Best Practice: Price Bailey’s Peter Gillman

FEW can claim to have stayed with one employer their whole career.

Indeed, these days it’s becoming rarer and rarer. But it seems executive chairman Peter Gillman is to Price Bailey as Ryan Giggs is to Manchester United. Ever-present. Reliable.

“It’s gone well,” muses Gillman, just weeks after Price Bailey picked up the Audit Firm of the Year prize at the British Accountancy Awards. “I’ve moved around the various offices in Price Bailey, and then the partner who was running the office I was based in was arrested, carted off and eventually charged, found guilty and went to prison. So that opened up an opportunity.”

The incident he refers to is that of Nigel Bailey – nephew of firm co-founder Reginald – who misappropriated around £100,000 of client money in the 1970s. Gillman took Bailey’s reins, stabilised the situation and went on to become managing partner, managing director and now his current role of executive chairman.

Of course in that time, the firm has undergone substantial change, not least branching out into London after spending much of its existence as a wholly East Anglian entity. And while East Anglia is its spiritual home, establishing offices in Mayfair and a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street – where Accountancy Age meets Gillman – has afforded the firm far greater scope.

“Liverpool Street is a gateway back to East Anglia, and that’s a comfort to staff,” Gillman notes. “I think when we first moved here, a lot of our partners didn’t know London, so to know it [East Anglia] was so close and so easy to get to, was probably more significant than I thought before we moved.”

The firm’s presence in the capital has allowed it to tap into new service lines and attract the best graduates and school leavers. It has also seen it grow some 17% in the last year, while similarly impressive results have been posted regularly over the last four years.

Those performances have been aided and abetted by a significant amount of restructuring undertaken over the past decade. Those included introducing a more cohesive structure across its offices – with cross-office departments now in place – and a move to LLP.

“Regional offices were essentially autonomous,” explains Gillman. They functioned at a steady level, but were not hitting their full potential. “There was quite a lot of politics in the firm when I became managing partner in 2002. It probably took a couple of years to really get to grips with the new role. We needed fairly radical change, and two years after I became managing partner, we converted to LLP and I became managing director.

“There was really no strategic thinking going on,” he says. “Things that happened, happened. It was regionally managed. The strategy that was introduced in 2005 was about creating one practice and drawing on the strengths of all the firm, so we dismantled the regional management network and created cross-practice departments.”

The most challenging element for the firm was about addressing the capability issues within the partnership, Gillman says. As if to illustrate the progress made in that area, he points to the £7m turnover generated by the 28-strong partner team when he took over, compared with £21m and 22 partners.

“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do the maths,” he quips. “What we found was some of our smaller offices were competing with our larger offices for the same work.”

After pruning the partner team and closing smaller offices that were treading on the toes of larger, local counterparts the firm was leaner and meaner, he says. The new areas of business afforded to Price Bailey through its London presence include offshore wealth and a specialism in law firms.

In the coming years, glances are even being made further afield, with international ambitions now in the firm’s crosshairs.

“London is the primary reason we’ve stayed in organic growth through the recession,” says Gillman.

East Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East are all under consideration for future forays, he adds.

“A lot of this comes from Mayfair,” Gillman explains. That particular office is run by partner Jitu Shah, who joined the firm in 2011 and has strong international connections.

“A lot of it is developing the same things and representing overseas people with their London or overseas interests. As with most businesses, it’ll be driven by our clients. We’ve no plans for extra offices, certainly not in the UK, but if we were to open an office, that potentially would be overseas – driven by client need.”

After year spent carefully positioning the firm, Price Bailey appear poised to strike in 2014.

Price Bailey in numbers:
Fee income: £21m

Top 50 +50 ranking: 29

UK staff (of whom partners): (23 partners) 200 in all

UK offices: Six, two in London

Specialisms: Academy schools, farming and estates, healthcare, international, not-for-profit, professional services, public sector, technology and digital media

Did you know: Price Bailey was the firt accountancy firm to be licensed as an ABS by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Peter Gillman CV:
2013 – appointed executive chairman
2004 – became firm’s first managing director following conversion to LLP and creation of first Executive Board
2001 – appointed managing partner
1982 – appointed partner
1974 – qualified chartered accountant
1970 – joined Price Bailey as trainee

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