DON’T BE FOOLED by the soft-spoken chief executive of Crowe Clark Whitehill. From a young age, Andrew Pianca has never been afraid of taking drastic action to achieve his aim – to help companies.
He set out to study law in his early 20s, which he believed would aid his ambition to assist businesses, yet six months into the degree a “falling out” with Roman law saw him leave his studies. He claims, jokingly, he was ahead of the curve as Roman law is no longer studied by most law students; at the time, his move was spurred on by his feeling that the degree was holding him back from achieving his aim.
“I had this dream of the Cotswolds, where you have the local professional, a family advisor, like the local doctor. I fancied being an advisor to families and to people and that’s why initially I started the law degree.”
As an avid golf fan, Pianca took to the course to ponder his next move. As luck would have it, his golf buddy was none other than an ICAEW advisor who teed him up with the pros of working in accountancy. Two days later, he started work at accountancy firm Edward Moores.
According to Pianca, life is made up of lots of accidents: not only did he find a career path more suited to his objectives than law, he also met his future wife at that firm.
Unfortunately, their working lives together were to come to an end. The strain of being a supervisor to his fiancée and his appetite for ambition saw Pianca leave to challenge himself in new ways. They are still together though and have two children, both accountants.
He took up a lecturer role for the company he qualified with, Financial Training. His father was an architect who travelled the world with his family, which meant Pianca spent nine years in Burma and India. The constant change left Pianca with a fear of public speaking, so what better way to conquer that than standing in front of 100 students to lecture them on accountancy?
“When you’ve been to 14 schools, you tend to be quite an insular sort of guy, so I thought I would take it as a challenge. I loved the atmosphere and I loved the change.”
The self-proclaimed “driven by emotion” Piscean left the university two years later with no job to move to.
He comments: “I had always seen it as something you did for a while; it expanded your knowledge and experience and then you move on. I was happy taking the students for six to eight weeks at a time and training them, though what I really wanted to do was to go out to find people at university or wherever, bring them in, train them and develop them.”
Even with this in mind, Pianca was at a loss as to where his career would go next, so he took to the golf course again. It was here that he met another soon-to-be colleague.
He remarks: “I was on the eighteenth green and I said I was looking to be a training manager of a medium-sized firm. He [Pianca’s friend] said ‘we’re a medium-sized firm looking for a training manager’. That is honestly what happened.”
So it was that Pianca joined Clark Pixley, now Crowe Clark Whitehill, in 1977. He has never looked back. His first role was concentrated on his main loves in the profession: recruitment, training and development.
He became a training partner in 1981 with a client base including schools and charities, then taking over the small business unit; in the early 1990s he specialised in work with charities.
Pianca was one of the six people who wrote the accounting standards recommended practice for the Charities Act, which he believes “fundamentally changed charity reporting”.
It was in 2001 that he stepped up to the chairman role, with David Furst – ICAEW president from 2008-09 – named CEO. After two years, Furst and Pianca swapped job titles, though their roles were slightly different.
Pianca has remained CEO ever since, although he said it was never his ambition to be chief executive.
“I enjoyed being chairman and, more importantly, dealing with the clients. I am looking forward to a time when I stand down and get back to spending more time advising clients,” he says.
Under his tenure as CEO, Pianca made several substantial changes to the firm, including creating an insolvency arm, bolstering its not-for-profit division, dropping clients, moving to a limited liability partnership and rebranding the firm (see box).
He highlights: “We took the view in 2007 that what we do we do very well, though we were clear about what we don’t do and we shelved a number of areas. For example, we got rid of our consultancy operation because it was conflicting with us so much. We do one-off consultancy but we don’t have the big teams to go in; we would rather find a person who is very good at it and recommend and work in partnership with other firms to provide that.”
Dropping clients may seem drastic enough, but Pianca did not stop there; he labels the move to LLP one of the things he has really “enjoyed” at the firm. He worked hard to keep the culture similar to a partnership, to maintain the employee involvement in all decisions: Pianca prides himself on the unity of his working environment.
The changes continued as Pianca oversaw the introduction of an insolvency division, which was created two years ago.
It was never his intention to create a large insolvency force because one of the firm’s largest clients is an insolvency practice. Today, though, Pianca confirms his intention to grow the division and eventually increase it to the level of having a national offering.
He is not only focused on growing new divisions but also confident that he can grow the firm both organically and through acquisitions by a staggering 12-14% in the next year.
CCW already has a strong footing in south east England and has acquired practices in both Manchester and London, equating to predicted growth of 2-3% last year (with results due shortly). Pianca also plans to strengthen the business further in north England next year.
Although the success and growth of the firm are high on his priority list, recruitment and staff training remains a personal passion.
Pianca says: “We are all about the quality of our people and, therefore, recruitment and development is still key. What we have done is to re-establish something called the senior development panel.
“The panel is run by executives at the firm. It charts the progress of senior employees and there’s a development plan to get them moving up the corporate ladder.”
Pianca is adamant that the best training he can offer students is to prevent them specialising in a chosen field. As far as possible, CCW moves its staff around to give them a more varied skills set.
“When you come into being a partner, it is quite a change for most people. You have been a specialist tax manager or specialist audit manager and suddenly you are a businessperson,” he said.
Pianca adds that partners have to run their portfolio like a business: clients want to speak to someone who will understand what they are going through.
He concludes: “If someone asked what do I want to leave in a few years time, I’d reply that I’d like to leave a really able feisty group of young partners and senior managers.”
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