Practical lessons from a seasoned pro

Around 300 people gathered at The
Ritz-Carlton for the Cayman Islands Society of Professional Accountants third
annual gala, celebrating students who recently gained qualifications in the
industry. Don Seymour, president of dms Organisation Ltd, himself a CPA, gave a
rousing keynote speech which would no doubt have inspired Cayman’s young
accountants to move forward and prosper within their careers, as he has done.

Don Seymour is the head of a thriving
multi-business conglomerate, starting his professional journey as a CPA working
for pwc in Cayman and New York. This was not, however his dream job.

“I did not start out to be an accountant,”
he confirmed to a packed audience celebrating CISPA’s third annual gala. “When
I left school I wanted to either be an architect or a fighter pilot for the air
force. As the closest I could get to the latter in Cayman was possibly flying
the mosquito plane for the MRCU I thought I had better find a more practical
profession!”

Seymour said accountancy was something of a
“forced choice” for him, and he sailed into study with not a great deal of
focus initially, as he still had dreams of a more creative profession in mind.

“My teacher, Mr. Peter Dutton, however,
clearly had plans to stifle my artistic creativity and forced me to pay
attention,” he remembered.

During his studies, Seymour says that an
accountant by the name of Dan Scott presented to the class one day and inspired
the class to no end.

“He talked passionately about accounting
and said you had to eat, drink and sleep accounting in order to succeed. In
turn young people wanted to emulate Dan Scott’s values – we all wanted to be
the next Dan Scott and let accounting take us also to the pinnacle of success,”
he recalled. “I wanted to become an accountant because of Dan.”

Seymour also named another highly
successful accountant as being an inspiration to him at a young age – Mr. Naul
Bodden.

“Mr. Bodden was the godfather of the
profession as the first Caymanian CPA,” he said.

Plucking up his courage, Seymour said he
decided to cold call Mr. Bodden, offering to work for him for free in order to
gain a broader knowledge of the profession. 

“In the end he offered me a work
scholarship, to work three years with him in the Cayman Islands,” he confirmed.
“At the same time, however, I was offered a full scholarship with pwc to study
abroad and work both in its Cayman and New York offices. I was really torn – on
the one hand I wanted to work with my hero and on the other I really wanted to
study and work abroad.”

Maximum exposureIn the end Seymour chose to work with pwc,
first in Cayman under the guidance of the firm’s partner Mr. Paul Anderton.

He confirmed that it was a very steep
learning curve, especially in the art of communication.

“He was a brilliant teacher: I learnt when
it was time to speak, when it was time to write and when it was time to shut
up!” he said.

Upon reflection, Seymour says that he was
blessed to have received the level of partner exposure that he received in
Cayman, an unusual occurrence in most financial centres around the world.

He confirmed: “I had a tremendous
opportunity to work alongside people who are the best in the world at what they
do, especially within the hedge fund industry. I urge young people within the
industry today to maximise your own exposure to such individuals as they will
help you in ways you cannot imagine.”

Seek first to understand

Accounting, according to Seymour, can be so
much more than just understanding GAAP.

“You have to keep your head up and your
eyes and ears open. Learn the business of accounting as well as the principles
of accounting. Don’t just focus on the science of accounting; focus on the
business of accounting as well,” he urged students and newly qualified
accountants in the audience. “Aspire to the level above you. 

“Staff, learn to think like seniors;
seniors learn to think like managers and managers learn to think like
partners.”

He also suggested that young accountants
ought to learn to keep it simple. “Truly smart people know how to simplify,” he
said.

Fend for yourself

Becoming a fully fledged accountant is a
process of personal growth and Seymour said that in our maternalistic culture,
there is a tendency for parents to take charge of their children’s careers.

“You must learn to fend for yourself and
take charge of your own career,” Seymour said, recalling the first time that a
client cursed at him while he was working in New York.“No-one had ever talked to me like this
before,” he recalled. 

“Fighting back tears I went to my
supervisor. She told me to go back to the client and be more assertive. I
thought the supervisor would deal with the situation but I quickly learnt that
it was up to me.”

Draw on those around you

Seymour said one of the best ways to move
forward with your career was to draw upon the experiences of those who surround
you and “never make a mistake alone”.

He urged people to value friendships that
are made along the way, including colleagues as well as clients.

“Collegiality within our profession is
outstanding,” he confirmed, and said he looked to outstanding leaders within
Cayman’s own accounting fraternity, including Naul Bodden, Dan Scott, Paul
Anderton and Nick Freeland and said that they had inspired a whole new
generation of accountants, including himself, as well as the likes of Rolston
Anglin, Taron Jackman and Rohan Small, all of whom are Caymanians who have
forged successful careers for themselves within the industry.

“I just cannot imagine Cayman today without
those inspiring leaders,” he furthered.

In conclusion, Seymour said that he was
extremely content with his life, both privately and professionally and urged
the young people in attendance to apply the life lessons that he had discussed
and continue on their journey to success.

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Don Seymour.
David Legge.

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