BDO Brisbane managing partner Steven Sorbello quickly learnt the direct relationship between effort and reward

Steven Sorbello , National Leader, Corporate Finance |

11 March 2020

After letting an ambition to be a mechanic pass, watching the cogs of the financial industry turn has become the main focus for a man who also enjoys time with family. 

This article was first published in The Courier Mail’s March 2020 edition of Queensland Business Monthly magazine. 

Tell us about your early years.

I can well and truly call Brisbane home. I was born here, attended Ascot State School and Gregory Terrace before completing Commerce and Law degrees at the University of Queensland.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

A mechanic. I have always loved engines but (with the exception of working on the lawn mower) I did not ever spend time pursuing that career. Probably not a bad decision given the repair job I did on the mower. In my early teens I also tried to tune my Dad’s Jag just before it was used in my cousin’s wedding…I was very lucky it did not leave the bride stranded.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

Having parents in a property business, I was extremely fortunate to have been introduced to work at a very early age. From gardening and cleaning car parks to pest and weed control – property maintenance was where I started. I quickly learnt the direct relationship between effort and reward. I also learnt how hard it is to cut grass when you leave it too long!

What’s the current biggest challenge in your industry?

The rate of change in our industry is significant. Changes relating to technology and regulations will definitely create challenges but will also provide great opportunities. Not only are we exposed to changes in the financial industry we operate in, we are also exposed to changes in our clients’ businesses as we help them navigate and solve problems. Change inevitably brings a level of stress and I think one of the most important challenges we face is to give our people the right tools and support so that they can adapt to change.

If you could change anything about doing business in Qld what would it be?

Queensland is generally a great place to do business in and I would strongly recommend southern-based businesses come up and have a look. Warm people, great climate…what more could you ask for!

We’ve been reminded recently that Mother Nature does play a role though. Over the break I felt for the communities doing it tough without water and I could easily argue that a water pipeline from North Queensland down to the South East to encourage economic activity would be a nice change. The irony is that as I write this I have been sent a text warning of flooding from Maryborough to the New South Wales border.

A change that runs a very close second for me is an overhaul of our state-based tax system – payroll tax, land tax and stamp duty. I know a few people who could help with a new design.

Do you have a motto you live or work by?

“A star team will always out perform a team of star players”. I have had to operate under this model to ensure my shortcomings were well compensated. Surrounding yourself with smarter people and getting the right people in the right seats is critical.

Another very simple motto that has stuck with me for a long time is that “if it is to be, it is up to me”. The two mottos might sound contradictory but for me they work well together.

What does successful in business mean to you?

Success in business is simple, creating an environment in which all team members have the opportunity to develop personally and reach their full potential. If you can get team members playing to their strengths and supporting each other success will be inevitable.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given/do you have a mentor?

Focus on the process and the outcome will take care of itself – an extremely useful piece of advice for life generally but especially when things are not going all that well…one foot in front of the other! I have also been told that “if you are going through hell – keep going!”

Where was your last holiday?

We made a decision to support the Australian economy this year and take the girls to Perth, followed by a short stint at Noosa (my favourite beach location). Perth is a beautiful city and there is plenty to do (including selfies with Quokkas). It’s just too far away.

Any interesting hobbies/how do you unwind from work/balance family and work?

It’s always difficult to balance, but there are three things that seem to help keep me more sane:

  1. I have an incredibly engaging wife and two wonderful daughters – spending time with them is a grounding experience and takes my mind off my work
  2. Notwithstanding my inept sporting ability, I decided to get fit a few years ago and now exercise for 30 to 45 minutes every day. This could include running, swimming or cycling (indoors on a trainer). I have focused my efforts by competing in a couple of triathlons, which have been a lot of fun
  3. I start my day (before others in our house surface) with a meditation and try to be mindful from there (some days are much better than others!).

Link to QBM article: