections


Warwick Jackson is currently a member of the Killarney Vale Bombers, an Australian Football Club. Prior to this team, he helped the Pennant Hills Demons win multiple Grand Finals championships. He got started in Australian Rules Football when he was a kid but stopped playing for some time to focus on university and his career. Then a coworker at his first accounting firm invited him to come play for his club team — and the rest is history.

In this episode, Warwick and I talk about how playing Aussie football has helped his business career. By playing sports for so many years, he’s learned to be open to coaching, be resilient to fight through tough times, and to have fun — celebrating “wins” is important. Now that he’s a partner, he likes to lead by example. He says, “Work is only a part of our lives. I want to make sure it adds to my team’s lives, not subtracts from it.”

Warwick Jackson is a Partner at The Fox Group Chartered Accountants near Sydney, Australia.

He received his Bachelor of Arts, Sports Management degree from the University of Western Sydney and later earned his Business Commerce, Accounting degree from Macquarie University.

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    Today, it’s all about this week’s guest, Warwick Jackson. He’s a partner with The Fox Group Chartered Accountants located a little bit north of Sydney, Australia. He’s been an avid listener to the podcast and I’m so excited to have him on as a guest. So Warwick, before we get into your passion, which is totally awesome, by the way, you know I love to ask everyone just how did you get into accounting to begin with.

    Warwick: Well, looking at my background, at leaving school, I think I would’ve been a million to one to become an accountant because I wanted to be in sports management, sports science. I envisaged myself being the coach of the Sydney Swans AFL team or something like that. I did my sports science degree and found myself in a career running an indoor cricket center down here in Australia as a sporting job, but one thing I noticed — and I was just an employee down there — but I really had little to no idea on what all the numbers meant and what anything meant. I really didn’t know much about how to run a better business. I knew a lot about sport, but that’s led to I guess a skill deficiency there and I thought, well, hang on now. If I want to do what I want to do, I need to get a bit smarter around the numbers, so back to uni I went and did the accounting thing.

    John: Okay. That’s fantastic, man. And then after uni, did you try to get back into the sports again or were you —

    Warwick: Well, I figured the sporting particularly down here in Australia is a very small market, really small. And despite my passion for sport, I hadn’t played at any elite level and all those sorts of nice things that can get you in. I really, really liked the idea that in Accounting, there seem to be plenty of roles in public practice and a lot of opportunity to really go and — I guess the sky is the limit there. It’s easy to get into the market and then I went back myself to do what I wanted to do.

    John: Yeah. I think that’s excellent, which leads right into your hobby and passion because even though you weren’t necessarily working for the sporting world anymore, you still had a foot in it by playing.

    Warwick: Well, yeah, I played Aussie Rules as a kid growing up. On New South Wales, Aussie Rules isn’t the biggest sport in this part of the country. Rugby League is, but I was guided into that. I sort of, like many kids, dropped out of that at the age of about 16 to focus on my McDonald’s career and my starting career.

    John: Right, and girls and cars and everything else, right?

    Warwick: Unfortunately, there were not many girls or any cars.

    John: It’s a rumor that people have.

    Warwick: I’ve finally found a wife in the end, so it all worked out. I thought that stage of my life was over and I got into the — so I started working in an accounting firm. And just as you do talking with friends that you make at the firm, it just so happened that one of the guys there, he played Aussie Rules for my old team. By this stage, we’re talking a decade after I’ve played, so I thought my career was long gone at the age of 26. He was saying, “Yeah, we’re struggling for numbers. Any way you can get in the game?”

    I just said, “Well, why not?” I’ve always regretted giving up because — I don’t know if you can see from the photos that I’ve sent. Look, I’m a big guy. I’m almost 6’5″, but as a kid, I was the smallest in the team and I’ve given up before I had my growth spurt.

    I’ve always loved football, always had that nagging thing at the back of my mind about gee, it would’ve been great to play. I thought, well, I’m going to give it a go. It was a lot of risk because the team needed players, so I knew that even if I was going to make a fool of myself, I was going to get back out there. But as it turned out, it was far more successful not just on the results, but I’ve been given so much more than I’ve ever played from football being a part of the club. Without going all over them, it changed my life. It’s such an important part of my life now and I love it.

    John: Right. What an awesome story. And so, what’s the difference between Aussie Rules football and rugby? What is the difference there? Are they similar a little bit or not at all?

