A diversity of interests, sheer hard work and the foresight to spot the proverbial gap propelled James Scott to move from financial manager in the musical publishing industry, through financial director in software development, to his current role as publisher of BusinessBrief.
The long and arduous CA(SA) route was navigated by Scott through part-time study. He believes that an affinity for diversity and not being grounded in routine was the key for his success – combined with good, old-fashioned, nose-to-the-grindstone hard work.
‘I did most of my studies part-time. Starting the day at the client’s offices by 08:00, we would work all day and leave at 16:30 to get to university for lectures from 17:10 to 19:00. Then I would rush home for a quick dinner, study and do tutorials until midnight. The weekend offered little respite, as our Saturday morning lecture was from 08:00 to 12:00. It was a long week indeed!
‘I was fortunate enough to be accepted to do my articles initially with Schwartz Fine & Co., and then with Arthur Andersen, which at that time was regarded as the top accounting firm globally.
‘As articled clerks, we were all in it together and supported and motivated each other in a tough, but incredibly stimulating journey,’ says Scott.
From trainee to a diversity of jobs
His stint as a trainee helped him in becoming adept at networking with individuals from various backgrounds: ‘I also enjoyed the diversity of businesses that we were exposed to during articles and I felt very privileged to be able to interact with everybody from company directors to blue collar workers,’ Scott states.
‘Because I have broad interests, there were always so many distractions to deal with.’ Yet, he adds that ‘the overriding incentive of success … helped me to remain focused.’
He attended Arthur Andersen’s training school in Chicago: ‘Being the only South African on my first time there was very nerve wracking, as most of the other attendees were Ivy League graduates. To my surprise, the South African standards at the time were really high, and I was more than able to hold my own,’ Scott says.
With interests in the arts and architecture, Scott has both hemispheres of his brain ticking over constantly. His creativity is obvious when one looks at the innovative designs on BusinessBrief where Scott is the publisher.
‘Hindsight is always easier than foresight. My career choice has given me opportunities and experiences that I would not otherwise have had. At each crossroad I’ve had doubts, but I’ve never felt the need to do a complete U-turn during my journey. After articles I went into commerce and I took up a position as the financial manager at RPM Records. It was a huge learning curve! Music publishing at the time was a dynamic and challenging industry.’
Scott describes more about his earlier career: ‘After a few years, I was appointed financial director at Softcover Software. Those were the heady, early days of PC software development and publishing. We developed many applications, but our most successful product was called TurboCASH. The successor to the code we developed then, is now branded SAGE Pastel Accounting. Our pioneering early strategy of removing copy protection, giving the software away free to accountants and bookkeeping training colleges, gave us the market penetration to make the product the top-selling accounting package of its day.’
After the creative music industry and subsequently the very precise software development industry, one wonders how he then became involved in publishing to further broaden his already-diverse working experience.
‘In the early 1990s, I consulted for a broad spectrum of businesses, from mining companies to a legal practice. Although continuing professional development (CPD) was not a requirement then, I nevertheless wanted to keep my technical knowledge up to date. In addition, the restrictions around advertising and marketing for professionals were relaxed throughout the Commonwealth countries.
‘At the time, I was receiving a lot of newsletters from legal and accounting firms. The inherent limitations of these newsletters were that they were generally limited to the expertise contained within the firm, and that they were mostly distributed to their own client bases, with limited reach beyond that.’ These factors became the catalyst for the birth of the publication BusinessBrief!
‘By combining the editorial from a broad spectrum of advisory sources, and only using professionals to write for me, I created a powerful tool for business decision-makers to be alerted to factors that affect them. This also provides direct access to the best professionals for the best advice. Furthermore, the professional firms that write for us became able to reach a broader market at no editorial cost!’ Scott explains.
‘It has been a long journey, but persistence and passion has grown the publication to a point where Business Brief is now the top selling print and digital business magazine in South Africa.’
Scott says he has ‘never modelled myself on anyone in particular, although I have taken inspiration from many sources over the years.’ Nevertheless, he admires people such as Bill Gates and John Lennon – perhaps this is further proof that he utilises both hemispheres of his brain.
‘Gates’ legendary strategy of leveraging Microsoft in the early days by bundling the software with IBM struck an important chord with me. This strategic approach to synergistic business relationships is now always top of mind.’
He also says that he would have been inspired if he could have spent a few hours with John Lennon, whom he describes as ‘poet, artist, song writer, singer and of course creative genius… His witty, alternative and incisive perspective would certainly have been a feast for my soul.’
‘Eight years ago I had a heart attack. This is a life-changing experience for anyone. Dealing with your own mortality is hard, but the vital and incredibly positive lesson that I learnt is that life does and must go on,’ says Scott. As he recovered, he realised that he needed to change how he was doing things.
When he is not crunching numbers and designing covers, he enjoys fishing and the great outdoors –a passion that is shared by all members of the Scott family. ‘I really enjoy going to the bush. As a family we regularly go on game trips, from the Kruger to Madikwe and the Tuli Block in Botswana. My wife and I wrote an educational children’s book on the bush called Family Matters. It has sold fairly well.
‘I am also a fisherman. I don’t get the opportunity to fish as often as I would like, but when I do, I enjoy the solitude and the time it gives me to think,’ he adds.
Scott also enjoys music: ‘My taste is eclectic, but I prefer more melodic ballads and the classics.’
His family life is very important: ‘My gorgeous wife works with me and provides great support. I do defer to her better judgment all the time. We have two children who are still at primary school. My son is a good all-rounder, from being in the first team for most sports, to being the schools leading saxophonist. Our younger daughter is becoming very adept at playing the violin,’ says a proud Scott.
His message to young and aspirant CAs(SA) is succinct, yet powerful: ‘Breaking the shackles of restricted choice is a dream worth achieving. To have the tools to enable that dream is possible. To only dream of that possibility is, however, your choice.’
Clearly James Scott is one of those remarkable and merit-worthy individuals among the SAICA ranks – one notable for his resilience and perseverance. Great Scott indeed!