Best Practice: HW Fisher’s Michael Davis

by Richard Crump

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06 Aug 2013

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Michael Davis

THE ENTREPRENUERIAL SPIRIT that formed the cornerstone behind the foundation of top 25 firm HW Fisher is alive and well, according to its managing partner.

Eighty years on from the firm's formation by Harold Fisher in 1933, when its first clients were victims fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe, the business still holds true to the principles that have seen it grow from a practice with three partners and fee income of £14,000 in 1953 to a firm of 29 partners and fee income of £23m today.

"They were entrepreneurs," says managing partner Michael Davis. "We have been around a long time and grown our business on what our clients want. We are entrepreneurial and they are entrepreneurial and we help create a match."

This approach is evidenced by the firm's latest scheme, an SME turnaround offering launched in May. Led by a mixture of its most senior corporate finance and insolvency specialists, the service will introduce distressed small businesses to turnaround experts and investors.

HW Fisher has spent 18 months building up a core of external funding expertise to ramp up its offering into a more coherent service, though Davis expects to see "instant growth or great fees out of it".

"It has come out of our dedication to the entrepreneur market," Davis explains. "We see good businesses but it is a bit of a desert out there.

"Where we have been successful is where we create a bond with the client that has the potential to last forever."

Sustainable services

A lot of the firm's business comes from private client and family business work, and it is this latter part that has led the firm into "service lines that are not so traditional". In November 2011, the firm waded into the sustainability market with a range of services that help SMEs calculate their environmental risks.

In a four-step approach, the firm audits energy use, provides efficiency information, training for staff, and management systems. The service is not something usually associated with mid-market companies and in many ways the firm is something of a pioneer in this area.

"It's an extremely hot topic and matches the changing needs of clients that trade with big retailers that are faced with CSR questions," says Davis. "There are cost savings that can be made by having a good CSR policy - and SMEs are under more pressure from their clients. Their customers are inevitably passing their responsibilities down and expect their suppliers to have a CSR policy."

However, growth has been "modest" with more emphasis placed on training and education. "We show them how to do it for themselves," he explains. 

Nevertheless, HW Fisher has made something of a name for itself from its niche specialisms, such as its royalty auditing licencing business - which has an internationally established reputation - and providing tax advice and other services to a number of MPs.

"It's a private client specialism and we very proud of it," says Davis, adding there are synergies between the two that may not be immediately apparent. "A lot of MPs want to move into writing books," he explains.

Ten years ago a mooted merger and combined flotation between HW Fisher and BKR Haines Watts, a 74-partner firm that was ranked number 15 in the Accountancy Age Top 50 at the time, was derailed by market issues.

Merger agenda

In the immediate future however, any possible mergers - which Davis says "are on the agenda" - will look to advance HW Fisher's specialist offerings.

"We don't want to look at anything that will be a hard digestion," Davis says. "We are always looking for niche extensions but there are certain service lines, such as legal services, that we won't get into."

Davis says it would have to be the "right specialism" and suggests that "something in the media would enhance the business".

Nor is the firm shy of looking outside the business for experienced troubleshooters. In April, it appointed former RSM Tenon chief executive as a non-executive director.

Andy Raynor, a high-profile practitioner who is still held in high regard despite the denouement of his time in charge of RSM Tenon - he left following a profit warning in 2012 - was brought in to give the firm a perspective it wouldn't get from inside the business.

"Andy has given a lift to our strategy and partners," says Davis. "We wanted to see over the wall into other people's gardens. We wanted an outside perspective. Andy has plenty of experience and still has very good connections."

HW Fisher in numbers:

UK 2013 fee income:
£23.7m
Accountancy Age Top 50 ranking:
27
UK partners:
29
Fees per partner:
£820,000

 

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