Accounting for success

Reginald Pillay, managing director of Ariston Global. (Picture supplied).
Reginald Pillay, managing director of Ariston Global. (Picture supplied).

If you ask Reginald Pillay to describe himself, he’ll tell you he’s a strategic thinker. “I am someone who enjoys a challenge. An optimist by nature, I am passionate about business and making a positive difference,” he adds.

Pillay’s partner in the business services company they run together, Suran Moodley, is also strong when it comes to strategy, and loves problem-solving.

“I enjoy being creative and finding innovative solutions to difficult challenges or finding novel ways to deal with everyday issues. I was fortunate to have been educated in the arts and sciences, followed by psychology and industrial psychology before pursuing business studies. This has shaped the way I view and interact with the world,” Moodley explains. 

Ariston Global provides accounting, tax, HR, advisory and payroll services to small- to medium-sized businesses, and to businesses that don’t typically have the in-house resources to manage these critical services.

While the majority of its clients are in the small, medium and micro-sized enterprises [SMME] space, some larger companies also use their services.  

“Our clients range from a retail outlet in a strip mall in Broadacres [near Fourways] to an engineering company in Botswana that services the rest of Africa,” says Moodley.

Pillay adds: “We have an industry-wide reach and are currently servicing the engineering, ICT, agriculture and professional services industries, to mention a few.” 

The nature of the business is to help other businesses grow, and both Pillay and Moodley say they’ve only grown because of their ability to help make their clients successful.

“Being able to watch our clients grow from small players in their market, to medium players, to larger players and market leaders in their respective markets – and knowing that we assisted them to get there – is a certain measure of our success,” says Pillay. He adds that winning the NSBC award confirms that this approach works. 

Moodley expands on Pillay’s thinking: “Naturally, financial performance is a key requirement, however this is not sustainable if employees and clients are not pleased. Happy clients and staff are a clear indication that we ?are succeeding.” 

Spotting the gap

Ariston Global has been in operation since 2007, when Pillay realised that traditional accounting and advisory services companies tended to have a very ‘arm’s-length’ approach to clients.

“In order for an SME to attribute true benefit from accounting and advisory services, a partnered approach was what the market needed. This approach was, and still is, the backbone of the business model at Ariston Global,” says Pillay. 

Moodley joined the firm a little later. He had gained several years’ experience in HR in the corporate sector, before starting his own consultancy in 2014.

The pair collaborated on projects and discovered they worked really well together. So much so that they decided to amalgamate under one brand. The company currently employs 20 staff members, and has offices in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Gaborone. 

Ariston Global enjoyed steady growth of 30% to 40%, from 2007 to 2013, but in 2014, after merging, the pair identified a gap in the market.

While strategic planning, legislative compliance and financial analysis services are readily available to large firms through the big consultancies, this information is not easily accessible for SMMEs.

Pillay says: “We aimed to bridge the gap and provide this much needed information to SMMEs in a format that was useful to them. He adds: “The result was that in the 2014/15 fiscal year we enjoyed a growth rate in excess of 250%.”  

The importance of company culture

The secret to the pair’s success? “There’s no secret,” says Moodley. “We collaborate, we respect each other, we put the business first and we put the other’s best interests before ourselves. It is the resultant trust that strengthens our relationship.”

Pillay chimes in: “We have learnt to use each other’s strengths to the advantage of the business.” 

To infuse this spirit throughout the organisation, Moodley says that the company values, like integrity, client orientation and respect, are discussed at every board meeting. “Our values are linked to our services, our mission and values, as well as our brand and reputation. Our values drive our growth,” he says. 

There are challenges looming, however, as the International Monetary Fund has projected South Africa’s growth rate to be 0.7% for the coming year.

“Economic turbulence results in companies not wanting to, or not being able to, outlay funding to engage with organisations like Ariston Global,” says Pillay, adding that this is the time when they most need to invest in sound business services. 

Moodley explains that, locally, “clients are challenged by a number of issues. Primarily, we do not have SMME-friendly legislation and processes. SMMEs need to be agile. But agility is hampered by factors like the turnaround times of certain governmental departments.” 

Pillay explains that one of the problems that SMMEs experience is non-compliance, due to a lack of understanding of the complex South African legislation – especially with regards to Tax and Labour legislation. 

Another stumbling block, he says, is that SMMEs that service the government sector need prompt payment, but this is seldom forthcoming – impacting on cash flow.

In addition, entrepreneurs are challenged by a lack of access to funding when starting or growing their businesses. 

Advice on building a successful business

Goal-setting is an important part of growing a company, says Moodley.

“Whether one terms it a goal, business plan or strategy, it is imperative to document one’s vision, mission, values, product/service, target market, marketing strategy etc. This creates clarity and enables leaders to share their vision with their staff and create a common purpose.” 

This forms the foundation of the advice Moodley says he would give anyone starting out in business: “Document your strategy, choose your partners wisely and just do it. One of the greatest challenges is to overcome your own personal fears and paralysis.” 

“‘Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore,’” says Pillay, quoting French author André Gide. “Failure is almost guaranteed, but it is not a stopping point – rather it is a stepping point: just keep moving forward.” 

Winning prestigious awards can be one measure of success, but how do the two entrepreneurs define their success?

Moodley says: “Personally reflecting on what we have managed to achieve to date, the trajectory that we are on and being happy with the status quo is ‘success’.”  

And for Pillay the sentiment is similar: “Success is defined by being able to see the positive difference you have made in the lives of the people around you and the community at large. By being able to build a legacy for the next generation to follow.”

This article originally appeared in the 4 February 2016 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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