Published: 18 Oct 2023
Pat James at Rottnest Tax Retreat in 2022
A lady may never reveal her age, but Patricia James, known as Pat, is proud to reveal that with 52 years of membership under her belt (and counting), she is The Tax Institute’s longest-serving female member.
Pat, who founded her own firm named Pat James, which eventually became James & Condron, left school at age 15. With a desire to pursue higher education and limited options available to her, Pat attended night school to complete her accountancy course.
As far as Pat remembers, she was the only female in her accounting class, and at the time, Pat remembers females making up only about 2% of accountants overall.
“It was like a dating agency, I had all these young men to myself,” she jokes.
Leaving the ladders down
As a pioneer woman in the Australian tax profession, Pat has a long and proud practice of helping to employ and develop other young women pursuing a career in tax and accounting.
“When I started my firm, I did always look for female accountants,” she says.
“They were hard to find in the beginning, but the numbers gradually increased. I also noticed when I did an analysis of my practice, I had a larger proportion of female clients than most practices, because of course they found it easier to communicate with a woman than with a man.”
In the 70s, she remembers advertising an open position for an accountant and encountering an unexpected hiring roadblock.
“Because my name is Pat, some people assume it's Patrick. I had one fellow who said, ‘Oh no, I can't come for the interview because I couldn't possibly work for a female.’ In fact, that same person eventually became a member of the tax discussion group I'm in. He knew who I was and I knew who he was, but we never discussed it,” she laughs.
Growing a business and owning your work
Pat sold her practice around 20 years ago, and now keeps a handful of long-term clients — the ones who wouldn’t let her retire. The staffing concerns involved in running a large practice are one thing she won’t miss and, having started her career in the days of typewriters and carbon paper, she has embraced the role of technology in enabling her to now manage her work more effectively herself.
"I went from being a one-person practice to then expanding — employing staff, taking on a partner and expanding even further. And then when I sold the practice, I went back to being a one-person practice,” she says.
“It's been a breeze not to have staff. It's been a joy to do everything myself to know that everything that goes out the door is well-produced and I understand it. And if there's a mistake in it, well, it's my responsibility. Because of the changes in technology, you can do it much more simply... technology has enabled me to do everything myself.”
Active and always developing
And when Pat says everything, she means everything. Aside from keeping up with her client obligations, Pat is an active member of the Joint Tax Planning Discussion Group No. 6, which she joined around 50 years ago when it was named the Tax and Estate Planning Discussion Group No. 6. Although originally from Melbourne, she now lives in WA and joins the group online.
She also remains active in professional development events, attending the Rottnest Tax Retreat as recently as last year. Throughout her career, she has presented at many events Australia-wide and served on committees for both The Tax Institute and the Institute of Chartered Accountants. In fact, her speaking career began right here, with The Tax Institute.
“The very first seminar I gave was for The Tax Institute,” Pat remembers.
“They asked me to speak on the subject of contractors and consultants. I'd never spoken to an audience before that, so I prepared my paper and there I was in the auditorium and there were about 200 delegates there, which was pretty scary. But it launched me on my side career of speaking to audiences and I enjoyed that in the end.”
Pat regularly keeps up to date with the changing tax landscape through resources such as the Institute’s TaxVine newsletter.
“Particularly for professional development... I find The Tax Institute is better than a lot of the others for most of the resources,” she says.
Then and now: witnessing an evolving profession
As a long-time practitioner and member of more than half a century, Pat has seen much change come and go not only in the tax profession but in the Institute as well.
“One of the big differences is that when I first started out, you became like a GP, in that you covered all of the Tax Act and all of the intricacies. Whereas now, people tend to specialise in areas because it's far too complex to be across everything,” she says.
Pat reflects fondly on her time with the Institute and as part of a close community of like-minded professionals.
“Reflecting on my time with The Tax Institute, I think the most memorable were the early years. We were much more of a close-knit group and everybody knew everyone else with camaraderie,” she says.
“The other biggest challenge of my career involved working with the tax office, who can sometimes make things difficult. But whatever challenges come about, we always pushed through for our clients, and you could always reflect on these issues with other members of the Institute to understand as much as possible.”
Although the Institute has grown since those early days and now has members all around the country – who you may not know by name – the camaraderie and focus on excellent development opportunities remain. Pat is still a current member of the Institute, and we are delighted to have such an inspiring practitioner in our community.