Upon becoming the official Director of Operations at Nordens, Darren Hahn shared his thoughts on his history with the firm, the incoming challenges facing the industry, as well as the future of Nordens…
Firstly, a huge congratulations on becoming Director of Operations at Nordens. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background in Nordens, and how it’s led you to your role today?
Thank you so much. Well, I started at Nordens back in 2010, accepting a temporary two-week position as sick cover for Payroll. Back then it was just myself doing everything, so I had to learn quickly and, on the job. I gained valuable knowledge from Mitch Hahn, Joe Sword, Panayiota Viglas, and Mark Norden in the process. I then split my time heading up the VAT department and Payroll. This organic education provided me with key experience in finance and business. It eventually led me to join the then newly formed Strategic Advisory team with Joe.
Offering advisory in a corporate finance setting then enabled me to flourish doing something I never thought I would’ve done. It was also amazing to use the knowledge I acquired to actually train people and watch them become key senior members of the business. The growth structure which is embedded into Nordens has always been one of our biggest strengths. It allows our staff and clients to learn, develop and succeed and I’ve been a recipient of that.
Just under a year ago, I came to the board asking to be installed as Head of Operations. Due to my role as Head of Technology in the business, and the way my proactiveness has helped to streamline operations and become more efficient, this was met with positivity. Since I started, I’m always looking in the background at how I can develop new things and boost the business proactively. This role was a natural fit. We’ve since come on leaps and bounds, exacted real growth and set clear, solid structures. All of this has helped expand the business in a short space of time. I was extremely proud when I was asked by the board to join them as Director of Operations. I can’t wait to continue the amazing work we’ve been doing.
You have always been the technology whiz here at Nordens, and no doubt that will continue as a Director. What role do you see technology playing in the future of accountancy, particularly AI, and how do you plan to keep Nordens at the forefront of these developments?
The way things are going in our industry, technology is making the traditional role of an accountant obsolete. You’re never going to lose accountants properly due to human decision-making, which is a huge part of an accountant’s job. The amount of times I’ve sat in rooms with clients breaking down about their issues, that empathy exhibited will never be able to be authentically replicated by a computer or AI.
This is where advisory and consultancy comes into play. The increase in businesses using advisors to assist their business, not just getting the numbers, is clear to see. However, the compliance side of things such as filing tax returns, auditing, and bookkeeping is rapidly becoming automated through cloud technology and the upsurge of AI.
There’s a concentrated focus on trying to reduce the cost of an accountant by making it as automated as possible. This is going to be an issue which is only going to snowball. I think what we’ll see across a range of industries and sectors, not just in accountancy, is the emphasis on that personable, human element will become so much more important to clients. It’s an exciting yet unpredictable time in technology at present. That can bring about huge anxieties. However, I think the embracing of new technology, as well as the power of people, is the only way forward.
Your role entails overseeing every department and service line within the company. How do you stay switched on, and motivated, to handle so much all at once?
This is a really important question. When I was doing my ACA exams, I was under an immense amount of stress which led to complete burnout. Despite the turmoil this brought, I was able to complete my exams and qualify. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I think back to how I was during those exam periods and use it as a sort of motivation that I can get through whatever is thrown my way. I use that as a benchmark to offer a different perspective to how I feel, which I think is healthy.
I’m also very good at accepting that it’s just as important to book time off as it is going full throttle in your job. Ironically, I learnt this whilst doing my exams. Even if booking in that time off constituted to basically doing nothing all day except sitting on the sofa and watching TV, it was crucial. Nowadays, going for a walk when I’m feeling stressed, or under it, is also important. Just the idea of getting outside and getting some fresh air into your lungs is scientifically proven and widely acknowledged to help. I’ll always be a huge advocate of ensuring you’re taking the time for yourself, as without that I’d be constantly burnt out.
All of that is redundant however if you’ve not got trust in the team around you. I know for certain if I’m away for whatever period of time, that people like Abbie Sharman, and the directors, have got my workload locked down and covered. I feel so confident, and lucky, to have this. It massively reduces the possibilities of burnout or stress in my role.
What advice do you have for other professionals in the industry who aspire to leadership roles like yours?
It’s going to sound cliché but the thing that has constantly served me well, is always look at the bigger picture and think outside of the box. The amount of people tell me, ‘I had an idea’, but they don’t do anything with it. But why? You need to take action otherwise those ideas remain simply as ideas. I understand having an environment where it feels open and productive to share ideas is a luxury for many of us. However, I’ve gone to the board countless times with ideas that don’t come to fruition or are rejected. That’s natural, but having that constant creative idea mindset is something we could all benefit from more. If you have that progressive mindset and believe in yourself, success will no doubt come that’s for sure.
Another massive cliché again but it rings so true, is to always strive to improve your knowledge and skillset. You should never ever feel like you’re done or you can just rest on your laurels. I’m still learning. No matter how successful someone is, you should always still be learning and motivated to educate yourself whilst harnessing your credentials so to speak. Read, train, develop, whatever it is that allows you to generate more knowledge, do it.
Lastly, we always mention this a lot but again surround yourself with a solid, incredible team. Especially people who bring the best out of you. I’ve had friends in the past who were stuck in a mindset of turning up to work, doing exactly what’s expected of them, getting their pay cheque and leaving. No motivation of progression or doing something different. It’s amazing that by just surrounding yourself with these people regularly, your whole mood, energy, and outlook diminishes. It rubs off on you and this isn’t good. Be around people who bring the best out in you, who are honest with you, and who have a shared purpose of striving for more.