Best Practice: CCW's 'changing of the guard'

by Rachael Singh

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04 Jul 2013

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David Mellor

ANIMATED, ENTHUSIASTIC and 'a bit of a character' go some way to describe Crowe Clark Whitehill's new managing partner David Mellor (pictured). But, while many may perceive the friendly persona to front a simplistic attitude, what lies beneath is a strategic shark, using his experience of working at two of the Big Four and one of his former competitors, to push the firm ahead of its peers.

Mellor first came into contact with the Big Four when he worked at Ernst & Whinney as a summer audit intern after obtaining a geography degree before joining consultancy Jones Lang Wooton's marketing and research department.

"I did not want to train as an auditor. Instead I starting my working life using my degree to research and write papers on market research and site strategy as a member of Jones Lang Wootton's consulting and research department."

So how did the new managing partner make the leap from geography and research to tax?

The spark of interest came from a research assignment into funding the extension of the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf.

"That [the research assignment] contained an argument about the increased tax revenues for government from attracting international business to London, which would otherwise go elsewhere in Europe.

"That fired my interest in tax and I asked, what was by then, Ernst & Young whether I could train with them as an accountant but within their tax department: something which was not very common at the time." He stayed at EY for five years.

Mellor then spent a year as European corporate finance executive at FTSE 100 business Schroders before returning to the Big Four to soak up experience on international tax strategies. He spent six years at KPMG, initially as tax manager and latterly as partner. After KPMG, Mellor joined Top 20 firm PKF in 2003 as partner - moving to CCW to take up a similar role in 2006 climbing the ladder to London managing partner and now the top role.

The relentless consumption of firm culture in four different organisations has left Mellor with a desire to ensure relationships and communications are at the top of his agenda in the boss' chair.

"When I left KPMG I said I only wanted to work in a company where I can look someone in the eyes, which is easier to do in a smaller firm. I want the managing partner to be easily accessible," says Mellor.

"I want to be able to speak to everyone on a one-to-one basis, that's not always possible in a large Big Four firm."

No easy way out

"I would like to feel I know all 500 employees... I want everybody in the offices to feel linked in and part of the group," he says.

Arguing that although 500 is a big number "I don't like setting myself challenges that are easy".

Mellor later relaxes somewhat on the subject and agrees that even if he doesn't get to know everyone, he wants to be an accessible managing partner and for people to genuinely feel they have a voice in the firm.

He hopes to continue the legacy of his predecessor Andrew Pianca on the "cross fertilisation of skills" to ensure staff are more rounded. He hopes the culture of allowing staff to work stints in various areas of the business rather than sticking to one division will continue.

Pushing the cross fertilisation agenda even further, Mellor also wants to close the geographical gap in the company through the use of better IT systems in the future.

"In the current market I want more flexibility to work in whatever office an employee is needed in. We should deliver the partner the clients need irrespective of geography," he says.

"I would like to increase technology so that where you are based matters less, what is more important are the skills."

If a client is in Manchester but the best person for the job isn't local, then that shouldn't matter - they need to make themsleves accessible to the Manchester client.

"It depends on what the client wants. It is something we have set out in our strategic vision as a gradual change," he says.

Prior to taking the helm at the firm Mellor was commissioned by his predecessor Pianca to produce a "strategic vision" report on the future of the firm, which was published internally last autumn. Although he keeps its contents guarded Mellor is open to the fact the firm should work more closely together and is open to the possibility of acquiring other firms in the future.

"CCW has benefitted from organic growth, acquisitions and strategic hires in the past. If we could achieve our growth aspirations solely on organic growth we would be happy to do that, but we are always on the lookout for strategic lateral hires and smaller firms which are complementary to us and which are looking for a merger partner."

However, before looking afield, Mellor claims there is much work to be done on homeground. Something he hopes to tackle is the gender issue of women hitting the glass ceiling.

All for one

"The gender balance is a very topical issue and not an issue that is going to go away," he says.

Although he argues that the firm is currently working hard on the issue and tackling it (three of the last four partner appointments have been women), he believes more can be done.

"The challenge is that women may do well to a certain point but how do you push to a higher level? That is a lot harder to demonstrate whether or not that is being achieved."

He also explains that currently all four members of the executive team are men. "I would like to see women on the executive team."

"There isn't institutional sexism - but having said that we can always do more."

It seems that people are the priority for Mellor, similar to his predecessor Andrew Pianca who in a previous interview with Accountancy Age back in April 2011 claimed that he would like to leave a "really able feisty group of young partners and senior managers".

Has this vision been realised? According to Pianca it has. "The range of partners has changed considerably; we now have a strong group of partners in their forties with the experience and drive to run the firm supported by a significant number of younger partners coming up behind them," said Pianca.

However, Pianca is not going far. Having been chairman at CCW for a year, in 2002/03, Pianca is to take up the reins again - this time additionally sitting as international chairman - although this time he says things will be different.

"When I was chairman [before] I was working with a CEO who had been in the post for a number of years and my main focus was on internal matters - in particular partner development. I am now coming in with a new CEO, after I have been working as CEO for almost ten years.

"In that time I have built up a lot of contacts and, alongside my recent appointment as international chairman, I will be focussing mainly on practice development for the firm through those international and national contacts."

However, he doesn't plan to micromanage Mellor and adds that he has worked with his protégé for two years on the succession to the chief chair, and now has nothing more to pass on, claiming "I don't believe he [Mellor] still needs advice from me".

Fee income:
£59.3m

Top 50+50 Ranking:
15

Offices:
Nine: Cheltenham, two in Kent, two in London, Manchester, Midlands, Thames Valley and the Isle of Man

Partners:
72

Bluffers guide to CCW:
David Mellor is succeeded by audit partner Nigel Bostock as London managing partner.
In 2010 the firm changed its name from Horwath Clark Whitehill to Crowe Clark Whitehill to reflect the firm's position within the Crowe Horwath International network.
Andrew Pianca is a keen golfer and while on the green networked himself a job in accountancy and years later through the same avenue a role as training manager at a medium firm.

Specialism:
The firm has one of the largest not-for-profit accountancy sectors in the country including working with housing associations, academies, trade unions and charities.
The firm also has a strong pension advisory unit, as well as specialising in professional practices such as other accountancy firm, law firms and chartered surveyors.

 

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