27 November 2023

Life-threatening illness, burnout leads to creation of Canberra consulting firm with heart

| Dione David
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Nick Chapman

Nick Chapman had difficulty finding a consultancy firm to work for with values that aligned with his own – so he created one. Photo: Brooke Zotti.

When Nick Chapman’s wife Belinda was battling cancer, she really wanted two things: a dog and a home of their own.

The dog – a Lagotto named Betty – came fairly quickly. The house took a little longer but, eventually, she and Nick had a patch of Kingston’s Parbery Street to call their own.

At the time Nick was working for a consultancy firm, and big-life questions were arising.

“I had burnt a bit of capital with people in the office because I was taking a lot of leave. Leadership at the firm was quite supportive, a few colleagues though weren’t,” he says.

“One day, a mate told me ‘Look, you need to reset. It’s time to either make a change or put the extra work in to get where we need you to be’.

“I was exhausted, I didn’t have the extra bandwidth. So I decided to make that change.”

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As life-threatening ordeals can sometimes do, this difficult period brought clarity for Nick and Belinda – and an impetus to make life decisions that aligned with their values. Finding a firm to work for with values that aligned with his was less straightforward for Nick.

But they had Betty, and they were building their home on Parbery Street, which had become a symbol of hope for the couple.

One day Nick sat himself down and went through the process of deciding his next move.

“It was a very deliberate process. I had a conversation with myself about my values, and what a good firm meant to me, and the word I kept coming back to was ‘authentic’,” he says.

“It resonated with me, but it’s not a word that resounded at the places I had worked.”

It became clear Nick’s next move would be to create the kind of workplace he wanted.

Kylie Burnett

Kylie Burnett had lost interest in working for firms laser-focussed on the bottom line. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The name of the company, in a lot of ways, was decided for him. When researching the history behind the street name Parbery, he discovered Mr Parbery was a dentist in Canberra in the 30s. His wife, Mrs Parbery, was a local socialite, community volunteer and a founding member, former president and champion at the Canberra Croquet Club – the very club where Nick was the current president and club champion.

So in 2017, Nick’s consulting firm Parbery was born. Less than a year later, he partnered with Kylie Burnett – a public servant of 10-plus years with a matching ethos and a story not dissimilar to his own.

“We’d both had life events that gave us the impetus to reassess how we wanted to live our work lives every day and what compromises we did or didn’t want to make,” Kylie says.

“We had both reached the point in life where our integrity and our value set took precedence.”

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Kylie would later become managing partner. Her own experience of the private sector after leaving government work had made her wary of firms laser-focussed on the bottom line.

The philosophy at Parbery is different and very simple: people first.

“We want to be the best place for people to work. If we are the best place to work, we’ll get the best people and the best people bring the best clients and the best clients bring the best work,” Nick says.

“It’s really simple: find good humans and treat them well, then they’ll stay and do good things.”

Kylie agrees it’s all about the people.

“Every consulting firm in town will say they’re the best at a certain capability,” she says. “The reality is there’s very little between almost every generalist consulting business in what they deliver.

“Really, it’s just the people that differentiate the quality of service that is delivered. So, our value proposition is our people.”

Group of people in a meeting under a sign: "The authentic alternative."

Parbery’s value proposition is its people. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

In six years Parbery’s value proposition ballooned from Nick and Kylie to more than 70 people, including third owner, Kim Moeller.

The firm has positioned itself to offer tier-one quality consulting with affordable pricing to a diverse range of businesses from small to large, in a wide range of sectors.

Parbery works across a large number of Commonwealth, state and territory departments, and with other small and medium businesses. As a generalist consulting firm, it delivers on everything from program and project management to organisational transformation, strategic communications, costing and financial advisory services, business process improvements, reviews and audits, commercial services including procurement and contract management, and engineering and integrated logistics support.

In keeping with a self-promise to build a business with uncompromising values, Parbery’s staff-led community contribution program supports numerous community organisations including Domestic Violence Crisis Service, Roundabout Canberra, Mental Illness Education ACT and Pegasus.

Going forward, Nick says the only plan set in stone is to observe that word – authentic.

“We need good, continuous growth to provide opportunities for our staff, so we’ll continue growing while it’s fun to do that,” he says.

“Other than that, at the end of day we want to go home at night satisfied with what we’ve done for the community around us.”

To find out more, visit Parbery.


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