The power of community
Joe Fanto just wanted to find his roots. What he found led to an important role in his community and, as a result, the success of his accounting firm.
From a young age, Joe Fanto knew he wanted to work in business.
With a talent for numbers and a love for people, choosing to become an accountant was hardly a tough decision. Even when he decided to leave his employer and start his own practice in 1985, Mr Fanto had a strange feeling that it was all meant to be.
“My vision was always to go and start my own business. It cost me about $5,000 to set up a one-man office, and then I went off on a one-month holiday in Italy. That’s how confident I was that things were going to work out,” he says.
But that trip would change everything.
Having visited Caulonia in the south of Italy – the village where his parents had grown up – Mr Fanto was now determined to return to this part of the world every year. But first, he needed to make the necessary changes to grant him the flexibility.
And so, in 1988, Mr Fanto brought in Frank Martino as his business partner and changed the name of the practice from Joe Fanto & Associates to Fanto Martino & Co., which still serves the Adelaide area in South Australia today.
“The blessing in disguise was that overseas trip to Italy,” he says.
“The first thing that hit me was that I needed to do this as often as I can because I found my roots. I loved what I found when I went across to Italy. Straight away, I established that this was going to be a part of my life.
“Having a partner in the business let me do this. I had already picked up on the concept that you have to have balance.”
Mr Fanto’s initial goal might have been to establish better work/life balance, but he never expected it would also lead to the success of his practice.
Prior to going solo, Mr Fanto had worked in audit for a large firm of Chartered Accountants, known as Arthur Young & Co. After six years, he moved to work with a smaller firm called Bowman Manser & Associates before starting his own firm.
“I established the practice in the area that I lived close to. I had a lot of friends in the area, so I found it to be quite easy to start the business,” he says. “In the second year, the business doubled in size and it grew quite quickly.”
But as he got closer to his cultural background, Mr Fanto became a well-known figure in the Italian community and the go-to person for accounting and tax services.
To date, he has spent $0 on advertising, Mr Fanto says. He accomplished this partly by joining the Society of Saint Hilarion, which was founded by a group of Caulonia migrants who fled to Australia during the second World War. Their goal for the society was to preserve their Italian culture and religious traditions.
In 1987, the organisation purchased a nursing home in response to an aging community and a need for culturally specific services, and has since grown to become a boutique aged care and community service provider in Adelaide. It owns and operates two facilities in western suburbs, one in Fulham and another in Seaton.
During that time, Mr Fanto was elected to the society’s first aged care management board and has served every year since, including four years as chairman from 2007 to 2011. Today, he currently serves as a board member and a procurator, which means he helps oversee the whole operation of the organisation.
Mr Fanto says visiting the village of Caulonia every year allows him to gain trust.
“I could relate to the people and the village and the reason why they migrated to Australia. That’s my big tie to the community from a charity point of view, because it’s been voluntary all the way through. No remuneration whatsoever,” he says.
“If people feel comfortable with the way you deal with people, and they know you have a service to offer, they’ll come and see you. I’ve been involved since I was 21 years old and I can’t imagine ever getting off of [the board].”
Mr Fanto’s other major interest is eightball, and has served as president of The World Eightball Pool Federation since 1997 and president of The Australian Eightball Federation from 1999 to 2016. He was made a life member of the AEBF in 2006.
The sport has not only brought him around the world, but new clients as well.
“I have set up my practice in a way that gives me the flexibility to travel for eightball, which has taken me to places like South Africa, Germany and Malta,” he says.
“I just love meeting people from different parts of the world. I can mention a lot of clients that I got from eightball, as well.”
‘No client is too small’
Getting involved in his community was not the only way Mr Fanto was able to grow his business. He also gives credit to the relationships he has established with clients.
“I treat my clients like my friends. I empathise with clients and with people in general, and that has shown through in my work with the community,” he says.
“It’s all about being able to listen. And once you listen, come back with solutions. It’s important to establish a relationship with them to the point where they feel comfortable with you. I always do that before we even talk about tax issues or accounting.”
Mr Fanto is also a firm believer that no client is too small, which has enabled him to build a good reputation and gain more clients throughout the years.
“I always look to mums and dads that might mention, ‘Oh, my son has just started this job at the corner supermarket’. And I’d say, ‘Yes. I’ll work with him and there’s no charge’, because that young person later on becomes a client,” Mr Fanto says.
“As these young people grow up, this person that you think is too small may buy an investment property, may buy some shares, may get into a business. Just the normal things that happen in life might turn into opportunities.”
While this all contributed to the success of his firm, Mr Fanto wants to make it clear that it was not done by design.
“It just happened by nature,” Mr Fanto says. “I didn’t set out to do it on purpose, but I did benefit from it.”
Still, there was one event that heavily influenced Mr Fanto’s attitude toward work/life balance. In 2000, his son with cerebral palsy passed away at the age of 16.
“Caring for him put life into perspective, for all of us making application to succeed in business very easily compared [with] the challenges he faced in his short life,” he says.
As for the future, Mr Fanto says he has just one goal: to never retire. Or at least, not yet.
“It might seem strange but I really enjoy what I do. And I enjoy it because of the informal structure that has been put in place. I always have something to look forward to and I have the flexibility to carry it out,” he says.
“My plans for the future is to keep doing what I’m doing as much as possible. I got the best of both worlds. I just try to make the most of all the aspects in my life.
“What can I say? I’m very happy.”