I recently attended an Australian Institute of Company Directors lunch where Ann Sherry AO, the Executive Chairman of Carnival Australia was the speaker. She is the person who over the last 10 years has literally turned this ship around, with an increase in revenue of 375% over 10 years . Australia now has the highest participation in cruising of any country, largely due to her efforts and the previously tarnished reputation of P&O and other carnival brands has been restored. It is an outstanding result, worth understanding more about.

I took away from Ann’s presentation that if you want positive change in your business:Accounting Firm Management Lessons from Carnival Cruises

  • Turn over every rock and question every assumption.
    Just because “we’ve always done it that way” does not mean it is right.
    (This is one of the underlying philosophies of the firm reviews I complete.)
  • Set standards and stick with them
    Understand that the strongest cultural signals are the things you ignore
  • Enforce policies and don’t make any exceptions
    She gave the example of throwing people off ships (not literally!) for bad behaviour – at first even the captains of the ship would ring her to check that she was serious. She was, and it has had the desired effect. People now don’t go on cruises to behave badly and ruin other peoples holidays.
  • As a leader be the change you want
    Ann was the CEO of Westpac NZ and told a compelling story about personally cleaning the local ATM when it was dirty!
  • Small things matter, particularly in client facing situations
  • Hire people who are aligned with your culture
    Hire primarily for attitude and attributes rather than skills
  • Let the great people you hire get on with what you’ve asked them to do and don’t get in their way
  • Understand, truly understand, your market.
    For Carnival a key understanding was that 80% of holidays are planned by women and they actually want a holiday!

If you are looking for positive change in your accounting or legal firm, discuss these ideas amongst your leadership team and rate yourself in terms of how you reckon you are going. Then agree on one thing you will do differently. That’s a great start.


Rob Pillans is an Accounting Firm Management Guru and Accounting Firm Coach, dedicated to helping accountants define their version of success, formulate the strategies and implement them. He provides hands on coaching, consulting, training, mentoring and facilitating all over Australia and New Zealand. He writes a monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for here.