Best Practice: Menzies’ Julie Adams on mergers and the future

IT’S A FAIR assumption that anyone who runs 10k before breakfast is one of life’s winners.

And with the self-discipline and steely-resolve that comes from being a dogged long-distance runner, Julie Adams has found herself at the pinnacle of Menzies, the eight-office strong, £32.2m network of accountancy practices peppered across Surrey, Hampshire and London. 

Its recent successful merger with Top 50+50 firm Harris Lipman, underpins Menzies’ strategy to combine organic and acquisitive growth.

In 2009 its acquisition of Morley Scott opened the lucrative London market wide open. It continued the trend with its entry into the HLB International network just 12 months later.

Adams says the firm has “never wanted to just buy up practices and put our name outside the door” but instead to “integrate and merge, and you can only do that in baby steps”.

“We don’t want to go in and run the office. We’ll help with the training. We always try to do that. That’s what stops us taking the giant steps. It’s most important that clients and the team settle in and feel a part of it as well. It’s a big change for the staff – especially if they’ve been in a three, four or five partner firm to suddenly find themselves in a 40 partner firm – that’s a big cultural change.”

And it’s a cultural fit – the marrying of complementary skills sets – that is core to any further expansionist tendencies, as Adams explains.

“We’ve looked at practices and spoken to people and we just know it isn’t going to work quite frankly, we have to feel we can work with the leaders because they shape the whole team really. So there has to be cultural and geographic fit.

“We’re always looking to expand the footprint and whether they bring any new services – a lot of what we do is continuing to be commoditised so we look at new services that we can offer clients – because our clients are at the centre of all this.” 

As a South East-heavy firm, property, construction, technology and hospitality are some of Menzies’ biggest sectors.

It’s also big internationally – courtesy of its HLB connection in which it is “very active”.

“We’re not a directory of members. We meet these people, we know them. I go to the international conference every year and one of my other partners is on the executive board – so I think that sets us apart a little bit.”

Both VAT and audit are key markets for Menzies, and despite the threshold changes and increased regulation of recent times, the discipline “underpins a lot of the advice” clients need.

“I can understand why a lot of smaller firms aren’t renewing their audit licence because the regulation is the same, and so proportionally it’s a big administrative burden, but for us we’ve got to have audit, it’s a key component.”

Adams has been associated with Menzies since the late 1970s – having been sponsored by the firm to study for an accountancy foundation course at Brighton Polytechnic.

When she completed it in 1979, she re-joined the firm and has been in continuous employment with them ever since.

Unsurprisingly, she’s witnessed fairly dramatic changes in the firm and the industry since those salad days.

From morphing from being a “general practitioner-type firm” to the current technology-driven ramifications of increased automation and the ongoing reduction in “human touch-points” and much else in-between.

A major career shift was when she took over as senior partner from the well-respected Mike Sands who’d been in the role for 18 years.

“I did feel a little like the David Moyes to Alex Ferguson,” she quipped, “but I get on really well with him and he was very helpful.”

“It was challenging at the start”, she confides, “but I expected that”.

“It was done for the right reasons. He’s retiring in a year’s time and he’s passed on all that knowledge and thought process over the last few years”.

Adams recounts how Sands then focussed on those areas of the business that needed more management time – primarily wealth management and business recovery – and “effectively became chairman of those two”, spending a lot of time knocking them shape.

Looking forward, Adams, who has plenty of time for lucid thinking about strategy and the wider future on her morning runs, is a firm believer in “taking the opportunities as they arise”.

Adams and the firm “will always continue to talk to other people because you don’t have the luxury of it coming up at the right time and in the right place – so have to take your opportunity as they come up”.

She now senses a more voracious appetite for mergers – something which had virtually “seized up” four or five years ago, a trend she puts down to an increased regulatory burden and unfulfilled gaps in succession planning for sub-ten partner practices.

“I think sometimes they haven’t really thought things through, then suddenly realise they want to retire and haven’t got enough money to play with and a combination of increased administration and regulation just make it non-economic.”

Having bagged a marathon in a highly respectable three hours and 40 minutes, Adams also enjoys the occasional round of golf to relax – both at home and at her Portuguese holiday home.

And with big data and analytics set to “hugely change our business in terms of understanding our market… our focus is definitely on technology driving efficiency”, says Adams. “It’s a very competitive market and it’s making sure we provide value for money for our clients.”

Part of the way to service that desire is continuing to build a motivated team of “upbeat” employees dedicated to providing good service.

With a headcount of some 400 people and 45 partners, which continues to be added to with a mix of recent graduates and ‘A’ level school leavers, “some come in straight away to do tax, some to do ATT, AAT, CTA and ACA – so we do a range of tax and accountancy training”.

“We operate as one firm, were not franchised in any way, which means we can move resource to be in exactly the right place to give clients what they want.”

Menzies in numbers:

Offices: 8
Staff: 400, including 45 partners
Fee income: £32.2m up to April 2015
Specialisms: Property; construction; technology and hospitality
Bluffer’s Guide to Menzies: Grew from £19m turnover firm in 2005 to over £32m in 2015


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