BOXING AND ACCOUNTANCY are not two industries one would normally put together. But Ladislav Hornan, the man once in charge of British boxing in the 90s, has handled both successfully on his way to becoming managing partner of UHY Hacker Young.
The former refugee has worked his way up the career ladder at UHY and is now sitting comfortably at the helm of the Top 20 firm (number 18 in the Accountancy Age Top 50 survey). He also held the title of UHY International chairman and is a current ACCA council member.
It’s a far cry from his humble beginnings, although Hornan plays down the role his refugee status played in settling in the UK.
“I wasn’t a poor refugee, I never struggled or had any hardship. I was a refugee, but in reality I was very well looked after,” he says.
While on holiday in the UK in 1968, he learned that the Soviet Union had invaded his home country Czechoslovakia.
Hornan watched TV as tanks drove past his home in the centre of Prague and knew he could not return. He was lucky enough to have family in the UK who supported him as he got his career off the ground.
In 1974 he joined Hacker Young, studying for an ACCA qualification and becoming an insolvency practitioner (IP). He had originally planned to become an economist but quickly realised he could earn more money in accountancy.
“I knew I could get 50% more money studying for an ACCA qualification. I didn’t have any money and I was on my own, so I needed a qualification and money.”
In his early career, his IP roles were varied and exciting. In one of his most interesting cases, Hornan found himself responsible for British boxing during one of its most controversial episodes.
He was appointed to the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC), the governing body for boxing in the UK, after boxer Michael Watson was injured during a title fight with Chris Eubank and collapsed in the ring.
With no ambulances or doctors ringside, it was several minutes before any help was administered and Watson suffered brain and spinal damage.
Watson sued the BBBoC for a reported £1m. The residing judge ruled that if oxygen and medical provisions had been available at ringside, it would have made a “considerable difference” to Watson’s health.
“It made the BBBoC vulnerable to a very substantial and, at that point, unliquidated claim,” says Hornan.
When he was appointed, the judge had not yet revealed the amount of damages to be awarded. “The board needed protection from this potentially huge claim so it could continue running itself as a supervisory board of the UK’s professional boxing.”
During this period Hornan was “responsible” for disciplinary procedures in UK boxing. He claims it was a real learning curve.
Hornan managed to arrange a company voluntary arrangement between Watson and the BBBoC, which essentially paid the former fighter over a number of years.
Seeing his potential, the firm wanted to make him partner. Unfortunately, according to Hornan, only ICAEW chartered accountants were made partners and his career could have quickly hit a dead end.
“Back then the majority of professional accounting firms were chartered accountants. There were restrictions about admitting anybody into partnership that wasn’t a chartered accountant. There was more distinction than there is today between the ACA and the ACCA qualification.”
But the firm, not to be hindered by technicalities, created a separate entity called Hacker Young & Partners, where Hornan was made partner.
“Hacker Young Chartered Accountants became our trade name as I couldn’t be shown as a partner [in that firm]. So my bit of the practice, which was insolvency, traded under Hacker Young & Partners.”
Later, when regulation relaxed, the two entities were consolidated into what is now UHY Hacker Young.
Hornan believes the firm went to these great lengths as he was able to bring in successful insolvency work – which paid creditors and recovered fees.
He became chairman of UHY International in 2002, the international member firm of accountants. One of his main drivers was to expand membership of the firm. As he still sits on the board, this is a goal he continues to work on.
Having an international focus has seen the firm recently recruit a Chinese partner to the newly developed China desk. One of the key areas that Hornan has worked tirelessly to perfect and continues to expand on is the firm’s ability to help businesses in other countries gain entry to the UK market. But competition is rife.
In particular, Hornan mentions the US. He believes the firm has more chance of bringing in clients from China and India than the States, purely because there is so much competition in the US market.
However, Hornan stresses the UK firm is particularly strong at taking clients to capital markets, such as the London Stock Exchange. Foreign companies account for a significant portion of this service line.
“These days we are much more conscious to really create value for our clients by having significant firms to help them, especially internationally.”
Hornan is also the man to turn to when events go against the network. It recently lost a “significant” China member, which merged with another firm in a different international network and opted for the rival network. In a bid to regain a foothold in the market, Hornan visited 15 firms across three cities in just over a week, with negotiations still ongoing. The firm is also planning to expand into Beijing and Shanghai.
More recently, attention was focused on the role his firm played in the most high profile football administration so far.
Three IPs from UHY Hacker Young, Michael Kiely, Peter Kubik and Andrew Andronikou ,were appointed joint administrators to Portsmouth FC on 26 February 2010 – the first Premier League club to enter administration.
The administrators had their fair share of publicity, most notably the challenge from HM Revenue & Customs to stop the club agreeing a company voluntary arrangement (CVA).
The CVA would have repaid creditors a percentage of their debt over five years.
“Nobody says that insolvency is easy,” says Hornan. “With a case like that you go through stages and phases. What looks like a good idea one minute when you make an assessment can look like it is potentially wrong the next.”
Hornan stresses that he stays away from micro-managing his staff. However, he kept a close eye on the HMRC challenge and sought legal advice from more than one source to back the administrators up.
Keeping abreast of the insolvency profession can be a full time job, especially as the industry has undergone numerous changes to legislation and common law through recent cases.
“I think you need the complexity for everybody’s protection,” says Hornan. “There are some countries where the insolvency laws aren’t always as developed and things take a long time going through the courts.
“One of the strengths of the UK is that you now need more permission than you did before for a lot of what you do. You can be clearer where you stand about the dos and don’ts and you can still do your job quickly.”
Hornan is proud of his IP status and says that because of it he has been head-hunted in the past. However, Hornan is quick to point out that UHY Hacker Young took care of him in the past and now he hopes to return the favour.
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