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This Working Life – ‘There is no point looking back and wishing you did things differently’

Jimmy Sheehan is managing director of Contracting Plus and talks to Mary McCarthy about early life in his granddad’s shop in Wexford, moving to London and when he became serious about accountancy at night school

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Jimmy Sheehan of Contracting Plus

Jimmy Sheehan of Contracting Plus

Jimmy Sheehan of Contracting Plus

If employees are happy they will do extra and in turn if the client gets a good experience they stay longer. At Contracting Plus we have 40 people in Dublin and Cork and 110 in India.

Going the extra mile

We take away the hassle of tax and accounting. We give our clients an app to make life easier. So they can take a pic of expenses, send it to us and forget about it. Or say they want to pay a certain amount into their pension, they tell us and we will figure out the tax implications. In Ireland and the UK we have over 4,000 clients. Many are contractors, freelancers and Owner-Director companies.

Technology has made things easier but it has not changed accountancy. People still want to ask questions. No matter how much goes to the cloud they will always want to pick up the phone and find out why their tax bill is so high.

Work ethic

My daughter just did her junior cert and I was saying all the right things to egg her on but when I was at school I had no interest . I was constantly mitching off to work in hospitality. I have had a job since fourteen.

We lived in Enniscorthy for twelve years before moving to London. This was tough, a big change. I was in a new school, I had no friends and an Irish accent. I was bullied but stood up for myself and then things improved.

A couple of years later we moved to Dublin. I did a poor Leaving and dropped out of my private college at three months and started working in the UK managing pubs for a brewery. I offered cover after having worked for them the summer before.

When I was 15 in 1990 on a family holiday my parents met two couples who were managers of pubs and they had got in touch with them to see if they knew of any jobs, which was how I started with Scottish & Newcastle. I enjoyed it, I loved music and there was always music at work but managing pubs was very hard work.

But when you got a job in the 1990’s you were so grateful. If someone asked you to jump, you would say how high.

Today nobody wants to jump, they want to know what is in it for them. I find today some people in their 20s and 30s have lost that work ethic perspective but you don’t have to substitute work-life balance for working hard.

School of life

When my college friends went on their student visa to the US I went with them and stayed on. I was painting and decorating with some other guys and I started singing two nights a week in Montauk . We lived hand to mouth and then I spent a year in Australia and some time in South East Asia and New Zealand on the way there and back.

When I got back to Ireland I was working in a pub in Blackrock and remember sitting in the bar on September 11 watching the planes crash into the World Trade Centre. I went home and realised everything could change. I was making good money but I was 25 then and knew I did not want to be doing this when I was 40.

So I did what my mother wanted me to do and trained to be an accounting technician for two years at night at Dublin Business school.

I found out I loved tax, the way I could always figure it out if I followed the rules, and how much I liked thinking how best to advise others.

Trusted advisor

I went on to do my Certified Public Accountant exams and qualified aged 30.

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I had started in an accountancy department in the first year of my technician course in Sherry Fitzgerald. I loved it but I was ambitious and the jobs I wanted were not going to be free anytime soon. I handed in my notice and they asked what they could do to make me stay. Whether they meant it or not, that was so nice to hear.

I went on to be financial controller of a boutique finance company, also in property, but in 2007 they were letting people go. I had bought a house and started doing some bookkeeping so I had my mortgage covered. I put an ad in a local magazine for tradespeople and things took off.

I was advertising to small businesses and the sole trader and my company would do everything for an all-inclusive fee.

A competitor copied my ad and dropped my prices. He was in a race to the bottom so I changed my position. I doubled my prices and did not advertise them.

I started to hire people and my practice grew profitably year on year. After I sold that business in 2015 to one of the top accountancy firms I did consultancy work and also worked for the company that bought my practice.

I was hiring myself when I was approached by a recruitment executive about Contracting Plus eight years ago. There was a weird conversation where I thought they were offering me a candidate and I told them I was not in that place. Two years later when I was 38 I was.

Discounting costs

My dad told me many years ago in business you can have it good, fast and cheap. But you can only pick two.

I have learned a lot about work life balance – at the start you say yes to everything, yes to every client though my motto was never to discount fees.

If you give someone a 10pc discount they will leave and before they are halfway home will be wishing they asked for 20pc. Already they are undervaluing your work.

I will be thinking why did I say yes to the discount because I know I will be doing a lot of work, spending a lot of time to get everything right, and perhaps then I would not feel as invested.

Relaxing after taxing days

I have four kids aged 15, nine, eight and 6 and it’s depending on what time I leave for work if I see them in the morning. I don’t have breakfast, I drink tea before lunch – this could be a business one or I could be eating standing up in the kitchen or on the way to pick up the kids.

At the moment we are in the office three days a week, some days it will be five. We have taken a view that no one size fits all. It is taken on what works for your team and if your manager says you have to come in we will give a little notice. Why force people?

We are in the process of growing the business, driving it forward – so I’m looking to see where there are other opportunities. One part of my job is examining the figures and forecasting.

So, my mind is taken up a lot with long term stuff but my main role is to ensure everyone feels supported. My job is empowering them. I don’t micromanage ; I want people to feel comfortable. I am there as a sounding board.

I have many meetings everyday, some structured, some ad-hoc. I am constantly thinking about mentoring. I will be involved in internal projects ; talking to marketing, wondering what approach is the best.

In the evening I read the kids a bedtime story. I mindfully watch Netflix. Recently I went back to learn how to play golf.

Tuesday I bring the kids to their training and Sunday mornings are all about their football matches.

I read a lot in my spare time, particularly business books. I had no interest in school but I always liked working. I’m fascinated by business. I remember as a child sitting on the floor in my granddad’s shop in Wexford. He sold everything and I found it interesting how he ran the business.

I would not change anything about how I went about my career. There is no point looking back and wishing you did things differently, though you can look back and learn.


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