IT’S BECOME SOMETHING of a hackneyed refrain, but with good reason: sometimes, the most simple ideas are the best.
As far as Lamont Pridmore is concerned, it’s very much the case that simple ideas have borne substantial rewards.
Simply through regularly canvassing the opinions of its staff and acting on their feedback, the Cumbria-based firm has augmented its fee income, broken into new markets and won national recognition, taking home the Regional Firm of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards 2012.
What chief executive Graham Lamont (pictured, centre) calls “away days or focus groups” are set aside at regular intervals throughout the year, with the purpose of garnering opinions, suggestions and thoughts of the firm’s staff in order to implement change for the better.
“It’s very important to win the hearts and minds of the team,” explains Lamont. “What we’ve been doing for the last 15-20 years is involve everybody in the development of the business plan, developing new products and services, and using that huge resource of people and skills.”
The active encouragement of ideas and communication has, among other things, yielded the firm’s outsourced non-executive finance director service, which today accounts for around 20% of the firm’s fee base having been introduced two years ago. Similarly, its asset and wealth management service was developed in the same way, and after three years brings in 12% of fee income.
“The by-product of that is that people feel involved in the business, they feel motivated,” notes Lamont. “We pride ourselves on training and developing people within the organisation. We’ve just launched a cost-reduction service in terms of utilities, and in the first week we saved a client over £21,000.”
Indeed, the firm has in place a detailed training plan for each employee, incorporating personal coaching from the HR director every 12 weeks. This is “designed to meet the skill needs they have to progress within the practice, as opposed to technical courses to develop their expertise within accountancy”, says Lamont.
“That gives everybody the opportunity to grow within the organisation, whether they’re qualified accountants or not.”
Given how easily such sessions might be superseded by smaller, but more urgent jobs, the firm finds setting days aside is an effective way of ensuring good ideas are given a fair airing.
“The great challenge for any growing business is to actually implement things that improve and change things for the better because you don’t have time because of the day job,” Lamont says. “You need to create a resource that gives you that freed-up time to develop.”
It’s a system which duly won the firm national recognition, bringing in awards and new business in equal measure.
So much so, that along with its Regional Firm of the Year gong, Lamont can identify in numbers new business generated through awards success.
“We can now quantify that winning the awards last year – the two or three that we won – that last year alone, we generated £100,000 of new fees as a result,” he reveals.
“We did a feature in the local paper in October last year – mainly because of the British Accountancy Awards – in two papers, and in three weeks of those two papers being issued – and as a result of people reading those features off the page – we got £43,000 of new work.”
Unusually for an accountancy firm, the firm has developed a “purely corporate” structure, with Lamont in the chief executive post and managing directors heading up each of its eight offices – the existing partner structure will be phased out.
“The great advantage of that is that the managing director feels that they own, control and run that particular business unit,” he explains. “It’s slightly different to a traditional partnership structure, and although we have three partners, that’s going to change over the next few years.”
Beneath the managing directors sits a panel of specialists, delivering through their service lines, which include cost reduction; business advisory services; asset and wealth management; tax advice; computer and e-commerce support; business support; inheritance tax, wills and estate planning; executor service; tax investigation and fees protection.
Despite dealing with a sluggish economy, Lamont Pridmore has no intentions of scaling down its physical presence.
Spread across eight offices – seven in Cumbria, with one in Lancaster – Lamont feels the continued presence in outposts across the region helps maintain contact with clients, something he considers hugely important given the scale of the region itself.
Far from eschewing more efficiency, though, Lamont Pridmore has made changes where it can. Moving over to the cloud, as many firms have, has been one such development, with all staff issued laptops, smartphones or iPads to facilitate remote working.
However, making other efficiencies, such as going fully paperless, have been impeded by Cumbria’s remote location. The broadband connection in the area, says Lamont, is simply too patchy.
“We have quite a good geographic spread, so we’ve got managing directors who are in charge of a designated office, geographic area, and designated number of clients,” he explains. “To drive from our Carlisle office to our Barrow office is more than two hours, so the great advantage of high-speed broadband – which isn’t everywhere in Cumbria yet – is it means businesses can develop successfully here because of that communication channel.”
The major challenge for the firm, though, is recruiting talent, with some years seeing the number qualifying in accountancy from the region in single figures – a difficult statistic for a firm keen to maintain its community ties.
“In all the offices, in every single one that we have, the MD is from that location, so not only do we have an office in that area, but we’re embedded in the community. If you look at the number of chartered accountants who qualify in Cumbria, it’s single figures every year. Some years it’s seven, some it’s two, some it’s none,” Lamont says of the stark figures, adding the issue is not necessarily aided by bringing in people from other firms.
“Anybody who trained in the top ten, they’re not trained in the sort of accounting and commercial advice that our clients are expecting and looking for. They tend to be more trained in auditing, and those skills don’t necessarily transfer to the SMEs we deal with.”
Be that as it may, Lamont Pridmore is a firm in a good place, retaining and cultivating its staff and their skills. With growth over the last four years coming in at 84%, there’s very little reason for that to change any time soon.
“We do not have more good ideas than other firms – we just implement more of them,” Lamont concludes.
Lamont Pridmore in numbers:
Offices: Eight; seven across Cumbria, and one in Lancaster
Staff: Three partners and 53 staff
Service lines: Cost reduction; business advisory services; asset and wealth management; tax advice; computer and e-commerce support; business support; inheritance tax, wills and estate planning; executor service; tax investigation and fees protection
Specialisms: Academy schools; agriculture; corporate finance; family business; profit and performance improvement; tax planning and saving services; tourism and hospitality; outsourced finance director service
Fee income: £2.8m
Miscellaneous: Graham Lamont was instrumental in the establishment of the £6.25m Theatre by the Lake in Keswick in 1999. He was also high sheriff of Cumbria between 2008 and 2009
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