Biz Extra

Published: May 9, 2022 | Updated: May 10, 2022

Sam Brett’s career journey, spotlight on exiting your business, Ian Harlock-Smith’s taxing Q&A

By Andrew Diprose, editor

An action-packed Finance Matters for you this month as we:

  • Take a look at what a career journey looks like at Saffery Champness Chartered Accountants with Sam Brett.
  • Discover the key considerations for business owners who have their sights set on a future business exit.
  • Get to know Ian Harlock-Smith, Personal Tax Director.

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Career journeys at Saffery Champness

Sam Brett – Senior Manager, Audit Team.

Tell us a little about yourself and your journey prior to joining Safferys

I’ve worked at Safferys for 9 years. I joined as a trainee with no previous experience in accountancy in 2013 and qualified as a Chartered Certified Accountant in 2016.

My current role is Senior Manager, specialising in audit. I oversee the Audit team for the Bournemouth office and report to the four Audit Partners.

I didn’t follow a traditional graduate route into audit and accountancy. I studied Chemistry at Southampton University and left there not really knowing what I wanted to do as a career. It took me a few years to realise that I needed to get a professional qualification to really drive my career progression.

Accountancy appealed to my analytical nature and I applied directly to Safferys with a speculative CV. The timing of this was good and I was given the opportunity to join as a trainee and the firm started me on the ACCA qualification.

Whilst studying I was also working and gaining real-world on-the-job experience, which was invaluable. The trainee programme at Safferys is structured to gradually give you more responsibility as you gain work experience and your skills and knowledge develop.

Safferys were really supportive of my study, not putting too much work pressure on around exam time. I passed my final exams after 3 years as a trainee, which is typical for the graduate route, and I haven’t looked back.

What skills do you think you need to be an accountant?

Accountancy is open to anyone from any background, you really don’t need to be a maths genius. Specifically in audit, which is my specialism, it’s about being analytical, an effective problem solver and a good communicator. Being personable and friendly also really helps, the ability to develop a rapport with clients and colleagues is important.

What do you contribute to the team?

I’ve gained a good deal of experience in my time at Safferys and I’m now able to leverage that to develop the team around me. I like to challenge people to learn and improve their skills and I enjoy watching them grow.

I’m very much a team player, you have to be in this business, it doesn’t work otherwise. Audit is very collaborative. It’s very rare that you will be working alone, it’s very much a team effort.

Tell us about working at Safferys

The culture at Safferys has really evolved during my time here. It is an inclusive place to work and subsequently attracts a young group of workers. There has been real investment in growth through the graduate and school leaver programmes and this in turn has created a vibrant and enjoyable workplace environment, with a much-changed demographic from 9 years ago when I first joined.

My journey from qualifying to where I am now has been all about development, driven very much by the individual and your own personal ambitions. The firm rewards individuals who show ambition and commitment and provides opportunities accordingly. I’ve always felt supported and able to ask for help at every stage in my career.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m hard-working and committed and I enjoy working as part of a team.

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Insights – Exiting your business

Jamie Lane outlines the key considerations for business owners who have their sights set on a future business exit.

There are a variety of exit options available, and with every business being unique, choosing the correct strategy is key.

What could an exit look like for me and my business?

Each business owner is in a unique position, both in terms of the performance of the business at any one time and their personal aspirations for their own lifestyle. This means there is never any ‘one size fits all’ approach for an exit and there are often multiple options to consider.

For instance, there may be a second generation coming through the business, or a tier of management who you believe is capable of taking the business forward. You would therefore need to consider the financing, taxation and practical impacts of succession planning.

Alternatively, the business may need a further injection of capital to allow it to capitalise on growth opportunities in the market and therefore outside investment from private equity or institutional investors (through a listing on AIM for example) may be options. Conversely, you might have been all-consumed with running the business for such a long time that you may want to seek to exit completely and find a new home for the business to thrive, in which case a trade sale would likely be the preferred option. Many seasoned entrepreneurs that have seen the credit crunch, Brexit and Covid-19 may be considering how they de-risk their investment in the future.

Finally, selling a business to the employees via an employee ownership trust is becoming an increasingly popular option. You can read more on this in our article here.

Once I have identified my exit route, what’s next?

If you have been approached by or identified a potential buyer, whether that be internal or external, you need to be able to position the business in the most advantageous way to maximise your exit value. For instance, a private equity buyer will be keen to understand the growth opportunities in the marketplace and why your business is the right one to capitalise on those opportunities.

In this situation you also need to ensure that there is a broad skill base across the management team and that all roads do not lead back to you as the owner. It is essential that your management team can continue to execute the business strategy without your input. It is also important that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Whilst you may believe that one exit route is the right one at this point (and, unfortunately, deals do fail), you need to be able to take stock and reassess your options at a future date.

How do I know that I have sufficient resources to undertake a deal process?

Whatever happens, don’t underestimate the intensity of a deal process. Once you’ve pushed the button, it will be like being on a runaway train, both emotionally and practically. It is imperative that you have the right advisers around you to meticulously plan and prepare the business before you do ‘push the button’. It will become apparent through that planning process as to whether you really do have the skills in-house.

You need to consider the impact on the business of having senior people effectively performing two roles through the due diligence and deal negotiation period – without the right advisers around you, there is a risk that business performance could suffer.

How important is the story behind my business?

The history of your business and its journey is incredibly important to any buyer. However, your positioning for the future and where the story leads to is almost more important. Your buyer needs to understand this vision and why the business will be able to take advantage of the opportunities you present. Try to make sure that you, as the owner, aren’t ‘the’ story. You don’t want them to buy you, you want them to buy the business.

  • If you would like advice on optimising your business for sale, contact one of our business advisory experts, or speak to Jamie Lane

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Getting to know our team at Saffery Champness‘ Bournemouth office

Ian Harlock-Smith, Personal Tax Director

How long have you worked at Safferys?

6 years.

What’s the best bit about your job?

Working for people and knowing that my advice can make a financial difference to them, which could enable them to have a better life, help their family or others that may be less fortunate than they are.

The culture of Saffery Champness is really important to the business and the people within it. What do you think you bring to the team and what do you contribute?

I’ve worked in Tax now for 25 years, so I have experienced a lot of different situations, which comes in handy when others are experiencing challenging situations for the first time. I’m always willing to help others as things are better done as a team.

If you weren’t doing this role, what might you be doing?

I would probably be a financial adviser.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Most things fitness-related –  playing golf, going to the gym and outdoor running.

Tell us something about yourself that we don’t know

I used to race motocross as a teenager but had to give up after only 2 years as I kept crashing and dislocating my shoulder. I even dislocated my shoulder when jumping into a swimming pool and once whilst I was asleep!

Who or what inspires you?

People who remain positive, even when they are experiencing great challenges in their life.

What’s your favourite place in Dorset?

Hengistbury Head on a sunny day.

Give 3 words to describe yourself

Helpful, determined, practical.