Interview: Margaret Laidlaw, Mazars’ Scots managing partner

Margaret Laidlaw 'is just a smidgen away' from nearly doubling the Scottish arm's turnover to �10 million within two years of trading. Picture: Getty
Margaret Laidlaw 'is just a smidgen away' from nearly doubling the Scottish arm's turnover to �10 million within two years of trading. Picture: Getty
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She and her team were hailed as “game-changing” when they arrived at Mazars at the end of 2013, a catalyst for sizeable expansion by the accountancy firm in Scotland.

They came with expertise in fields such as corporate finance, financial outsourcing, payroll and professional practices – areas where Mazars was lacking north of the Border.

Now as managing partner in Scotland, Margaret Laidlaw – who prefers to go by “Mags” – is within touching distance of the challenge set by her predecessor, Peter Jibson, when Laidlaw & Co joined Mazars. The objective: to nearly double the Scottish arm’s turnover to £10 million within two years of trading.

“We are just a smidgen away at the moment,” she says. “For December, we were 70 per cent on-budget, and the lines that are slightly behind budget I believe will catch up.”

During the year to the end of August, the Scottish part of the practice clocked up fee income of £8.9m, up from £5.8m the year before Laidlaw joined. The target for the current financial year is £9.7m, which she seems confident of achieving on the back of rapid growth in sectors where Mazars was not previously represented.

Professional services looks after the likes of solicitors, doctors, vets and advocates, and is headed by Laura Clarkson, one of seven partners who along with Laidlaw joined Mazars from the Edinburgh office of RSM Tenon in October 2013. It has grown from one woman to a team of 12, with fee income now standing at about £750,000.

Mazars also works on behalf of recruitment firms, currently a bustling sector as the job market has rallied from the depths of the recession into an escalating scramble for talented staff.

This line of business has gone from a standing start to billing £300,000 annually, and looks set for further growth.

“Our clients in that sector are very focused on their strengths in recruitment, but they don’t want to get distracted by the administrative side of things,” Laidlaw explains. “We handle things like processing payments to employees, and billing the clients of our recruiters.”

Elsewhere, private client services and corporate finance work are also buoying the Scottish arm of Mazars, which has three offices, ten partners and 120 staff north of the Border. The practice additionally benefits from being part of a global network employing more than 15,000 people in 70-plus countries through its member firms.

The international element has been a new twist for Laidlaw, who qualified in 1992 with Morris & Young in Perth. She later moved to Edinburgh-based Scott Oswald, where she made partner in 1997, four years before the firm was taken over by London-listed Tenon as part of a £59m spending spree that included four other acquisitions.

She was made regional managing partner for Scotland in 2006, and additionally took over national outsourcing for what was by then known as RSM Tenon in 2010.

But the London-listed firm was beginning to come up against serious headwinds. In January 2012 it warned of losses “due to pricing pressures amid a difficult economy”, and by August 2013 RSM Tenon had collapsed under its debts into a pre-pack administration sale to rival Baker Tilly.

After two testing years, many were keen to find a new professional home. Mazars wasn’t the only alternative, but Laidlaw had known Jibson “for some time”, and he in turn introduced her to Mazars UK senior partner Phil Verity.

“When I met Phil, one of the attractions that drew me to the firm was the international aspect of the business,” Laidlaw said. “It adds a different dimension to your work.

She was also attracted to the “nurturing” aspects of the firm. .

“I love the profession I work in, and one of the greatest parts about it is watching the graduates coming through,” she says. “They inspire me because they are so focused, and they bring in new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

In Scotland, Mazars works mainly with owner-managed and family-run businesses, and Laidlaw predicts this market will continue to support the firm’s annual organic growth north of the Border. Acquisitions are another possibility, backed by the wider Mazars network which posted an 18 per cent increase in profits to £26.2m in its latest published accounts.

“I would say that the clients we work with were cautiously optimistic last year, and that remains the same just now,” she said.

30 SECOND CV

Born: Lanark, 1965

Raised: Lanark

First job: Working in a sweet shop. The reason I got the job was because I got a good score on a maths test.

Ambition at school: I wanted to be a teacher. I love kids.

Can’t live without: My family.

Kindle or book: Book – a Kindle is too impersonal for me.

Favourite city: New York

Favourite mode of transport: Train, because I can work.

What car do you drive: A mini

What makes you angry: I am not an angry person – there are probably things that make me frustrated more than angry. Negativity makes me frustrated.

Best thing about your job: The clients and the staff.