Kevin Latta FCPA: The numbers man who beat the odds

Kevin Latta FCPA was born into an accounting family, and developed an understanding of finance from an early age. At the age of 33, Latta’s life would be forever changed.

Kevin Latta FCPA has spent a lifetime nurturing his love of numbers and successfully defying statistics.

As an accountant, Kevin Latta FCPA has a natural penchant for numbers. The 72-year-old retiree has 50 years of accounting experience, but there are some numbers that have particular significance for him, both personally and professionally.

Latta was born into an accounting family, and developed an understanding of finance from an early age.

On leaving school in the 1960s, he took a job as a settlement clerk at a large life insurance company before his passion for cars steered him to the automotive industry.

It was while working for family-owned automotive company James N. Kirby Pty Ltd, at the age of 33, that Latta’s life would be forever changed. Out on a bicycle ride along a quiet country road with friends, the group was struck by a motorcyclist. Latta was critically injured. He broke 32 bones – 10 major bones and 22 smaller bones in his feet and hands. He would spend four months in hospital and three years undergoing rehabilitation.

“Statistically speaking, breaking three major bones is often fatal because of blood clotting ending up in the lungs, and I broke 10,” Latta says.

The impact broke his femur, fibula and tibia, knee, hip, pelvis, both arms, shoulder and wrist and damaged his lungs, heart and bladder. He lost a finger, and his right arm and leg are paralysed. He was told he would probably never walk again, and declared “unemployable”.

It’s a label that did not sit well with him. Right-handed in an era when data entry was done with pen and paper, Latta committed to learning to type.

By the time Latta left hospital, he could type 20 words a minute, about as fast as people can write.

His company’s chairman, Kevin Kirby, supported his determination to return to work. In 1981, Apple IIe computers had been launched in Australia. The first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc, had also been released, so Kirby allowed Latta to teach himself VisiCalc and try out the company’s first Apple IIe. It was liberating.

With a solution now firmly in his sights, Latta applied for, and received, a government grant of A$5000 to purchase a computer as a writing aid, and began designing his own budgeting and forecast programs for the company.

For someone who had been told he may never walk again, Latta spent a lot of his work time away from his desk. He’d given back the disabled parking permit issued at the hospital to free up the spaces for “those who really needed them”.

Latta’s love of cars and all things mechanical would see him head down to the factory floor to gather information from the foreman and engineers, a practice he would continue throughout his career – riding the trains with the drivers or heading into yards while working with the State Rail Authority in the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

“You have to understand the business, and if you know the foreman, he’ll give you information when you go down to see him,” Latta says.

“If you take the official path [from your office], you’ll get the official answer.”

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He’d joined the State Rail Authority after the decline of the automotive industry forced the sale of the Kirby business. Refusing to let his career be determined by a physical disability, he pitched his strong accountancy skills, passion for the industry, extensive experience and strong work ethic. How much impact that had he’ll never know, but Latta got the job and says he never requested, or received, any special treatment to accommodate his different needs.

“Employers need to ask themselves if a person’s disability affects their ability to do the job. A lot of time it doesn’t, and you’ll most likely get yourself a very loyal staff member.”

As the finance manager of crewing, or staffing, the trains, Latta was a key player in planning the transport needs of an Olympic host city about to enter the world’s spotlight.

“When I successfully presented their first budget and gained the budget allocation they needed, I was accepted as their numbers man,” he recalls.

Once the Games were over, his boss retired and Latta found he had a lot less to do. He was not being challenged by the work and, confident he had managed his finances well, took an early retirement aged 53.

He’s remained actively involved in accounting through the CPA Australia Illawarra Regional Council, receiving his second President’s Award for Excellence in 2016 for “helping the Illawarra Regional Council for longer than anyone can remember”. He began the work the same year he became an FCPA.

“I believe older accountants have a wealth of experience they should use to help the younger generation,” Latta says. “Ongoing involvement with CPA Australia keeps me in touch with the financial world. I am never too old to learn.”

One piece of advice

Never give up. Look for a solution; sometimes it can be glaringly obvious.

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