Technical
Xenia Taliotis 7 Apr 2017 10:30am

Practice profile: Grunberg & Co

Xenia Taliotis discovers how a UK-based firm has opened itself up to opportunities in Asia by becoming the sole national partner of a top tier Chinese firm

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Caption: Illustration: Jordan Cheung

London-based firm Grunberg & Co ended 2016 on a high, increasing its income by 14.5% on the year before and finally rubber-stamping its partnership with Beijing-based Reanda International Network – a relationship it hopes will open up exciting business opportunities at home and abroad.

“We were in protracted negotiations for more than a year,” says managing partner Robert Bean, “and there was a lot of paperwork that had to be translated and flown back and forth to China, but the important thing is we got there – and on our own terms – so now we’re looking forward to what comes from the partnership. We’re hopeful it will be a source of some great new business.”

Bean first contacted Reanda, one of China’s top tier accountancy firms, in December 2014, when he was looking for a suitable international network to join. It was perfect timing as Reanda was scouting around for representation in the UK. The deal was sealed last June, a day before the EU referendum.

Unlike other international networks, Reanda International only goes into partnership with one firm per country, so technically Reanda UK is Grunberg & Co. “That’s why we were so keen to go into partnership with them. We had been thinking about joining an international network for a while, but were hesitant about how much business we’d get if we were one of many firms vying for work from the same pool of clients. With Reanda, we have UK exclusivity so if any of their clients need help setting up in Britain, they’ll be directed to us.”

Grunberg & Co has been in business since 1990 – founder David Grunberg is still there, now as senior partner, as is one of the first people he hired: Alain Stechler, another partner. Other things have also remained constant, including the fact that the firm still operates as a general practice, though Bean says that this year might see some degree of specialisation.

“Being an expert in one or two areas brings in new business, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve built our reputation on being outstanding generalists, but the fact is we do have people with specialist knowledge and it’s time we did more to capitalise on that. Over this year I anticipate we’ll be developing our niche expertise in property, entertainment, media and TV, in other creative industries and in investigative and forensic as a way of increasing our client base.”

The firm is ramping up its operations. Despite consistent annual growth of a least 7% – even during the recession – Bean feels they could be doing more. “We’re growing in a healthy and sustainable way, and at a good rate. I’d like to take see our turnover pass £5m before long. We’ll need new business to take us over that: that’s why we’re exploring new avenues, such as partnering with Reanda, hiring a PR agency and developing our expertise in some key areas.”

Grunberg & Co currently has 2,500 clients and 60 staff, including seven partners: 85% of the team is under 50, so the firm’s succession is now assured, and the partners have already identified potential candidates for promotion.

“Recruitment and training are both ongoing,” says Bean. “We like to hire people at a junior level – straight from school, or just after they’ve graduated – because we want to bring them up in our culture. Our ethics and way of doing business are vitally important and when we recruit, we focus more on whether that person will fit in with our ethos than on what qualifications they’ve got. Skills can be learned, but personality is an intangible – and as with all else, you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.”

The firm provides all the services you would expect from a mid-sized practice. It also offers financial therapy – taking clients through an assessment to see what aspects of their business could be toned up. “It’s an opportunity to review their operations and to see what could be working better,” says Bean, “so it is, in that sense, like any other type of therapy. People look after their mental and physical wellbeing but even business owners can neglect their financial health.”

Lessons learned

01: “Protect your reputation as you would your life because your firm’s survival depends on it. We have grown solely through recommendation by our other clients and our colleagues in banking and the legal profession.”

02: “Don’t be afraid of challenge, and do take on work you feel will stretch you. Lots of firms of our size might have walked away from a client with a £1bn turnover, but we accepted and so far, so great. And that work means we’re dealing directly with the Big Four on some aspects of that account.”

03: “Be open and receptive to change. However well you’re doing, there is bound to come a time when you could be doing something better. Scrutinise your business and your systems and don’t let yourself off the hook. If there is something you could improve on, don’t shirk it – get on and do it.”

04: “Motivate, engage with, listen to and train your staff. We have an open-door policy, we provide ongoing training across disciplines. Accountants need good people skills; to know something about sales and marketing; to understand the firm’s culture. We provide relevant training.”

05: “Spend. There’s a tendency to batten down the hatches in times of uncertainty, but sometimes that’s the worst thing you could do. We have no idea what Brexit will mean, but we can’t put our plans on hold. We’re investing in our firm at every level. It’s the only way to grow.”

Keys to success

“Work hard and thoroughly. Don’t be tempted to take a short cut. Our work is based on meticulous attention to detail.”

“Make time to work ON as well as IN your business. Review your systems and your processes regularly. We put our client businesses into financial therapy – to make sure they are as fit as they can be – and we do the same for Grunberg & Co.”

“Employ the right people and match them with the team/partner that will bring out the best in them. Your staff will only produce their highest quality work when they are happy – and that goes from the top down.”

“You have to trust your team, they have to trust that the firm will look after them, you all have to trust your clients, and they have to trust you. It’s a virtuous circle, which ultimately results in doing the best for the firm.”

“Work with people you like – clients as well as colleagues. We used to worry about turning down business from people we felt didn’t share our values, but those partnerships didn’t work out anyway so we now have the confidence to walk away. To thine own self be true – it’s the only way.”

International growth is worth it despite protectionism and volatile financial markets. For more case studies and advice visit icaew.com/economia or visit icaew.com/tomorrowspractice


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