1982 witnessed a number of seminal events. Key among them were the start and end of the Falklands War, the launch of broadcaster Channel 4, the birth of Prince William and the release of indie darlings The Smiths’ eponymous debut album.
It was also an important milestone for Kingston Smith.
For it was in that year that managing partner Maureen Penfold began her 34-year career with the Top 20 firm as a sprightly trainee.
Kicking off at the ‘Heathrow’ office in Hayes, Penfold was soon dividing her time between her initial outer west London base and the firm’s City premises.
But the move into accountancy may never have happened had Penfold not had a Damascan moment when studying for a hotel management qualification and realising “how easy” her accounting and bookkeeping module was.
Gee’d on by her tutor, who spotted her natural talent in the subject, she duly dropped the questionable delights and unsociable hours of the hospitality industry for professional services.
Fast forward to April 2016 and Penfold now helps steer the £44m turnover company, and now four months into the new role, that position will be cemented when predecessor Julie Walsh formally retires at the end of the month after over three decades at the firm.
The long-planned succession, where both became firm friends as well as colleagues, has now bedded in well, with the firm focussed on delivering its latest five-year plan which will take the 61-partner firm right up to 2021.
Penfold is keen to stress that while “we have some brilliant people here and were focussed on growing the partners of tomorrow” the firm is always alert to recruiting talent from outside the internal incubator.
She’s also resolutely targeting the sectors where they have historically triumphed, as well as areas “where there’s quite a lot of growth” such as “media and marketing, where we’re growing at quite a pace”.
And the allure of international business, both from “clients based here, expanding overseas and from overseas coming into the UK” is deemed another sector ripe for expansion. Penfold cited it as one of the reasons for the merger between its international network KS International (KSi) and Morison International (MI) to form a $1bn (£700m) strong international association, “which increases our global footprint”.
The new association – Morison KSi – has 1,201 partners, 8,990 professional staff across 375 offices in 88 countries and became effective on 1 April 2016.
Other key sectors for the firm include professional firms, property, technology, charities, education and trade associations. And for a Top 20 firm, there’s a clear mid-market focus with SMEs and owner-managed businesses featuring heavily in its growing client base.
KS Connect, its online, cloud-based, fixed-price, accounting offering – in the same space as KPMG’s Enterprise offering, is doing well, says Penfold, with users having the bonus of being able to pick up the phone and speak to partner who “actually understands how smaller and mid-market businesses work and grow” a space “very much our sweet spot”.
And “by making the compliance side as simple and cost-effective as possible, means clients can spend their money on the advice that will help them grow,” says Penfold.
Currently ranked 18 in the Accountancy Age Top 50+50 Survey, with £43.7m in fees, the firm gained its alternative business licence (ABS) by the Solicitors Regulation Authority last September. It is continuing to build that team with Andrew Bloom as head of its legal services offering.
While already offering probate services through an ICAEW-granted licence, Penfold says this is all “part of our suite of services to clients– a more joined-up approach”.
Never one to be accused of a lack of boldness, Penfold reveals that her five year plan is to “go for an additional two- thirds growth”, delivered through her iron belief in the “greatness” of Kingston Smith’s brand and business.
That will be achieved by “continuing to build what we have been building for years” and being “very focussed on attracting the right people and keeping them – it’s about that as much as marketing”.
Increasing regulation is “challenging” but also represents opportunity and the firm is “very focussed on staying in the audit market” and while she understand why some at the lower end will “drop out” of the market, Penfold is resolute that she and her team can “add value, especially in governance”.
So what does Penfold see when she reflects on her fourth decade at the London and South East-focussed firm, founded in 1923?
“I’ve been here a long time. I’m Kingston Smith through and through. We’re a steady team who’ve built a great business over the years, but were certainly not being complacent because the market is changing faster than ever before.
“We have dynamic people, a collaborative workforce and are absolutely focussed on the people that empower us.”
Kingston Smith in numbers:
Staff: 500, including 61 partners
Fee income: £44m up to end May 2015
Service lines: Audit assurance; tax, media & marketing, not-for-profit
Bluffer’s Guide to Kingston Smith: Founded in 1923 by Herbert Kingston and George Alan Smith, the firm has entrenched itself in its London and South East heartland. It has always had close links with the City and over the years many of its partners have held senior roles within the City of London.
Richard Cameron-Williams, who joined RGL on the graduate programme in September 2005, has been appointed partner with effect from April 1
Andrew Howson joins the firm from EY, bringing experience in advising private equity and corporate clients across multiple sectors in the UK and Europe
Dennis Layton takes up the position on April 1 and will contribute to the firm’s goal of becoming the leading global professional services organisation by 2020
Richard Cartwright becomes the new head, taking over from incumbent head of office David Lemon