Interview: New Clark Howes owners Tony Sarin and Tim Shaw

THE BUZZ of hands-on practice management has drawn Tony Sarin and Tim Shaw back into the running of a firm.

The two experienced businesses and practice heads have bought a controlling stake in Oxford and Buckinghamshire-based Clark Howes.

Sarin (pictured above) is well-known to the profession as the founder of former AIM-listed Numerica, while Shaw formed his own practice before serving as a CEO in the sports, leisure and charity sectors.

“Ultimately it’s about being back doing what you know and love,” says Sarin.

Shaw says that both want more involvement in a business, compared to their recent investment advisory roles. “Both of us have invested in businesses where we’re not there day-to-day. We wanted closer input,” says Shaw.

While some might describe Sarin’s return to practice as unfinished business after Numerica was split up a couple of years after his departure as chief executive, his attitude towards Clark Howes is one of opportunity – and shows a mixture of pragmatism and pride about that time.

The model of a mid-tier firm listed on the stock exchange “didn’t work”, he admits, in that remunerating both partners and shareholders is too big a hurdle. “Unless you have big margins, like the Big Four – the pressure is on what you leave the shareholders. As a mid-tier it becomes much more difficult,” says Sarin.

“However, it was a very significant business,” he counters, with it reaching 15th in the 2004 Accountancy Age Top 50 survey of firms, commanding £46.6m in fees and 92 partners. He also claims that rather than being a pure ‘consolidator’ of firms, its approach was more to acquire and integrate. Numerica was “groundbreaking”, he adds.

There is growth potential at Clark Howes. The new management team will look to build up its service lines, including corporate finance, while beefing up its tax offering.

While there will acquisitions alongside organic growth. There will be “no rush” to acquire firms, they say.

They view the firm as a high-quality regional business, with strong London representation. However, London will not be the pure focus for them. “It’s a regional business with a London office. We will be able to offer a London-type service, but regionally,” says Sarin.

He talks of Clark Howes’ “phenomenal people”, and they will be looking to motivate staff and reward them as the practice evolves.

Both believe that they’ve hit the market at the right time. There are sparks of life I the economy, and many practice owners of the baby-boomer generation are looking to step away from their firms.

Sarin says: “We’re doing it at the right time, let’s take advantage.”

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