Allan Kowall was born and raised in a small mining town in Northern Manitoba, Canada. After completing high school, he moved to Winnipeg to complete his education. He worked in various corporate positions in Winnipeg before being recruited by the British chemicals company May & Baker (later Rhone Poulenc). In 1985, he moved to Ontario to further his career with May & Baker, but instead he decided to leave the corporate world in 1989 and start his own business.
For 27 years from 1989 until 2016, Mr. Kowall ran his successful accounting firm, DK Consulting, out of Ontario, Canada. During this time, he joined a local networking group called Business Networking International, which helped him to significantly grow his business. During his time with BNI, he earned several rewards for his notable networking skills. He was also involved in the Kerr Village Business Improvement Area for a number of years, and held various positions including Chair of the Board.
In 2016, he sold his practice and went into semi-retirement, an arrangement he maintained until 2020. However, upon hearing feedback from his former clients who were dissatisfied with the new owners of DK Consulting, and who wanted him to return, he changed his plans. In mid-2020, Allan Kowall resumed practice under his own name in Oakville, Canada. He now specializes in small business consulting, and provides income tax preparation, bookkeeping, incorporation, and payroll services.
Tell us a little about your industry and why you chose to be an accountant?
Way back when, in 1985, I was recruited and brought here by a huge multinational chemical company called May & Baker. I didn’t like the political stupidity going on, dealing with Europe and the rest of the world, so I decided in ’89 to go out on my own. From ’89 to 2016, I ran my own practice, DK Consulting. But in 2016, I sold the practice and moved on. The idea was for me to semi-retire, but many of my customers were not happy with the new situation and with the new owners at DK Consulting, so I came back from retirement in 2020 and now I’m back out on my own, operating under my own name.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
I would say that the thing that surprised me the most was the importance of customer relationships. In accounting, we’re often inclined to focus only on the task at hand—to focus on the numbers. But really, customer relationships are critical. You’ve got to understand your customers and their needs, and you’ve got to give them a good reason to keep giving you their business. If not for the customer relationships I’ve forged over the years, I doubt I’d have had such a clear reason to come back from retirement four years after selling my practice.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
Before you get into this field, make sure it’s something you actually like doing. Accounting is a very interesting field, but it’s certainly not for everybody. It can be overwhelming if you’re not ready for it.
If you could change anything about your industry what would it be and why?
I would say that the various accounting associations need to develop better relationships with clients. Because that’s the one thing they don’t teach you in school; how important customer relations are. That’s one of the main issues with most accountants. They’re not very relationship-orientated with their clients.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think my colleagues would describe me as people-oriented. I’m able to develop relationships, even with people who might be the total opposite of me. Even with little in common, I can still find ways to relate to them.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
A solid work life balance is very important, especially further on in your career. It’s why I maintain my hobbies—you’ve always got to cultivate your passions outside of work, and you can’t let your passion for your work lure you away from that balance. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy golf and hockey, and I enjoy spending as much time as possible with my two grandsons.
What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?
My laptop, certainly. I mean, Microsoft Outlook in particular is great because it’s so useful for scheduling. But there are so many other pieces of software, so many other helpful utilities that are so very important as well. It’s a package deal. I couldn’t get the whole of my work done with any one piece of software, but everything I do need will run on my laptop.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
When a client moves on from you to go to someone else, that’s a big obstacle. It kind of hurts to lose a client, you know? No matter the reason. And sometimes it’s just that they’ve gotten too big, and it’s time for them to move on to a bigger firm with more resources. But it still hurts. You’ve just got to do right by clients while they’re with you, and make sure they’re receiving the best services they can get—even if that means that they outgrow you eventually, and have to move on.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
An old boss of mine in Winnipeg was a terrific role model, because he really taught me to be patient, to be understanding, and really how to develop relationships—not just with outside customers, but with the staff themselves. And that’s vitally important. If you avoid forging those relationships, you’re really withholding a key resource from yourself—one that you can’t go without if you expect to be successful.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten? Be true to yourself. It’s advice that you should follow not only in your personal life, but in your professional dealings, as well.