    Warwick: Not at all. You do play with an oval-shaped ball similar to an NFL-shaped ball, but slightly bigger. Rugby, you have players on the field in Rugby League and there’s offside. You’re only led certain places depending on where the ball is. AFL is a complete scramble. There’s no offside. Anyone can go anywhere at any time, so the ball can be up in the air and you don’t know what’s in — well, you know what’s in front of you, but you have no idea what’s behind you. Anyone can come from any direction. The ball is basically always in play. It’s constantly moving, so you —

    John: It sounds crazier, to be honest.

    Warwick: Look, I’ve played for a long time now, but there are still rules I’m learning. It’s very hard for a spectator, someone such as yourself who might not have watched much of the game, to fully understand it, but it is just constantly on the move. It almost seems like there are no rules. You just got to go and get the ball and take it down forward.

    John: And just really little pads and you’re just laying people out and —

    Warwick: We’ve got no pads. We don’t play with pads.

    John: So no pads, not even little pads, nope.

    Warwick: The position I play is called the ruck. We’ll run from about three meters apart into each other, so I’ll wear soccer shin pads. There’s been a few broken legs I’ve seen from just running into other blocks. But that’s the exception rather than the rule, but yeah.

    John: That’s so cool, man. I haven’t seen an Australian Rules football game in person. I did go see a rugby match when I was in Cape Town, South Africa, and that was — the busiest guy in the field was the medic. That guy was all over the place. I was like, that guy doesn’t get paid enough. He was just dragging bodies out left and right. It was wild.

    Warwick: Well, it can be pretty full-on. I’m not playing at the highest level by any means.

    John: God bless you, man.

    Warwick: There’ve been some injuries, but nothing too severe for me personally. I’ve obviously played with some people that have had some bad luck in the field, but I guess the biggest thing is just the fact that it’s 360-degree. You don’t know what’s coming behind you, so that’s where you can really get cleaned up, but a lot of fun.

    John: Definitely. So what would you say is one of your more rewarding or coolest moments that you’ve experienced from playing Australian Rules football?

    Warwick: I guess it’s just about the relationships you build along the way. I think back to that year that I’ve mentioned where I got dragged down, my mate who’d been playing at work had finished their 2002, so we’ve gone back a bit with no one on his team or a struggling team, so I started in ’03.

    We managed to be somewhat competitive in the fairytale. We came out and the team that had beaten us by 50 to 60 points all year, we’ve beaten them in the match-up and in the Grand Finals.

    John: There you go.

    Warwick: Which is all great, but the most rewarding thing out of that is I know that at a minimum, every five years — so what are we now, 2017, so in 2018, I know that I can look forward to a reunion with at least 20 of the team and we’ll get together and talk about how great we were and just enjoy each other’s company. I’ve built relationships along the way and some people you lose a little bit of touch with but it’s great to see them, and other mates I still speak with, if not daily, all the time and I’m very close with them.

    John: That’s so cool.

    Warwick: I still got relationships with them a year later. We’ve managed to make the Grand Final but lost. I guess that’s one of the things, is the great relationships along the way, and to celebrate your wins is just really special.

    John: Yeah, that’s so special and such a neat thing that goes on forever.

    Warwick: Exactly. Hopefully we’ll get to the stage where it’ll be almost like last man standing and we’ll be two 95-year-old guys or something left in the team talking about it.

    John: Yeah. That’s so great. It sounds like there are definitely some parallels from playing that sport and doing business, I would say, one clearly keeping your head on a swivel. You have no idea where stuff is going to come from. Would you say that there are other things by playing Australian Rules football that helped you at your job?

    Warwick: Oh, without a doubt. Look, there are a million of them, but I guess I feel the main ones are, one, fun. To me, that’s critical. I’ve played in successful teams and I’ve played in some not as successful teams. When everything is going well, typically the people are enjoying themselves, you’re having fun. Also, when things aren’t going well, but if you are having fun, this makes it a bit easy to go through those tough times. So to me, just celebrating the small wins is really important from a business perspective.

    If I think about culture, it’s a massive thing like the standards at a football club, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a part of it. I’ve been a part of two different football clubs because I had to change clubs mid-career. I’ve been a part of two great clubs, so I was very fortunate there. Both clubs have had success at the time. We’ve had success. It’s just been about the culture, so the standards, what’s acceptable, the communication, turning up, being ready, not taking shortcuts. It’s just little things that play a big thing like when you’re training, if you’re running a lap at the oval and someone cuts the corner path, they might only cut two meters off the run, but mentally, what does that do to you? If you’re taking shortcuts, that doesn’t mean anything fitness-wise.

