IN MANY WAYS Goodman Jones looks like a typical, well-performing, London firm.
A provider of a broad range of services to a broad range of clients – with tax and entrepreneurs an important focus – you could be forgiven into thinking that the 67-ranked firm borders on the unremarkable.
The firm’s head, managing partner Larry Phillips, has been in situ for longer than he expected. “
“One of the younger guys has got to step forward and take it on”, he says – again, not unusual.
But this steady, constant, way of doing business belies some points that make it really stand out.
For starters, its palatial Fitzroy Square office is an oasis of Georgian idyll in the West End – boasting three car-free roads despite sitting in between Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road.
“Even though we’re in the West End of London it’s pedestrianised, peaceful,” says Phillips.
And while it’s key accountancy services offering sounds obvious, then what about the substantial revenues that flow through from its IT division?
Sat within the Grade II-listed building is an IT outsourcing team that has grown out from one tech-minded staff member more than 25 years ago.
“We’ll put in a new IT system for you, and then provide IT support. Our IT head joined us from school more than 25 years ago – he expressed an interest in IT, we sent him to college, and we started to writing accounting programs.”
After the firm sold its trial balance proprietary technology, it began moving into the IT services space, “from that it evolved into what it is now – a £2m turnover business”.
The firm is also unusual in having just one office – albeit with three staff working flexibly as ‘satellites’. In fairness, it is a special office, one the firm has just negotiated a new lease on that will see it based there until 2024. “We want to do more hospitality here,” says Phillips. “With a building of this age, from the early 1800s, it’s full of compromises – but we feel we have the right balance with it.”
Mergers haven’t materialised
How has the 79-year old firm operated with just one office? How has it resisted the temptation to grow using through more aggressive methods?
“We’ve had some [merger] discussions over the years – some top 20 firms have approached us,” admits Phillips, “one went quite a way down the line but didn’t materialise”.
What Goodman Jones will do is to look to supplement its core services with top-level hires. Where a few clients exist, such as in media, a specialist can come in to grow the division – such as with ex-RSM Tenon media expert Sarf Malik’s appointment in the summer.
“We’re a successful practice – lots of things happen [to other firms] due to a need to survive…cost savings, centralising etc. We’ve never had to look at that, we’ll only do things to improve – not the fear of going out of business.”
Finding individuals to recruit – then persuading them to join – is not as easy as it sounds, a perhaps explains why it is difficult to undertake that while bolting on client lists or other firms. “When you’ve got them you want to keep them,” says Phillips.
But it will take opportunities if they arise, that fit into its sector-focused strategy. The firm entered into a joint venture, Fitzrovia Financial Services, with EFG Private Bank to provide a more rounded service proposition to high-net worth clients.
Technology will be important for Goodman Jones going forward – more in terms of how it uses it to cut down on paper filing (opening up space at the office), plus the delivery of service via IT. Online service delivery has been a big part of Goodman Jones’ success for a long time, with its aesthetically pleasing and functional website helping it win an Accountancy Age Award for its use of the internet back in 2006. It moved to Twinfield’s online accounting platform several years back to help provide a better range of services to clients.
Who will replace Phillips?
The key issue for the immediate future is who will take on Philips’ role after him. He is serving what he declares is definitely his last three years in the role – having joined the firm as an articled clerk in 1971. So someone must step up to the plate soon.
“Being a managing partner means you must learn to ‘herd cats’ – there are very opinionated people here, but I’m lucky in that they’re a good group of people.”
As Phillips was ready to step down at the end of his last term (which ended this year) it would be easy to criticise the firm for not dealing with succession planning more effectively. He offers mitigation, saying that the firm’s “flat” partner portfolio has been worked on extensively in the past ten years to create a mix of seniority and ages – from the late 30 year-olds through to 60s.
“In my mind there are a couple of candidates, they just need to be prepared to step up to that. For me that’s very important – and I’ll move to a chairman-type role.
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing it – I’m more concerned over the long-term health of the practice. It needs someone younger to take control. I’ve still got loads of energy.”
GOODMAN JONES IN NUMBERS:
UK fee income: £8.7m
Top 50 +50 ranking: 67
UK staff (of whom partners): 80 (14)
UK offices: One
Bluffer’s guide: The firm has just signed another ten-year lease at its Fitzroy Square office. It recently set up a media sector team. Also a member of the GMN International association.
Specialisms: Charities & leisure clubs; entrepreneurs; tax; IT and HR support
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