4 Oct 2013 01:55pm

She who dares

Whether it’s high diving, or leaping into a new life abroad, Lindsay Bridgland has always jumped right in. She tells Nick Martindale how she carved out a practice in Australia

There are times when Lindsay Bridgland is standing on the topmost diving board and wonders just what she is doing. “When you jump in the air you’re probably 5m above the water, and you’re doing 50km an hour when you hit the water, so if you haven’t got your hands in the right place it can really hurt,” she says. “I often wake up with a bruised forehead.”

Bridgland never intended to become a competitive diver when she started lessons at her local club in Sydney just 18 months ago. “I just wanted to have a go, but after two or three weeks they mentioned there was a competition coming up and I thought it sounded fun,” she says. “I’m not an adrenaline junkie but I am definitely very driven and there’s nothing that I wouldn’t try if I wanted to. If I had the urge to scale banana trees I would give it a go.”

This willingness to try new things is a theme that runs through 44-year-old Bridgland’s adult life. After gaining her ACA in the UK in the early 1990s, she had carved a stable – if slightly unconventional – life for herself, balancing her accounting work as a sole practitioner with a freelance lecturing post for BPP, and running a Rosemary Conley fitness franchise. Yet in 2000, she jacked it all in and headed to Australia with her boyfriend, Glenn, whom she had known for only 10 weeks.

“It was a big move,” she admits. “He rang me from Hong Kong and said he’d been given a job back in Australia. My response was, ‘When do we leave?’. It was instant but I think it’s easier to do it that way; if you sat around and waited for the right time, you’d never get round to it.”

Fortunately for Bridgland, the gamble paid off. She has since married him and they live in Turramurra – roughly half an hour from Sydney by train – with their 11-year-old daughter and Glenn’s 21-year-old son.

Yet she could never have predicted the difficulties she would face rebuilding her career in Australia. “It was difficult to find a job,” she admits. “I’m not a Big Four person, and all I could find was work as a bookkeeper for two mid-level firms.”

If I grow too big the risk is that I’ll lose the personal touch and I think that’s what people love when they ring me – I know who they are

Her real aim was to start her own accountancy business, and this was where she hit a wall – in getting the tax agent certificate required to set up a practice in Australia. She applied on three occasions; only to be knocked back each time.

The first was on the grounds of holding a British rather than Australian degree, which was eventually resolved when another individual in a similar position took the Tax Practitioners Board to court and won. The next requirement was for 12 months’ full-time experience, which was an issue for Bridgland, who had by this time been working for five years in a part-time capacity. Again, a court case brought by someone else came to her rescue, determining that part-time work should also count.

“When they won, I applied for a third time. That was when they said I needed to do a 12-month conversion course,” she recalls. “I had already done it in six months and got a distinction prize, but they said do it again, and do it slower.” By this time, however, she was involved in teaching a tax module for the ICCA chartered accountant programme, which swung the balance in her favour.

Since then, she has barely looked back. Her practice Bridgland & Co, which is based in her home office, has doubled in turnover each year since it was set up in 2009. In the early days, this was ostensibly on the back of existing clients from one of the firms she had been working for – which she was effectively operating under licence for the owner – but has now progressed into two core areas of individual tax returns, including the ex-pat market; and financial planning, operating self-managed investment funds for individuals and also advising several small firms on tax-efficient trust structures.

Today she turns over roughly £300,000 and has 350 clients whom she knows individually, and even chats to about family and holidays. “When I started out, the idea was to have something that would keep me amused for three days a week or so,” she recalls. “But new clients just keep appearing from referrals.

“If I grow too big the risk is that I’ll lose the personal touch and I think that’s what people love when they ring me – I know who they are.” She currently uses a number of freelance contractors to help with her workload, and calls on a local woman to help with her website.

However, the business is only part of Bridgland’s busy schedule. As well as competitive diving, she is a national level gymnastics judge – two levels below that required to judge the Olympics, which is her long-term target. She is also regularly called out to help rescue local animals and birds for Sydney Wildlife, for which she also acts as treasurer.

“We often get possums falling down chimneys or even stuck in between the glass and the shutter of a window,” she says, adding that when we speak she is fairly recently returned from freeing a cockatoo stuck in netting.

She can even be found flying the two-seater aeroplane she bought with her husband, taking remote working to new heights. If that’s not enough, she is also a member of Wild Women on Top, which involves trekking for hours during the night with a 20kg pack. “It’s very busy, but I love it,” she enthuses. “I don’t watch TV, so that frees up a lot of time.”

Bridgland returns to the UK every 18 months or so to see family. But with her heavy Australian accent, it’s fair to say she’s now more affiliated with her Antipodean life than the one she used to have back in England. “It takes five or six years but once you’ve been here that long you build up a network of friends and start to lose touch with people back home,” she says, adding, “I do think of myself as Australian now.”

Nick Martindale


Related articles

Five years on: what's changed for women in business?

Women and the world economy

Women board appointments slowing