Insolvency firm Jirsch Sutherland celebrates 40th anniversary

24 March 2024 Consultancy.com.au 2 min. read
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In 1984, Apple introduced its original Macintosh personal computer, conceived by two visionary men. On the other side of the world, also in 1984, two other men also brought their vision to life . . .”

Specialist insolvency & turnaround consultancy Jirsch Sutherland has taken the opportunity of its 40th anniversary to have a look back on its past.

Now spanning the country’s four largest states, the firm was established in Sydney in 1984 by foreign nationals Rick Jirsch and Rod Sutherland, respectively of New Zealand and the UK, who had become frustrated at their lack of autonomy at Coopers & Lybrand and decided to set out on their own.

Insolvency firm Jirsch Sutherland celebrates 40th anniversary

“We were both unhappy being in a big firm,” recalls Sutherland, an insolvency professional who retired in 2014 after more than 30 years in the industry. “Founding Jirsch Sutherland gave us an opportunity to specialise in the work we liked. I enjoyed insolvency because I found it more challenging. It wasn’t very well done in those days and the laws were inadequate. Meanwhile, Rick was very happy to handle the tax accounting side of the partnership.”

While Coopers & Lybrand got even bigger shortly after Jirsch Sutherland’s founding – merging with Price Waterhouse to form Big Four giant PwC – the two young accountants spent the first few years in business quietly plugging away on their own before eventually hiring some staff – with both side of the practice already proving profitable. However, the pair split around seven years in due to the competing tax & accounting wing causing a hesitancy in referrals.

From there, Jirsch Sutherland began to expand as an insolvency pure-play, with Sutherland citing two specific market-shaping events which helped to significantly accelerate the firm’s growth; a change in Institute of Chartered Accountants laws around marketing, and the introduction of voluntary administration legislation. Sutherland: “We were able to get a larger percentage of this type of work because the big firms weren’t very good at it.”

Today the firm has a team of 16 partners across its Australian offices and a headcount pushing the 120 mark.

Among those partners is Newcastle leader Lloyd Kerr, who established the office in 1993 as Jirsch Sutherland’s first outside of Sydney. A steady expansion to Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia followed through a mix of organic launches and acquisitions, with a Gold Coast outlet recently on the cards.

Current national managing partner Bradd Morelli, who joined the firm in 2008, recalls his earlier years working under Sutherland: “Rod said to me, ‘Meet the accountants, generate the work and don’t be a dickhead – the rest will work itself out’. I found this advice inspiring, although a bit nerve-wracking. Rod’s mentoring taught people how to follow-through. I put much of my success down to the support, opportunity and guidance he gave me.”