A Champion for Indigenous Communities: Q&A with Grant Thornton's Anthony Beven November 2017

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Growing up in Cairns, Anthony Beven saw first-hand the importance of culture, language, family and land to the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, setting him on a career path to contribute where he could. This month, Anthony, who previously spent 10 years as the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, returns to his home town, joining Grant Thornton’s Cairn’s office as partner, furthering the firm's commitment to serving Australia’s Indigenous business community. He tells us more about the firm’s strategies, talks about his role in establishing Papua New Guinea’s first stock exchange and shares a powerful career highlight.

What are you most looking forward to about taking on your new role with Grant Thornton?

Grant Thornton has a strong commitment to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities and already has over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. I was attracted to this role as Grant Thornton was genuinely interested in making a meaningful difference by building on what it is already doing. The board and the CEO of Grant Thornton has given me the flexibility to look at new services and different ways of doing business so that we become one of the leading providers of services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.

Can you tell us a little about the process behind Grant Thornton’s 2020 strategy to be “a leading provider of services to business, government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations?”

Grant Thornton is already a leading adviser to mid-sized businesses and the not-for-profit sector. Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations fall into these categories and Grant Thornton’s services are a natural fit. The strategy is about expanding Grant Thornton’s services but more importantly it is about tapping into the firm’s culture of welcoming diversity and doing what it can to assist with reconciliation. Grant Thornton helps to grow businesses around Australia every day and one of the best ways to achieve reconciliation is to help grow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses and employment. The strategy is a real commitment to this and Grant Thornton is investing seriously in it to ensure it is successful and is done the right way─by working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

What initially hooked your interest in Indigenous Affairs?

I grew up in Cairns and spent a large part of my working life in the Northern Territory. This gave me the opportunity to meet and build friendships with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I saw first-hand the importance of culture, language, family and land to all aspects of life and business in communities and wanted to contribute where I could. The work has always been interesting and challenging, but more importantly it has been worthwhile as you can make a positive contribution to the lives of people. At the end of each day, I would always ask myself whether I had that day done something to help an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. Fortunately, in the roles I have held it was possible to say "yes" on most days.

What was your greatest lesson learned from your ten years as Registrar of Indigenous Corporations?

I learned that there are so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people doing great things for their communities, often in difficult circumstances. Within the broader community there is a great respect for this and a real desire to better understand and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Linking that desire with communities is the challenge.

Can you tell us of your role in helping to establish Papua New Guinea’s first stock exchange? What were some of the challenges that you faced?

A stock exchange had been discussed for many years in Papua New Guinea. When I worked there in the 1990s, I helped to introduce new companies and securities legislation which established a legislative framework for a stock exchange. The economy was strong and two major PNG companies had listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), as it was then known, with shares quarantined for PNG residents. On the back of this the stock exchange implementation committee, of which I was a member, was able to obtain the support of government and the ASX to kick start a small exchange. The opening bell was rung in 1999. The name PNG Stock Exchange was not available as it was owned by a private company and we settled for the Port Moresby Stock Exchange or POMSoX. It isn’t every day that a 32 year old gets to be a part of starting a stock exchange.

What has been one of your career highlights to date?

In the past, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations have struggled to employ good quality people and on occasions have been the subject of inappropriate conduct by their senior management. This results in fewer, or poorer quality, services being delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As Registrar I took a strong position against wrongdoing and this led to significant improvements in the conduct of CEOs and directors. The most important decision was achieved in February 2014. Mr Damien Matcham was the CEO of an Aboriginal medical service and had embezzled more than $700,000 from the service. The Federal Court found he had breached his duties and ordered him to pay compensation and fines in excess of $1.2 million and disqualified him from managing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations for 15 years. This sent a strong message and after this decision I saw a real turnaround. Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations realised that they didn’t have to accept inappropriate conduct and this decision empowered them to stand up to it. This was a real highlight for me.

"It isn’t every day that a 32 year old gets to be a part of starting a stock exchange."

Who has had the biggest influence on your life/career so far?

Of course your family are central to who you are and what you achieve. My parents sacrificed a lot for me to go to school and university and were always pushing me to take on new challenges. My wife and children have also supported me, even when I was away from home for long periods of time for work. Outside of family my closest friend is someone that helped me through law school and was always there when I was faced with tough decisions. I have always valued his counsel.

What’s the best piece of advice that you have received?

My father always lived by, “an honest day’s work for an honest dollar.” It is an old saying and a simple one, but it has always been at the centre of how I approach work.

You’re moving back to Cairns for this role. What do you like most about this city?

Cairns has always been home for me. There is always something happening in Cairns and with so many tourists, there are always new people to meet. But after ten years in Canberra I have to say the highlight for me with this move is coming back to the warmth and once again living in a state where the state of origin team actually wins games. Grant Thornton has a strong presence in Cairns and a lot of its work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities has emanated from this office. Being able to join a strong firm such as Grant Thornton and be based in Cairns is a real win-win.

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