Failure was prominent in my life. Not only my own failures, but those of others.
The most significant failure in my life was that of my father, who, on my mother’s death when I was 4 years old, failed to prove to his sisters that he could look after his young family. The devasting result was that my 6 year old brother and I were taken from him and placed in the care of nuns at Villa Maria in Ballarat East. This led to a somewhat unhappy childhood for both of us.
Notwithstanding, I had some success in winning a scholarship which provided me with 4 years secondary education at St.Patrick’s boarding college in Ballarat.
During that education, although an achieving student throughout the school year, the external examinations at year end proved to be my undoing. Arguably, because of nerves, I consistently failed these, with the result that I never studied for matriculation.
On entering the work force as a clerk with a stock and station agent, I diligently applied myself to the job in hand, to the extent that while in Wodonga I was in the habit of working until 11.30 at night for 4 days per week. I suffered from nervous debility and a neurologist in Wagga Wagga advised me to study to be an accountant and to work for myself.
I was promoted to be assistant auditor and worked in the Head Office of the company in joint charge of the company’s 14 branches’ accounts.
However, I was not happy in my job and felt that if I had been given a talent, I had buried it.
I left the firm and commenced working in a public accounting office, as the Wagga neurologist had suggested. I commenced, at age 36, studying, by correspondence, to be an accountant. This was to be a very daunting experience, over a period of 5 years and 20 subjects, (4 per year).
I experienced my failure in subject number 20, Auditing.
Consequences were dire! The Australian Society of Accountants who conducted their own exams, with a pass mark of 60% , would do so no more. I was in Limbo. One subject away from qualifying and nowhere to go!
With the aid of the Society, I was able to negotiate a deal with the Bendigo Institute of Technology, now LaTrobe University, to study Auditing for 1 year to secure my qualification. Travelling to Bendigo 3 days a week over a period of 12months, I found the course, with a pass mark of 50%, relatively easy and so passed, and obtained my accounting qualification.
However my next failure was in applying to be entered into partnership. ASA qualification was not high enough to be accepted. I had to be a “Chartered” accountant!
So began the most difficult year of study. But there was motivation and I passed, qualified, and purchased a 50% interest in the Accounting firm which became Smith O’Shannessy & Co.