If you were to get a hold of a flux capacitor and DeLorean back to The Orchard – Northland Inc's collaborative business and events hub – in late 2017, chances are you would find yourself across the table from Annè Lensink.
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You'd have to forgive her if she didn't notice your upending the space-time continuum – she was too busy nurturing the dream of growing her own company: one to rewrite the rules of accounting in Northland.
The past decade, spent working for several larger accounting firms, had left little room for her passion for Northland, and her desire to help bring about the success of people who were genuinely excited about what they did.
As Lensink puts it: "I had a lot of Auckland clients, and I just wasn't passionate about that. I wanted to be able to help people to have a positive influence on the Northland business landscape – exciting local businesses and start-ups. At the firm, the focus is more on established, large companies."
After the birth of her first child, the prospect of being assigned to some anonymous Super City giant became too much. Lensink wanted her profession to be different: to be collaborative, centred around helping people create the lifestyle they want.
On what she calls "a bit of a whim", she quit. And so Villa Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers was born.
"I believe traditional accounting is dead," said Lensink. "My aim is to help our clients achieve three freedoms: financial freedom, time freedom and mind freedom. It's not about profits and losses and cutting costs – how we work with someone is about establishing their own goals and where they want to, and then what we need to do to get them there."
Where else to defy tradition than at a co-working space?
"I started out hot desking at The Orchard because it just made sense. It gave me a professional space to meet clients, and it's a lovely place to be when you're working for yourself. There's a support network around you, so your focus can stay on your business and building that.
"The networking as well – a lot of new businesses come through the door, and any new business needs an accountant! I got a lot of exciting referrals from being at The Orchard."
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It turned out that a space at a shared desk in an open-plan office – one bedecked with bright orange beanbags and a pull-apart couch – is fertile soil for seeding an accountancy company with a difference. Lensink, and Villa, flourished.
From 2017 to 2019 the practice branched, budded, and bloomed in to the team of five that makes up Villa today, and with whom Lensink readily places the business's continued success: Carys Burkhardt (an ex-colleague who jumped on board as soon as Lensink was ready), Yamini Karthikeyan (analyst extraordinaire), Sarah Gray (who Lensink hired after taking her on as an intern), and Sophie Gilmour (she and Lensink hit it off while Gilmour was working for The Orchard).
"It was amazing to have the flexibility to grow [at The Orchard]. I went from hot desking once a week to having five of our own desks. It's the best place to start."
By subsidising training and coaching through the Regional Business Partner Network, by chats across the table or by the coffee machine, by introductions and links to resources and networks across Northland, by seven-day weeks, with a husband who cooked and cleaned and childcared, by teamwork and thousands of meeting-room bookings, Villa reached the point in 2020 where it exceeded growth projections with over 450 clients on the books.
And, in the past few months, the vision has been rewarded threefold: plucked from hundreds for a nomination in the prestigious Xero New Zealand Accountancy Awards in August, Villa went on to win the NorthTech Best Emerging Business Award a month later at the Westpac Northland Business Excellence Awards. The award christened its new premises at 68 Maunu Road, which had opened just a few days earlier.
Like the space in which it grew, Villa's flexibility and the way it takes a different, fresh approach to old ways is at the heart of its success. "My intention was never for us to be the biggest," clarifies Lensink. "I just wanted us to be the best."
Today, Villa will gold-seal this milestone, warming their new home with a NorthChamber Business After 5 event – a night in the limelight signifying the fulfilment of a dream, and, in turn, the fulfilment of the purpose of The Orchard.
• Genie van Paassen is the Business Growth Co-ordinator for The Orchard Business and Events Hub, a project of Northland Inc.