In this blog post we report on the podcast interview between Bill Mair of PrecisionPresentation.com and Jan Szczepański of The Sanders Partnership. Because of reasons of time, we had to cut some sections of the interview. This post includes some of the details that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Our guest today on PBLINK Stories is not your typical accountant. Jan Szczepański lists electronic music like drum and bass, techno, jungle, deep house, chill out, etc, among his interests. He originally trained as a lawyer before going on to qualify as an accountant instead (that interesting story is shared below). His full title is in fact Jan Szczepański ACA, MBA, Dip PFS, LLB!
The Sanders Partnership is truly a family affair: Jan, his wife Christine, daughter Marie and son Thomas all work in the business and all are qualified Chartered Accountants.
Against the Grain
Jan has rarely followed a predictable path.
He originally trained as a lawyer. Upon completion of his law degree, he applied for jobs to continue his training with qualifying legal work but the experience of meeting actual lawyers was to change his life. He describes one interview:
“At the end, one of them turned to me and asked me why I hadn’t applied to a Catholic firm. I said, I was just bemused by the question… I said, I didn’t know there was such a thing. So, I just thought, ‘What kind of profession is this?’ So, I just turned to what I really liked when I was growing up, which was playing about with numbers.”
He went back to education, trained as an accountant and went on to gain chartered status.
He started his own accountancy practice in 2005, initially with the idea of helping the new Polish people entering the UK, but soon expanded his market to work with all-comers. He was fully qualified but with no experience of the industry and only one client: his sister!
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Jan was once told by a career advisor, after undertaking a psychometric test, to never run his own business, as his character profile wasn't right!
Today, he is still running the Sanders Partnership, a thriving family firm of chartered accountants based in Wakefield in West Yorkshire!
Best of Both Worlds
The Sanders Partnership then, offers the comforts of a family firm: a personal service where your accountant develops a personal working relationship with you. But they harness their various skills to provide a comprehensive service. Between them, their specialisms span the range of accountancy, while Jan’s previous legal training has stood him in particularly good stead, as he will be offering probate services too, via a new venture he has in development: Jan Financial Planning.
At one time, only solicitors had legal authority to handle probate, but in 2014, the law changed. Now, accountants can offer the service, for uncontested wills, if they are willing to gain the necessary qualifications. Perhaps because of the extra study time involved in accreditation, few accountancy practices have taken the opportunity but for Jan it was an obvious choice. He could bring his existing legal knowledge to bear and can offer an additional service that integrates perfectly with financial planning.
Ahead of His Time
In the year 2005 – an age ago in digital years – Jan had a vision for online bookkeeping. He tried explaining it to people, but the internet was pretty much in its infancy and the concept was difficult for people to grasp.
Leeds Met University did like it, however, and accepted Jan and his project into its Digital Incubator programme. Jan developed a program but discovered it was way too ahead of its time.
Then he discovered Xero in 2010 and saw the value in the product straight away. The Sanders Partnership became the first accountancy practice in Yorkshire to offer the product.
Jan’s forward-looking philosophy paid dividends in the first Covid lockdown, too. A few days before the UK Government announced lockdown measures, in March 2020, Sanders Partnership staff had taken PCs or laptops and phones from the office to work from home. The transition was seamless because they were already working with the latest technology.
What has driven Jan all along has been the desire to provide much-needed services. He explains that he gets great satisfaction from helping others and seeing them succeed. Latterly, his motivation has been to leave a legacy for his children and family – again, looking outwards, thinking of others.
There is no better example of this than Jan’s charity work: he has been a Governor of New College Pontefract, a trustee of the Suzy Trust since 2004 and of the Community Foundation for Wakefield District since 2014. While he is enthusiastic about his business and the range of services it offers, his passion for charitable endeavours is obvious.
Small charities are desperate for chartered accountants who can give their time, as otherwise they incur considerable cost.
The Suzy Trust is based in Wakefield and was named after a little child found starving to death on a rubbish tip in Ethiopia. It was founded in 1975 (well before Band Aid) and exists to relieve poverty abroad. Jan is very proud to tell me that it recently passed a total of £1 million raised since foundation.
The Community Foundation for Wakefield gives grants to local community groups concerned with issues faced by older people, especially with fuel poverty; women’s groups; young people; and the administering of foodbanks.
When Jan speaks of building a legacy for his family, you would be forgiven for thinking that he is looking forward to putting his feet up and enjoying the fruits of his decades of hard work – giving up work.
However, when Jan talks of retirement, he is referring to handing over control of the Sanders Partnership so he can concentrate more exclusively on building his latest venture: Jan Financial Planning.
This will complement the offer of the Sanders Partnership, offering advice on personal financial matters to busy business people.
As we said, right at the beginning: Jan Szczepański never rests!
Secret(s) of business
At the end of the interview, Jan revealed what, for him, are the secrets of business, in four, inter-linked points:
- Keep moving forward – invest to move to the next level
- Do what is right – authenticity
- ‘Bounce-a-back-ability’ – resilience
- A broad base of experience - never stop learning
Jan shares a couple of characteristics with another PBLINK Stories interviewee, Martin Stepek, son of the late Polish tycoon Jan Stepek, who built his business empire in the West of Scotland. The first is that neither speaks Polish because their childhood teacher forbade it. “Most Polish people, when they hear my surname, assume I can speak Polish,” says Jan. “In fact, it was my first language until I was 6 years old. But I went to school, the teacher told my parents to speak only English at home, so I quickly lost the ability.”
His parents did send him to Polish school on a Saturday, but he admits that he wasn’t really interested and just wanted to go to the park and play football.
Another common factor shared by the two men is that their fathers were war heroes. They each received the Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross for fighting at the famous Battle of Monte Cassino, a heroic assault that resulted in 55,000 Allied casualties but played a major part in ending World War 2.
And of course, both have been involved in the building of a large and successful family business, but to learn more about Stepek Electronics, you would need to listen to the Martin Stepek podcast or read the accompanying blog.