MHA has been operating an unusual business model over the last two years.
An association, comprising six well-respected regional firms, was set up in 2010. Since then, two more firms have joined the group, with its membership today taking in Bloomer Heaven, Broomfield & Alexander, Carpenter Box, Henderson Loggie, Larking Gowen, MacIntyre Hudson, Moore and Smalley, and Tait Walker.
It was a move that gave the association presence in Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, the northeast, the northwest and the Midlands, and now sees it operating through 37 offices across the country.
It is a model that is not often seen, and thus far, group chairman Rakesh Shaunak is pleased with the results. So much so that he hopes the firms will be united under one brand inside two years.
"Our objective is to converge towards common working practices", explains Shaunak. "We haven't defined or pre-ordained that it should be a merger. But I think it's inevitable when you move in a direction where there's commonality, you end up with an organisation which is exactly the same. We would expect a run-in of a two year period."
Indeed, the process is well under way, with commonality in place across the group already in back-office capacities, including procurement. The convergence of compliance, procedures, recruitment and audit programmes are all in the pipeline.
"We have a common procurement policy for training and we all use the same provider, which has allowed us to obtain discounts of up to 25% on our student training, while we have a common policy on IT and we appointed a technical manager specifically for MHA," he says.
Shaunak (pictured left) recalls very few teething problems, even when pressed on the issue. His memory improves, though, when harking back to unforeseen "wins" – regular cost- and policy-benchmarking in particular.
"We set up the right corporate governance model, which meant that all the managing partners of the firms felt involved," he says. "We had a good structure – the engine room, as it were – where all the sector heads, the service line heads, the delivery heads all identified with MHA at a very early stage."
For Shaunak, as long as the aim is integration, the component firms are welcome to move at their own pace, with no fixed dates set for total integration.
"It doesn't create any unnecessary pressure," he explains. "As long as the goal is common and congruous, there is a benefit of having a flexible timetable. Given the diversity of the position we started off with, some firms are more advanced than others."
That relaxed attitude to the association does not seem to have impeded it. In fact, the project is now at a stage where Shaunak is satisfied that it can bid for work on a combined basis.
"In the public sector, a lot of these things require a national presence," he says. "In that sense, we are operating as one entity."
In practical terms, it appears the line is blurred between the independence of the component firms and them being effectively regional branches of MHA, with clients and projects delegated to constituent firms based on geography and expertise.
"Henderson Loggie [MHA member based in Scotland] is a good example", says Shaunak. "We have a number of instances where we have the relationship here [in London] but Henderson Loggie is doing the audit work because the client is based in Dundee."
Larking Gowen further illustrates that, specialising in agriculture and charities among other things in East Anglia: clients with interests in those areas will be audited by them, while the client will be managed by MacIntyre Hudson.
"The client isn't flitting between the two", says Shaunak. "They're paying due regard to the fact we're operating as one entity and we have a Dundee office, as it were. Ordinarily in the past, we would have serviced that from here."
That being the case, it appears unification in a more official sense is little more than a formality, but only time – an abundant commodity for MHA – will tell.
Number of partners: 129 across the whole association
Offices: 37 nationwide. MacIntyre Hudson headquarters in Blackfriars
Fee income: £86m across the whole association – listed as separate entities in Accountancy Age's Top 50+50
Specialist sectors: Agriculture, healthcare, legal, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and engineering, media and entertainment, not-for-profit, owner-managed businesses, property and construction, technology, transport and logistics, travel and tourism
Source: Accountancy Age and MHA MacIntyre Hudson
Rakesh spoke at last year's Best Practice Conference. This year's is on 19 June at St Ermin's Hotel. For more information, click here.
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