Paul Brown

paul brown

As our inspiration for UrbanLeaf and now NewLeaf, it is an honour and a privilege to reconnect with Paul. Paul was our coach, mentor and advisor between 2008 and 2011. He was responsible for both of us having a paradigm shift in the way we worked together, leading us to create the mercurial synergy we have now. He introduced us to principles that we are now building on and teaching others in our work. Great to see him and chat through what he is up to with his London based accountancy company Foxboro Business.

With his incredibly talented wife Sonya and 150 clients (and not looking for more) Paul and Sonya have successfully created a lifestyle that works for them both. Limited time doing the work (which they can do from anywhere in the world); absolute focus on customer service (but without being a slave to conventional approaches to communication); and plenty of time to read an average of 4 books a week and learn new things every day. Truly inspiring.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I’m an avid reader. I go through about 4 books a week on my kindle. I’ve given out The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer by Paul Barry six times.

How to fail at almost anything and still win big: kind of the story of my life by Scott Adams. It’s about failing continually and still succeeding. 

Since the 1990’s I’ve been following Warren Buffett and my favourite book of his is The  Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder.. I love reading the stories every couple of years.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

I make an endless stream of blunders. Since 2000 I’ve been writing them down.  We’re programmed to forget failures or blame others so I try to fight that urge by figuring out the lesson then taking responsibility myself. Keep the lesson, let go of the pain.

When I was really ill, which was the worst thing that happened to me, I had a narrow focus and it caused problems. I wasn’t working. I chewed through money. I had to start again. I was made to make full decisions. Everyone says it, but forcing a hundred percent decisions makes a difference.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. 

You get one life, do it all. Life is punishingly long especially if you’re not doing what you want. There’s no room for regrets. Try new things, you learn from it, 2020 taught us that.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

You’re going to run into things that you think are nuts at work. You can’t always challenge them directly because of your inexperience, but take the lesson, figure it out in your brain. Challenge yourself psychologically and don’t become a drone to your work. Try figuring out who you are early in your career and invest in getting help to accelerate that. Doing a Myers Briggs personality test is also worthwhile..


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

 The financial investment sector recommendations are nonsense and untrue. 


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

The worst thing in my industry is when I find accountancy companies treating themselves as a profession, instead of a service for customers.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips? 

I find balance by shifting the communication response down a level. I get rid of the small talk, I get rid of the travel. I’m always responsive by email/message to say I got your message, I’ll get back to you. But I get back to customers by shifting down the technology ladder. I’ve found my niche, applied technology to it, am responsive, and then I’m guided by my operating principles,

I recommend using Toggle to understand how you’re using your time. When you know where you’re wasting your time you can spend more time doing what you want, simple.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I go back to my end in mind. I have aims for the decade; this document really helps me understand what I am doing now and whether it is connected to my longer term aims. If I don’t know what to do I’ll ask a mentor for help.


What does leadership mean to you?

What is the best thing for the organisation as a whole?  Then live that out every day. That’s the aim.  You’ll make mistakes and learn along the way. 

I get a lot of satisfaction responding to our customers. I do feel like I make a contribution, I can feel naturally quite quickly what’s happening in their business. Are there negative influences? What do they need to focus on?


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

The best thing about lock-down was spending quality time with my family. My Dad in particular is very generous with this time, always making an effort. He has never done anything lousy in his life, he has never taken a shortcut.  I don’t hold anyone in higher regard than him. He would never win any business awards, but he wins ‘Dad of the Year’ every day, every year with his three sons. We all feel the same.


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

How do you give confidence to the people you lead?


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I’ve read a ridiculous amount of self-help books. I have three long-term friends. They commonly have different views to me, which helps put things into perspective sometimes.


Topic: 50 in 50