Meet the mentor: Paul Lindley founder of Ella’s Kitchen

We have paired one AAT student, Bianca Maconchy with entrepreneur and qualified accountant Paul Lindley. 

Bianca Maconchy previously worked as a skydiving organiser, doing jumps everywhere from the Arctic Circle to southern Italy. There’s only one other activity that gives Bianca a similar buzz: creating spreadsheets.

“I love spreadsheets!” she exclaims. “I create spreadsheets for fun!” In fact, she’d like more opportunity to work with Excel, which is partly why she spends 90 minutes studying AAT every night after her day job as an administrator for a fitness-club chain in Oxford. Her current role involves invoicing and profit and loss statements and, having taken to that element of her work, she wants to take her accounting knowledge further.

What skills are needed to run your own business?

Bianca: When you do a job you love, you don’t view it as work. Should I pursue something I’m passionate about or a more comfortable career path?

Paul: When I started in accountancy at KPMG, I knew it wasn’t my passion, but it was setting me up to pursue my passion. I saw it as a stepping stone, a way of getting a qualification. Then I got a job as Nickelodeon’s financial controller. The CEO there was also my mentor, and saw the potential in me to be commercial as well as financial. So I wasn’t just looking after accounts and processing; I was also involved with business strategy and negotiating contracts with Sky. So at Nickelodeon I moved from being an accountant to thinking about consumers and becoming a marketeer. Those two things [accounting and marketing nous] gave me the confidence to set up my own business, along with passion.

Bianca: So you needed your accountancy background when setting up Ella’s Kitchen?

Paul: Yes. For the first time, I was putting things into practice using my money, such as filling out VAT returns. Because it was my money, I had to work out the best ways of spending it.

How did you deal with progression?

Bianca: I love the company I work for, but I feel there’s not much for me to learn unless I move forward. What would you do if you felt you couldn’t progress?

Paul: I think you’re in a good position; you feel you’re in a work culture that’ll listen to you. Have a conversation with somebody, such as a manager or HR person, and ask: ‘Where am I going?’ At Ella’s Kitchen, we try to have an honest conversation with people. Sometimes, it’s time [for staff] to leave. Some employees will only spend two years there before moving on. I think we get the most out of that person if we help them move on. It saves dishonesty, stress and the shock of leaving.

Bianca: I’m also unsure about the right [accounting] position to go for. How do I choose the right path?

Paul: What drives you to become an accountant? What drives you to look after your daughter, be with your husband, do your skydiving and then have the energy to learn from webinars in the evening? The thing I always ask myself and others is: ‘Why?’ When I started Ella’s Kitchen, I wrote down the question ‘Why?’ and the things I wanted to achieve. None of them was to make myself rich.

What should I do next?

Bianca: What do you recommend I do now?

Paul: In the short term, I’d worry you’re going to run out of energy! It’s important to take time out to reflect and evaluate. Secondly, write down your long-term vision of where you want to go. As long as you’ve got broad direction, plus energy and confidence, you should find that you’ll be alright. I think you’re an entrepreneur who’ll set up your own business one day.

Bianca: I hope so!

Paul: Make sure you use your AAT training. It’ll benefit you in ways you don’t realise now. There’s a discipline with working with numbers and a logic with spreadsheets. But numbers aren’t everything – they’re the code to understand what’s really happening and why people buy things.

This article first appeared in our Autumn 2017 issue of 20 magazine.

Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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