Jirsch Sutherland Consultant Haydn Harrison believes when it comes to insolvency work, it’s important to understand the whole story. “It has been said that every picture tells a story, well I often say that I can read a life by simply reviewing bank statements,” he says.
Based in Melbourne, Haydn has been providing consultancy services to Jirsch Sutherland for 11 years. “My work involves investigating the reasons that have led to the failure of a business and to identify any possible breaches by the director(s) under the various provisions of the Corporations Act 2001 (“the Act”) and or the Bankruptcy Act. This usually requires an analysis of documents that are available, financial statements, as well as a review of bank statements – something that allows me to gain a clear picture of an overall situation.”
Haydn has sympathy for directors who get into financial difficulties. “Most people don’t start a business intending it to fail, but sometimes circumstances – and lack of experience – and or good advice, leads to a company continuing to operate when it shouldn’t,” he says. “This can then cause harm to suppliers and other creditors. But any investigation must look objectively at the circumstances and determine if the business owner’s actions were reasonable, which is what I aim to do.”
Having been involved in the insolvency sector for around 15 years, Haydn says his current role largely entails assisting Jirsch Sutherland’s liquidators. This work can often lead to litigation action being taken against directors who have been trading while insolvent or clawing back funds by way of preference claims. Identifying breach of duties and unfair preferences is one of his key roles. “For this, you need to have an understanding of the corporate and business environment, good forensic accounting skills and a strong legal understanding of the different Acts that relate to litigation and how to apply the law to the matter at hand,” he says.
Variety a key attraction
Prior to joining Jirsch Sutherland, Haydn worked as an industry consultant (aged care industry) for the Over 50 Group. One of the attractions of his current role, he says, is that every matter is different, as are the circumstances. “Often it’s a puzzle, which means while the approach to each matter is similar, the actions arising can be very complex and need a great deal of thought,” he says. “I approach each matter with the intention of nailing the hard issues first.”
He adds for any investigation, it’s critical to determine why a company failed, what the cause of the failure was, and the date when the company or the individual could no longer pay its debts. “It’s also important to know whether at the date of the insolvency the directors took reasonable actions to protect the creditors,” he says. “And did they abide by the regulations and the obligations around duty of care? Did some creditors receive an unfair advantage over others?”
Haydn says if statutory obligations weren’t met and this caused creditors to suffer a loss, his role is to then assist the liquidator determine if there are avenues to recover monies on behalf of creditors. “I’ve worked on many jobs at Jirsch Sutherland and achieved some great returns for creditors following successful claims,” he says. “One of the greatest successes came when we were appointed by the defence team on a case that dealt with a claim against a director for insolvent trading. Our expert report, which was used by the defence, led to a successful mediation.”
Early assessment a vital skill
Haydn’s skillset makes him uniquely suited to his role at Jirsch Sutherland. He’s had more than 40 years’ experience in the banking sector and over 16 years as a consultant in the insolvency industry. “In this time, I’ve gained keen investigative and analytical skills, and these help me to identify the big picture and to deep dive into a matter where necessary,” he says. “The work I do requires the skill to assess a situation quickly, often with very limited information and to determine whether a matter should be pursued through the courts or not.”
An early qualification is essential, he says, as court matters are very time consuming and expensive.
Haydn has also been on the board of several not-for-profit organisations, including as a director with Vincentcare Victoria. “During the 10 years I was with the company, I helped with the redevelopment of Ozanam House, a state-of-the-art facility built as a crisis and accommodation centre for the homeless.”
Haydn entered the insolvency sector via a circuitous route. Around 1990, he was appointed to establish the credit management team for the CBA and was then appointed to a role within the due diligence team following the merger with the State Bank of Victoria. “Around this time, I met many insolvency practitioners,” he says. “Following my time at CBA I joined a bankruptcy business, later working with Malcolm Howell [Jirsch Sutherland Partner] at another insolvency firm. After Malcolm joined Jirsch Sutherland to establish the Victorian base, he asked me to join him, and this is how I came to work with the firm. It’s all Malcolm’s fault,” he quips.
However, it’s not all work for Haydn. The father of four also has 11 grandchildren and still finds time to follow Melbourne Football Club and play golf and guitar. “To me, family is number one,” he says. “Everything else is secondary.”
And it certainly helps when you enjoy what you do at work, which Haydn readily agrees is the case. “The work is never the same and each new matter is like a puzzle to be solved,” he says. “The team is also great to work with and very supportive. I see the culture at Jirsch Sutherland as professional although relaxed, and differences are respected, which is not the case in all industries. I place great importance on being professional in all matters and also the need to pursue personal professional growth and development. I also believe in the need to ensure that the firm’s brand is well respected by all.”