    A culture in the clubs I’ve been a part of is the whole group runs back and does it again because we don’t take shortcuts, right? So it’s that culture in the standards of what’s important and what you’re prepared to accept and what you’re prepared to walk past or not rectify as a standard you accept, so really high standards and cultures, that discipline to do the right thing when people aren’t watching. To do the unselfish thing, it’s really important.

    I think about some of the footballing experiences and try to relate that to work like honest feedback, not just yeah, yeah, rah-rah, you’re doing a great job, but having someone pull you aside and say, “Look, here’s where you can improve” or “Here’s why you’re being dropped from the team” or anything like that, which leads into resilience as well. Football and sport can be cruel as can business sometimes. You get kicked in the gut. If you can learn from it, bounce back. The thing I really love about football, which I try to take into business, is you don’t win every game, but the one thing that’s different is the full-time whistle goes and you know next week you’ll go again, whereas in business, there’s no real full-time whistle.

    There may be at the end of an accounting period or a reporting period, but there’s no full-time on business. Sometimes you’ve got to create an artificial start and finish just so you’ve got something to go for, and whether you get it or not, you reset your goals and you go again. So to me, that’s really important. Otherwise, it can be on a downward trend and you think it’s never-ending. It gives you the stop-start again, let’s go, let’s make some changes, and you just take it. It just gives you something to aim at, which I like.

    John: Yeah, so many benefits. I didn’t want to stop you. You were just going on. That was just like — these were all so good, and also even I guess you being able to accept coaching when someone does come up. Maybe now you’re at a different level, but maybe when you first started 10 or 15 years ago that it was people coaching you, and so then you’re more receptive to that and see that they’re not insulting you as a person. They’re just trying to help you become a better professional at what you do.

    Warwick: Most definitely, and that’s a big part of my professional career. I guess people say I’ve been doing this for 20 years or 30 years or whatever, but if you’ve been doing the same things the same way over for 30 years, you’ve got one year of experience repeated 30 times as opposed to 30 years of learning and continuous improvement. Yeah, coaching is absolutely critical and being open to receiving that, and hopefully I’ve been open to that both professionally and player-wise. I have seen players extremely talented not make it because they knew it all and I’ve also seen people that probably didn’t have the most natural ability extract everything else and succeed to the highest level, even people that I have known and seen at the club on the way up that have made it to the very highest level and played professionally and win at a national level for the big team here in Australia. They have extracted everything from their skill set because they’ve been open to coaching.

    John: Right. That’s so great. Clearly this has benefitted your career in a huge way in your life, as you’ve mentioned. So before you got into Australian Rules football, because you said that you were working at a firm and then someone was talking about it, was there something else that you would share or was this kind of the thing that made you feel like “Hey, I’ve got friends here” sort of a thing?

    Warwick: Yeah. Well, I guess I’ve been pretty open in talking. It’s kind of like a second religion here in any type of sport, so that was just a way we’re connected with people in the office, although I was very open about just being me around that. You’re not really going out on a limb in Australia anyway saying that you love your sport. It was kind of a safe place to be sharing your love of sport.

    John: Yeah, absolutely, and it sounds like the firm that you were working for was pretty open to people talking about their hobbies and their passions and creating these relationships that do lead to outside of work sort of things. Was there something that that organization did?

    Warwick: Yeah. I was really blessed to — my first accounting role was probably one of the — well, I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the absolute — at the forefront of did everything the best way. And some of my career, I’ve reflected how lucky I was having joined other firms that didn’t quite get it, but they were massive on culture, massive on having your own work-life balance, and even to the point where I was relatively new to the firm. So I might have only been there a year or so and I remember when the boss basically said, “We need you to be here on a Saturday. It’s very rare for us to do Saturday work, but we really need you.” I just accepted it knowing I was going to miss football, and he wasn’t familiar with that. And then I’ve mentioned it just in passing, not as a complaint or anything, to one of my colleagues. Anyway, he spoke to the boss on my behalf and the boss was like, “Oh man, I’m so sorry. I can’t have you missing football.”

