Accounting for a bigger purpose: Social responsibility with Anton Colella from Moore Global

It could be said that divine intervention led Anton Colella to accounting—in a roundabout sort of way.

Anton's headshot next to his name


  • Anton Colella, CEO of Moore Global, spent the first part of his career not in accounting, but in religious education. Being an educator taught him how to motivate people, even in difficult situations.

  • Anton is an advocate for building charity into the DNA of your business alongside profit. The two should not be mutually exclusive.

  • Anton believes that young accountants need to have input in their firms if partnership is in the distant future.

Anton refers to his adolescent years as “not high-achieving years”. He found himself in trouble here and there, and wasn’t exactly a model student. But it all changed one day when he stepped into a Catholic church in his hometown of Glasgow. 

“It was in that church that I had what could be my encounter with the divine. And it was quite profound… Life was black and white one moment, and all of a sudden, it became a bit Technicolor. I found a level of peace and kind of focus that I never really had before,” he shares. 

Though his grades weren’t stellar, he still found a college to attend. 

“By a miracle, using a religious term, I managed to get into accountancy,” he says. 

But instead of going directly into accounting, he took a hard right. Anton worked in religious education for 18 years, helping young people explore life’s hard questions. He wanted to make a difference in how they saw the world and instill a sense of service to others. 

As Anton pivoted into accounting, he took his passion for making a difference with him. As CEO of Moore Global, he centers the company around giving back. 

Anton shares more about his journey with Karbon co-founder and host Stuart McLeod on episode 70 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, including his experience as a religious educator, building charity into your company’s DNA, and the new way accountants have to attract talent.

The school of life 

Relating to troubled teenage students was no problem for Anton, thanks to his own hard-knock teenage years. 

“I loved it, every minute of it. I was as tough as the toughest kids and the most cynical kids. It was nothing new to me,” Anton says. “They weren’t going through anything that I hadn't been through myself.”

Anton enjoyed that religious education in Scotland focuses less on academics and more on reflecting on life. The experience also showed him that people bring their troubles with them everywhere.

“When a young person comes to school, every day, they bring their whole life with them. And for some of the kids, they bring the last 24 hours of their lives. In the case of so many young people, that can be horrific,” Anton explains. “But you can create an environment of peace, a calm and safe place to have conversations. It was never too long before young people were willing to talk about existential matters.”

Anton’s goal was to turn the worst performing school in Scotland into the best performing school as headmaster. Unfortunately, that task ended up being out of reach. But he still had an opportunity to make change. Following a testing crisis in which thousands of students were delivered the wrong test results, he was nominated to fix the system. And he did exceedingly well. Within two years and at 41 years old, Anton was CEO of that organization. That leadership experience set the stage for the next leg of his career.

For the greater good

Though Anton left education, his 18 years in the industry served him well. He picked up his interest in accounting again, eventually becoming the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. Thanks to his experience working with young people for so long, he’d gathered a few ideas about how all people work.

“Here's the key to the human dynamic of organizational leadership: it’s persuading people to do things they don't believe they can do, or they don't want to do. It's persuading them to see something bigger about what they're doing, and give it a purpose. That's what I was doing for 18 years as a teacher. All I did was translate it into a bigger classroom,” he says of his transition into the business world. 

It takes more than espresso machines and free cake on Fridays to keep employees happy. Anton wants companies to focus on the greater good at the core of what they do. And it doesn’t just feel good to help others.

Stuart points out that building in charitable work or a bigger purpose benefits all stakeholders, including clients. Anton agrees, and says that it’s easy to be a good firm—the challenge is in pushing a little harder. 

“The biggest journey is from ‘good’ to ‘great’. It's the kind of organization that people talk about for generations: I worked for them. This is one of the things that has always preoccupied me as a teacher and working with people. One of the responsibilities of leaders is to elicit that greatness, to bring it out not just in individuals but in an organization,” Anton says on the podcast.

For Anton, the mark of greatness is whether an organization has left a lasting impact on its community. Rather than hoarding profits, Anton thinks organizations have a responsibility to leave the world better than they found it. That is what makes greatness. 

“When you're a teacher, you change lives,” he says. “And that's why as the CEO, if Moore Global does not change lives, I'm in the wrong job.” 

Recommended reading: Infusing accounting software with humanity with Andrew Jordon of Connect4

Giving people ownership and purpose

Stuart and Anton discuss how the accounting profession doesn’t have the esteem it had perhaps 20 years ago. Part of this comes from scandals like Enron, and part comes from the reputation from the Big 4 firms

The grind culture of long hours with little pay doesn’t hold up in today’s society where work isn’t (and shouldn’t) be the most important thing in life. A 30-year partner track doesn’t hold up in today’s job market. 

“There is a lack of opportunity to create individual wealth in accounting firms because of the traditional partner models,” Stuart says. 

Anton thinks it’s still possible to give young accountants something to be excited about. It all comes down to making people feel seen and heard. 

“I think we will see some new ownership structures at firms, which will challenge the status quo,” he says. Part of that is inclusion in private equity models, no matter how small those may seem. Offering ownership stake creates buy-in from both sides—the firm has an active interest in the employee, and vice versa. 

Young people are far more challenging and skeptical about structure, systems, and processes. And they will not function in an environment where they don't have a voice.

Anton Colella, Moore Global

Giving young accountants a seat at the table is important, but you also have to put your money where your mouth is. You have to deliver a genuinely good working experience. 

“You want to create the best working environment possible for the next generation. We spend one-third of our lives at work. For many people today, that one-third of their lives is not necessarily a source of fulfillment. How many people have health issues because of work? How many marriages have gone because of the pressures of work and the impact of work on domestic life?” Anton points out. 

A variety of factors have to come together to attract today’s young accountants. The money has to be right. The work environment needs to be supportive. They need to be seen and heard. But Anton adds one more factor that many firms overlook: purpose. Some of that is pride in the accounting profession itself. 

It’s also far more motivating to work for a company that’s having a positive impact on the world than it is to work for one that only focuses on personal gain and the bottom line.

“At Moore, I would like to create an environment where the young people that come and join us spend the rest of their lives [with us] because it's a noble business to work in. It satisfies their aspirations and provides the remuneration to help them live the lifestyle that they want to live but also in an environment, which is caring, supportive, challenging and fulfilling,” he says.

Growing forward

Anton uses a holistic approach to determine whether Moore Global is growing at a healthy pace. With a focus on community and making lasting change, companies are far more likely to find success in all aspects: recruitment, drawing in clients, and keeping the best people around. 

He offers up a few questions as food for thought.

“What do we want to be, not just in the next three months? What's our contribution to society? What do we want to say to people about why we're doing what we're doing?” he asks. 

“The firms that are doing that now are the firms that are going to attract the talent, and they may find that some of that talent might just stay.”