PracticeAccounting FirmsHLB merger: Made for greater things.

HLB merger: Made for greater things.

A stranger walking into the meeting room at Baker Tilly's offices near the British Museum last Monday would have been forgiven for thinking the two men inside were very pleased with themselves indeed.

These were no false smiles. Ray Greatorex, national managing partner of HLB Kidsons, was there with his opposite number Laurence Longe of Baker Tilly to announce the two firms had come together to form the eighth biggest firm in the country.

Meeting together to explain to journalists what they had done, Longe and Greatorex looked distinctly like the cats that got the cream. Digging into Danish pastries and fresh coffee the two followed the same line and agreed on so many points that the merger seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

Greatorex was particularly pleased. The mid-tier has, according to many observers, reason to fear the emergence of a firm worth #150m a year in fee income. But things might not have been this way. While sitting there in trademark shirtsleeves, braces and flag of St George cufflinks, Greatorex may well have been breathing a silent, but profound, sigh of relief.

On a sunny day at the end of June 2000, Greatorex announced Kidsons was to merge with Grant Thornton, a move that would have created a firm worth #230m a year and the biggest outfit outside of the Big Five giants.

But negotiations faltered. There was a insurmountable sticking point.

Grant Thornton didn’t fancy all of Kidsons’ offices and Kidsons partners in the regions began to sense they could be left out in the cold.

When the talks finally collapsed in February last year, it emerged that Greatorex had taken many lessons to heart. He privately conceded he had gone public too early. He also revamped Kidsons’ management structure and offloaded the firm’s unwanted regional offices.

But then in late summer, Greatorex met Longe and the inevitable conversation about the merger took place. Greatorex must have been overjoyed, and relieved, that there was still a market for his firm.

By the third week in October, after the pair had held several preliminary meetings, detailed discussions began. Greatorex was keen to keep details of the discussions out of the press until he was sure it was going to plan. This time he got little dissent. Of 140 partners, just four voted against the merger.

Efforts had been made to go public before Christmas, but Greatorex and Longe put it off until the new year to ensure final details were in place.

This time it seems Greatorex has pulled it off.

His reward? A post as executive chairman of the new firm. A very comfortable position until he retires in a few years’ time to devote himself to his great passion, horse racing.

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