    John: That’s so great.

    Warwick: Look, he played a different type of sport himself, but he was very onboard with it. We work because — well, hopefully we work as we like it and we want to do good, but also, work is only a part of our lives and I want work to add to the lives of the team we’ve got here. I don’t want it to subtract from the lives of people we’ve got here now, so hopefully they’re taking that same sort of attitude with their team and when they’re looking for space away from work or the flexibility to pursue their passion.

    John: Yeah. What a great story and somebody that you — I mean, after he says that and switches up scheduling and whatever, you would go to battle with that guy until the end of time. It’s like, wow, this guy genuinely cares about me and in what I’m excited about.

    Warwick: Oh, most definitely. I think people appreciate that and they appreciate being a part of something. I’ve been a part of firms where they can be we own you from whatever time you get in until whatever time you go home and then after it, don’t expect any thank you’s because we’re putting some money in your bank account on the 15th of every month. That kind isn’t really going to extract much passion or loyalty from anyone to go the extreme.

    John: Right. That’s exactly what it is there. How can you expect people to work a little bit harder for you when you’re not really caring about them? So that’s such a great example and I think it’s so great that now as a co-owner of a firm, you’re able to create that yourself and keep it going. That’s really fantastic. Is there anything that you do specifically to encourage people when they do join the firm like hey, this is a cool place to be where we want to know about you as a person and more than just your technical skills?

    Warwick: There is and you pretty much touched on it. Most of our interviewing process is all around. It’s like, “Tell me about yourself,” and if this person can conduct a conversation, that’s more than, “Well, I’ve got a distinction in Accounting 1A” or something like that. I just want to know what they’re like because they do become part of your work family and if you’re going to be working hand in hand with these people 40 or 50 hours a week, I just like to have people you can talk to and a big part of that is, “What do you do on the weekend? Do you read? What are you reading? What are you listening to?” If they ask my musical taste, they might think I’m a bit old nowadays because they’re like, “Nirvana? Who’s Nirvana?”

    John: Oh my gosh, that’s criminal.

    Warwick: I know. It’s the age thing.

    John: Oh my goodness.

    Warwick: I probably spend 80% of the time making sure I can actually have a conversation with someone because the extreme skill is there based on the completion of whatever.

    John: Right.

    Warwick: Bits of paper they’ve picked up along the way, but also, if people deal with who they know they can trust and if I’m employing or we’re employing someone to sit down with clients, it’s the same experience. I can’t have a brilliant accountant who is obnoxious and can’t relate to clients. That’s pretty commonsense really, I think, so just being able to relate to people and be open and be yourself.

    John: Yeah. It’s such a huge thing. It’s so simple, but it’s not commonsense unfortunately and it’s certainly not taught, but once you reach that basic level of technical skill, which is pretty much a degree, then your personality just trumps everything else, any sort of extra training or extra whatever. Just being you and being authentic and being genuine is going to take you so much further in your career, and unfortunately, that’s never taught or really said out loud to a lot of people until now. I just did it! Way to ruin it, John, but I love that.

    Warwick: Yeah, that’s it. I think you said it there, being authentic, opening yourself up to people because people don’t come in to talk about their — I find much of my meetings is looking at how they’re going and how they’re feeling about their business and just getting — I guess attacking the pulse of their business on how they’re feeling like a doctor might take their blood pressure almost, and then just connecting with them and finding out how they’re feeling about the business and then running through what the numbers are telling us.

    John: Yeah, letting them self-diagnose and it’s probably going to be wrong, so how about we just hang out and talk and I figure out what’s going on and we’re all good. Yeah, I love that. So do you have any words of encouragement to anyone that’s maybe on the fence like hey, I really like to do this, but no one else in my office also does it, whatever their hobby or passion is. Any words of encouragement for those people?

    Warwick: Look, just do it. Be yourself and people will become attracted to you and warm up to you. Clients will love it. Look, if you find that you do that and you’re getting nothing or you’re being frowned upon, you’re in the wrong culture. So do yourself a favor and work to change that culture or move on and do yourself a favor and get out of the place that isn’t letting you be the real you. Life is short. Go and be the best person you can be with like-minded people. Raise yourself. Again, you pick up a lot of things along the way. I’m sounding really old here. I’m only in my early 40s, but you pick up a lot of things along the way. One of the things I believe is you become the average of the five people that you surround yourself with and if you’re surrounding yourself with five people that aren’t lifting you then go and lift your average by getting surrounded by five better people and you won’t regret it.

