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Best Practice: Mazars’ senior partner Phil Verity

PHIL VERITY’S TIES to Mazars are strong – and the UK senior partner is pleased that three of the seven-strong UK leadership team have also spent their careers at the firm.

“That’s quite unusual for us – it won’t always be like that and hasn’t in the past. But it’s important to show that, as a grad, you can fulfil a career [with Mazars].”

Beyond studying with the firm in 1986, then subsequently having a four-year stint with one of the Big Four, Verity met his now wife on his very first visit to Mazars, at what was then Neville Russell. “She was temping on reception,” he smiles. “And two years’ later we were married.”

While good to have a wave of home-grown talent sat at the top table, and with Verity only a year into his four-year tenure in the role, does he have any concerns about succession planning at the firm? Anecdotally, other mid-tier practices are said to be struggling to anoint new leaders.

There are a “good” level of 40-to-50-year olds within the upper echelons of the practice, with some in their thirties as well. “I don’t think succession will be too much of a challenge.

Diverse issues

What is an issue for the firm – along with the vast majority of professional services firms – is diversity, with Mazars containing just one in ten female partners. It is “top of the agenda” for Verity, with him sponsoring the issue at executive level.

“One of my objectives is to really understand the root causes, and help senior managers and directors to step up,” he explains.

At one level, Verity is encouraged that it’s not just his firm facing the issue. Earlier this summer, PwC board member Gaenor Bagley wrote in a Telegraph column about the “disappointingly low” number of female partner promotions the accounting giant had made. But this all means that there is a lot of work to be done to effect change.

Mazars has been interviewing its female partners to understand how they broke through, and the issues they faced in doing so. The next step for the firm is to engage with senior female managers and directors within focus groups, after which female partners will be set as role models, and some will effectively become mentors.

While Verity says there is “more we can do in terms of positive action” to drive a change in behaviour, that is not the same as positive discrimination.

“We want to do things to help get them in a stronger position when they get the opportunity [for promotion to partner] – to create a more diverse and inclusive partner base,” he explains.

While avoiding the setting of targets, Verity wants to see “incremental” improvements, hinting at an improved ratio in the upcoming September partner appointments.

Verity has visited every Mazars UK twice this year, to engage the 1,275 staff about the firm’s direction of travel. This has proved “incredibly valuable”, with team members of all levels pitching in with thoughts and ideas.

Setting direction

Another aspect of his roadshow was to help maintain stability after what he admits was a “difficult and challenging period” at the end of 2012, when, under his watch, the firm announced 5% staff redundancies, which included some partners.

“We talked to the team throughout that process,” says Verity. “It’s how we’re performing now, and we’ve had a good level of engagement and contribution.”

He dismisses suggestions that have made their way to the collective ear of Accountancy Age that Mazars’ UK operations are informally divided between big business in London – and regional offices doing their own thing. “That’s not true. We’re one UK firm.”

Rumours of the sale of regional offices, again couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact investment has gone into them. Mazars can boast new working environments in Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. While the Durham office and team, which houses the Audit Commission breakaway unit of local government auditors – is “superb”.

International angle

But whether in Birmingham or London, the more fundamental business model for the firm is leveraging its close international links. Mazars has long badged itself as the only true globally integrated firm. One of the keys to this being its cross-border profit sharing.

Alongside that Verity explains that Mazars’ partners in all jurisdictions understand the firm’s integration puts it in a great position to win work. Strategies are set internationally, so national offices effectively work from the same page.

“The firm (globally) continues to see the bigger picture,” he says.

While the gender split may well still be an issue – there are good examples of people diversity. The international executive leadership team of six boasts a non-French majority; with South Africa, the US, Britain and Spain represented.

Moves to open up the audit market by the Competition Commission will be supplemented by the European Union, predicts Verity. And as such, Mazars will look to benefit from the tender liquidity.

“Internationally, 50% of our income is attributable to regulated or listed entities, that’s quite a high proportion. We’ll be one of the few firms to benefit from (opening up the audit market).”

Phil Verity CV:
2012 to present: Appointed Mazars senior partner
2011 to present: Joined Mazars’ international board
1999: Appointed Mazars partner
1995: Rejoined Mazars
1990: Joined Coopers & Lybrand
1986: Joined Mazars predecessor Neville Russell

In the numbers:
Offices: 18 (Birmingham; Brighton; Bristol; Cardiff; Durham; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Gloucester; Leeds; Liverpool; London; Manchester; Milton Keynes; Nottingham; Poole; Southampton; Sutton; and Wolverhampton)
Staff: 1,275 (116 partners)
Service lines: Audit; tax and accounting; financial advisory services; outsourcing; public services
Specialisms: Recent expansion around local government auditing; financial services and insurance are recognised separate service lines.
Fee income: £120m (y/e 31/08/13)
Bluffers’ guide: The UK firm, originally Neville Russell, merged with the French-formed Mazars in 1998. The firm shares profits internationally across 71 countries, and produces a ‘group’ annual report and accounts. It acts for the UK subsidiaries of more than 70 overseas listed companies.
Top 50 +50 ranking: 11

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