BusinessBusiness RecoveryProfile: Andrew Pepper and Alastair Beveridge, Kroll’s top dogs

Profile: Andrew Pepper and Alastair Beveridge, Kroll's top dogs

Pepper and Beveridge sound like the latest television pairing - and if TV producers are ever looking for a couple of superheroes from the world of corporate recovery, then Kroll's rising stars would fit the bill admirably

It’s not unusual to hear of outstanding entrepreneurs who have
single-handedly risen to the top of the corporate tree, but ‘dynamic duos’
within the world of business are few and far between.

For Alastair Beveridge and Andrew Pepper, partners within the corporate
advisory and recovery group at risk consulting firm Kroll, the term is entirely
apt.

Both men have taken on some of the biggest and most high-profile business
recovery cases of the last 12 months. Their work on department store chain
Allders, and most recently with Red Letter Days – owned by Rachel Elnaugh of
Dragon’s Den fame – has seen Kroll’s stock rise to new levels.

Other projects include advisory work for Slug & Lettuce bar chain owner
SFI, and restructuring at clothes retailer Ciro Citterio.

The pair have even been described by venerable Begbies Traynor senior partner
Nick Hood as the ‘rising stars’ of the business recovery profession.

It’s enough to make Beveridge visibly wince, yet the duo lived up to their
billing earlier this year by almost single-handely stopping the whole business
recovery regime from crashing down around their ears.

In a situation that reinforced the duo’s image as reputed troubleshooters,
confusion surrounding the implementation of the Enterprise Act saw Kroll, acting
on behalf of Allders’ creditors, in court to clarify the rights of workers to
payment following redundancy.

Pepper explains that, if the court’s clarification had found that employees’
redundancy costs were payable, then the profession would have effectively ended
there and then.

‘With Allders, for example, if you paid out for over 5,000 redundancies, then
as administrator you would recoup nothing. We were faced with a situation where
it was almost game over for administrations.’

Pepper says the issue was subtle but ‘hugely problematic’. He adds: ‘It is
uncomfortable when you’re staring at the world collapsing around you.’

‘The other side acknowledged the uncertainty in the law and were after
clarity. We think it gave the right clarity. But it was uncomfortable at the
time.’

The pair’s recovery efforts are taking place amid a transformation of the
business recovery profession, driven in no small part by the introduction of the
Enterprise Act 2002.

The Act, which came into effect in 2003, aimed to streamline the various
legal stages and processes a business must go through before its fate — either
its survival or failure – is decided. Its objective was to increase the
likelihood of businesses living on, and the number of administrations has leapt
up since the Act came into effect.

According to figures, several hundred businesses enter into administration
every quarter, while receiverships and company voluntary arrangements remain
steady.

In the last quarter of 2003, the first full period under the new regime, 233
businesses entered into administration.

That figure has been climbing steadily ever since, with 568 businesses
falling into that bracket in Q2 2005.

For Kroll, this has helped the company grow from what Pepper describes as ‘a
boutique, up to a department store’. The company’s growth, which saw Kroll
valued at $2bn when it was taken over by Marsh & McLellan in July, has
allowed the firm to handle some of the UK’s largest corporate recovery deals
this year.

Despite its success, one major case did slip through the net, much to Kroll’s
chagrin.

‘There was the potential for us to be involved on MG Rover,’ admits
Beveridge.

‘It would have been a very complicated and emotive case to work on – a
massive employer.’ It was a complicated, challenging, potentially lucrative and
high-profile engagement. And they were not the only administrators jostling for
position.

Shrugging off their obvious disappointment, they point out that much of their
work is either on much smaller administrations, or focuses on preventing
businesses from getting into financial trouble in the first place. ‘We’re now
taking larger jobs – but we work right from the bottom through to the top,’ says
Pepper.

While working on the Allders administration — a 10,000 employee business with
£650m turnover — Pepper was also working on the administration of a haulage
company with a £1.3m turnover. But the men certainly don’t see working on
smaller deals as ‘slumming it’.

‘Banks lend to the biggest multinationals and the smallest businesses. They
don’t know what the next problem will be, so our work is definitely not
formulaic,’ says Beveridge.