    John: Yeah, I love that and I also love — just something that I want to make sure people heard, is don’t just necessarily leave the culture, but also there’s a way that you can work to change it. You don’t have to just bail. Slow and steady. There are leaders at all levels. It’s not a title thing.

    Warwick: Yeah, and I think back to things from a football club perspective as well on this culture thing, if you’re waiting for someone to make the change — one of my biggest heights or frustrations is, “We should do this. We should do that. Someone should do this or the club should do something about that.” We should put on a social event or whatever. That’s a great idea. Let’s do it. Just do it. No one is going to frown upon you doing it as long as you go through the right channels, but if anything, if someone came to me with an idea to make something better, I would be high fiving like this is awesome. If anything, at the next performance review, that’s what’s going to stand out. It’s not going to be that they all matched or they all balanced. Have the confidence to push forward and try to make some positive change yourself and hopefully that will get you noticed more than anything.

    John: That’s great, man. I love that. It’s so awesome, man. This has been really, really great work and so fun, but before I get on an airplane and fly 14 hours to play a little Australian Rules football with you, first I’m going to need to check if my medical card works over there in Australia, and then second of all —

    Warwick: We’ve got the best health system in the world. It’s fine. You’ll be fine.

    John: Right, just like Canada. You guys are all the same, but I do have my 17 rapid-fire questions to run you through, so we’ll do this. It’ll be super fun, really easy, and let me fire this thing up here. Here we go. The first one, I’ll start it easy for you, favorite color?

    Warwick: Blue.

    John: Blue, all right. How about a least favorite color?

    Warwick: Cleveland brown.

    John: There you go. There you go right there. All right. When it comes to computers, more PC or Mac?

    Warwick: PC.

    John: PC, all right, and now on a mouse, are you more click or right click?

    Warwick: Right click.

    John: Right click, all right. That’s kind of a silly one. How about what do you have for breakfast, typical breakfast?

    Warwick: Well, we are located above an exceptional café here who also look after the clients, so poached eggs and mushrooms on toasted Turkish bread.

    John: Fancy. Wow! That’s a tough gig right there, really tough gig. And when it comes to financials, are you more balance sheet or income statement?

    Warwick: Balance sheet, of course. It has to be.

    John: Balance sheet, right, of course, a silly question. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Warwick: Definitely crossword.

    John: Okay, all right. Pens or pencils?

    Warwick: Pens.

    John: Pens. There we go. Now, do you have a favorite band? I know you’ve mentioned Nirvana, but favorite band?

    Warwick: Look, I have a million favorite bands. I saw the Ramones as one of my first concerts with my brother a long time ago, so I’m going to go with the Ramones.

    John: There you go. That’s the original. That’s going way back, way back. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Warwick: Since children, I’m becoming an early bird.

    John: Okay, right, not by choice. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Warwick: Definitely Star Wars.

    John: All right. How about boxers or briefs?

    Warwick: I’ll just go with briefs.

    John: Fair enough. Do you have a favorite sports team?

    Warwick: The New England Patriots in the NFL; in Australia, the Sydney Swans.

    John: How about a favorite number?

    Warwick: Pi.

    John: Nice! I haven’t gotten that one yet in all the episodes. We’re probably 80 episodes now and never gotten pi, so good for you, man. All right, only three more. More cats or dogs?

    Warwick: Dogs.

    John: Dogs, all right. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Warwick: I would say my favorite actor, Joe Pesci.

    John: Oh yeah! Okay, all right, and the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Warwick: The favorite thing I own would be my Premiership jersey from my very first Premiership back in 2003. I’ve got my medal and it has zero value on eBay, but immense sentimental value to me.

    John: That’s so cool, man, so cool. Well, thank you so much, Warwick, for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Warwick: Awesome! I had an absolute ball. Thank you.

    John: Oh man, that was really, really fun! I particularly loved how Warwick said that work is only a part of our lives and I loved how he tries his best to make sure that when it comes to his teams, he wants work to add to their lives, not subtract from it, really something great to take away if you’re in a manager or a partner position. And if you’d like to see some pictures of Warwick playing AFL football or connect with him on social media, go to greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re there, please click that big, green button and do my anonymous research survey. Thank you so much for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.

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