Ambition brought them here

What is it that makes an accountancy firm promote a marketer to the partnership? And why does Bhimal Hira — one of the few people in this role in the UK — think that many other marketing people will follow in his steps? Neasa MacErlean finds out about the Jeffreys Henry model.

 

As a 36-year old who worked his way up in the Jeffreys Henry marketing team, Hira is not the typical partner. While firms are promoting younger these days, they still largely expect technical expertise in the services they sell. But it is clear that Hira has helped the 141-year old firm strike out on a ‘brave’ course. Bravery is one of the values that the ten-partner London practice includes in its mission statement. Hira drove the rebranding exercise of the last couple of years which has formalised so many of the changes that Jeffreys Henry was already working on.

The biggest example of its bravery so far has been the decision to launch itself into an area which has been the preserve of the Big Four accountants for the last 20 years — listed companies. Ten years ago Jeffreys Henry had just a handful of listed clients. Now it has 47 — 22 in London, and 25 in other European markets. “We used the first two as a foundation to grow our expertise,” says Hira, looking back to 2011. “With every transaction and every new listed client, we would do quite a big PR and dance show around it.” Articles went on the website and out in the monthly newsletter, including to a target list of “100 highly engaged Chief Finance Officers and Finance Directors”. During Covid, this thought leadership programme looked at critical issues such as maintaining the accounts publication timetable (crucial for raising finance) and staying solvent (as part of the ‘Going Concern’ principle). And so in 2020 the 100-personnel practice, ranked nationally about 60th by revenue, ended up as 10th among auditors of listed companies in the Adviser Rankings table.

The firm’s branding is on the brave side too. One of its Home Page photos (marked ‘Ambition brought you here…’) could be used as a film poster. “We wanted to stand out,” says Hira. “Our branding is quite in your face. A lot of our clients are fast-growth and entrepreneurial businesses. We wanted to be just like them.” Like many of them, it has also gone international (through Morison KSi).

In tune with the brave, ambitious approach is the thinking behind the logo — an angular container (which could be a podium or an arrow pointing up). This is intended to reflect concepts of high performance, energy and vibrancy. “The logo is inspired by the determination of an athlete reaching their goals… it represents everyone pulling in the right direction to support the dreams and aspirations of our clients.”

But the most challenging step for the Old Street-based practice could well be the next one. In January this year Jeffreys Henry became the first firm in regulated professional services to receive investment funds from a specialist fund run by Tenzing. This private equity firm describes itself as the “go-to investor for ambitious entrepreneurs looking to scale tech-enabled businesses”.

Founded in 2015, Tenzing is a private investor which has a niche in regulated professional services.The Jeffreys Henry-Tenzing partnership has been planned and discussed since mid 2020, and will see new funds go into three main areas — sales and marketing, tech and the acquisition of other accounting firms. “Both of us want to grow significantly in size in five years,” says Hira. This is from an £11m revenue base in 2020.

On sales and marketing, Hira estimates that the firm is in the top 10 per cent of firms. It has a “regular flow of leads” in its specialist sectors (capital markets, hospitality, property, tech-digital and creative, in particular). The new investment into this area will focus on developing the internal sales processes for the partners. “Partners are at the core of Sales & Marketing,” he says. “Clients buy into the individual partners. It’s now about developing partners to be more Sales & Marketing-oriented. It’s more about relationship management than hard selling… Building a personal brand that sets you out as a sector specialist will become a highly sought-after skill.”

The training that partners will get will also be extended to the other professionals. “Part of our growth strategy is looking at bringing managers and other fee-earners to partner and director level – and installing relationship-building skills into people on training contracts and on apprenticeships.”

Becoming more skilled and ambitious is a goal for the whole practice, not just for the individuals within it. “We are trying new ideas across our different services and sectors,” says Hira. “Tech has become our main focus. Tech drives through everything we do.” He cites the use of Artificial Intelligence and innovation within audit and risk identification as an example. The different sector teams are also developing their own ways of communicating with contacts. The Corporate group finds that LinkedIn works best; Facebook is better for the creatives, artists and art gallery niches; and Instagram has obvious merits for hotels and other areas of hospitality.

Not only does Hira believe that other marketers will become partners, he thinks this pattern “is the future”. He explains: “The leadership team needs to be made up of non-practising people – tech, HR, marketing.” Specialists in these areas will, he insists, need “to demonstrate tangible return on investment”.

Having spent a decade in marketing at Jeffreys Henry, Hira believes that the Mid-Tier firms are facing internal pressures to change approach, as well as pressures from rivals. “There’s a lot of consolidation in this market,” he says. “There are a lot of old and retiring partners who haven’t really kept up with technology, innovation and Sales & Marketing. So it’s ripe for disruption. The Mid-Tier will be condensed down — and a lot of larger firms will grow out of that.”

Hira is not a man to hide his thoughts. And like his firm’s home page, it is clear that ‘ambition brought him here’. Marketers in other practices might not share all his views and approach but they face the same challenges — and need to ask the same questions of themselves even if they reach different conclusions.