Awards 2001 – Ford Campbell – Small Firm of the Year.

Ford Campbell, created in 1993 when Tony Ford (right) joined forces with Andrew Campbell, is a classic example of how a practice can seize opportunities in a changing marketplace.

The north-of-England partnership, with offices in Manchester, Stockport and Leeds, has developed from a general practice into a clearly focused business advisory unit, specialising in corporate finance work.

A previous winner of the Accountancy Age Small Firm of the Year Award, Ford Campbell has enjoyed a growth rate of some 40% during the past year.

With 14 partners, it now lays claim to the title of largest independent corporate finance-led practice in the North of England. The deal that sealed Ford Campbell’s reputation as a major player in the North West was the #60m management buy out of mini-merchant bank Davenham Group – widely reported as the deal of the year for the region.

As the firm’s reputation has grown, it has been able to invest in experienced partners and employees. This has allowed an increase in the size of transactions, and improvement in the quality and nature of its client base.

Many of the firm’s team have Big Five experience, but Ford Campbell does not necessarily see the big firms as direct competitors. It has pitched against the Big Five, won some and lost some. But the firm claims to have a very good relationship with accountancy’s elite. It has introduced a lot of due diligence work to the Big Five, and in return they have given Ford Campbell deals that are below their fee threshold.

Ford Campbell has organised itself across six separate disciplines: corporate finance, due diligence, strategic finance, business advisory, tax and financial services. From this it claims to have developed a one-stop shop for financial advice. It has even set up its own financial services arm, Carwood Financial Planning. But perhaps most significantly, Ford Campbell has recently reinforced its private equity network by setting up a private capital club, a joint venture with stockbrokers Brown Shipley, headed by Martin Robinson, former chief executive of stockbrokers Henry Cooke.

The Accountancy Age Awards judges were impressed with the range of services provided by what is still a small firm and the quality of its client base.

It was also clear that the firm had a good image in the North of England and is seen as one of the major players in the region.

Competition for the award was stiff, showing that this sector of the profession is flourishing despite threats posed by the hike in the audit threshold and a downturn in the economy. But Ford Campbell is confident it can find work and help companies weather the coming storm.

With 14 partners and 40 staff, if Ford’s firm grows any larger, next year it could be a serious contender for medium-sized firm of the year.

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