Pepper believes building up relationships with the banks is vital, and it is
not appropriate to say that a job is ‘beneath you’.

The compliance-heavy framework within which all corporate recovery firms work
has also helped the company grow. The accounting profession, which competes
heavily against specialists for business recovery and insolvency work, often
finds itself conflicted out from many jobs, according to Pepper. ‘That’s our big
advantage,’ he says.

‘We tend not to have conflicts of interest, which is an attractive
proposition,’ Beveridge concurs. ‘Our partners put more time into our
relationships, and are more hands on, perhaps more than some others.’

Pepper believes that accounting firms can too often hand off work down the
chain, whereas Kroll operates a more hands-on approach to dealing with clients.

‘With accounting practices, you have the senior partner, then things get
handed down to managers – that’s not what clients want,’ he explains.

Perhaps, ironically, both men began their careers in the accounting
profession, and suggest that ‘luck’ led them into business recovery.

‘I did engineering, left university, and fell into accounting by necessity,’
says Beveridge. ‘We both did training in accounting, then got insolvency
exposure early on.’

Their careers could have turned out very differently, if good fortune had not
intervened.

The parlous state of the UK economy in the early 90s grew a market for exper
ts to save ravaged businesses, which enticed both into business recovery.

‘We both cut teeth as juniors, we had lots of work in the early ’90s,’
according to Pepper. ‘If we worked when it was buoyant, perhaps things would
have been different.’

Neither has regrets, although there is disagreement about how best to
describe their efforts. ‘I would say “no” if asked whether we work in
accountancy,’ says Beveridge.

But Pepper concedes that the role cuts across business service lines. When
refinancing a business, both work closely with Kroll’s corporate finance team.
Kroll advised SFI directors on refinancing but was not involved in the
insolvency work, which was handled by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Pepper also believes that both roles have very similar characteristics:
‘Relationship building, sales and bonding, for example.’

Not only do Pepper and Beveridge’s roles involve working with different parts
of the team, such as corporate finance, both are at pains to point out that
within their own department, they team up with Peter Saville to create more of a
‘terrific trio’ than a ‘dynamic duo’.

Saville has worked on Federal Mogul, which has turned out to be one of the
largest cross-border restructuring proceedings in history. He also managed the
creditor group of telco giant Global Crossing.

All three work in the London arena for Kroll, and depending on the type of
job, will divide work between themselves.

In true superhero style, they have remained modest about their own efforts to
the end.

Anger and the treats are all in a day’s work

Dealing with angry creditors, or staff fearful of losing their jobs, is a
day-to-day occurrence for Beveridge and Pepper. But with the recent troubles at
furniture retailer Courts clear in their minds, they admit that tempers can
sometimes fray.

Events came to a head after the retailer admitted it was unable to fulfil
outstanding furniture orders. Administrators KPMG suffered threats from
disgruntled customers,which prevented them from opening many of the retailer’s
outlets.

There were reports of staff being both physically and verbally abused, while
windows were smashed at a number of stores. ‘It’s always depressing when you
think someone might throw something at you or chuck you out of the window,’ says
Beveridge.

Both men have experienced confrontations that stick in their minds. Beveridge
says that on one occasion, when dealing with a nightclub, things definitely got
out of hand.

‘We had trouble when explaining that the business must move from a cash basis
to cheques. It’s fair to say that we needed to organise alternative security
arrangements.’

Both men have witnessed angry creditors turning up to sites with ‘blokes in
white vans’ attempting to take stock owed to them.

‘Our message to staff is to explain to angry people their position in terms
of the law, but if they still get physical then don’t get in harm’s way,’ says
Beveridge.

He believes that pre-empting bother can be an effective deterrent. ‘When you
know there could be trouble, you beef up security. I’ve only been threatened
half a dozen times in 14 years.’

‘A lot of time you can quieten people down by not being confrontational, and
by being careful with body language,’ Pepper maintains.

‘On one occasion, we had been appointed provisional liquidators of a company
that stored clamped cars ­ it had around 13,000,’ Beveridge explains. ‘The
police gave my direct line to every single person that owned one of these cars.
I had 150 phone messages within an hour and a half, from rather irate people.’

Mercifully Kroll set up a helpline for the car owners.

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